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The Cemeteries

Location: by St. Roch

The Olšany Cemeteries form the main and largest burial area in Prague and the Czech Republic’s largest graveyard extending over more than 50 hectares. There are 12 cemeteries in total; these involve approximately 25,000 tombs, almost 200 tomb chapels, 65,000 graves, 20,000 urn graves, 6 columbarium walls and two scattering meadows. Over the time of their existence, roughly 2 million deceased have been buried here.  The beginnings of the Olšany Cemeteries are connected to the Black Death epidemic which hit Prague in 1679; immediately after, in January 1680, the Old Town municipality purchased land in a part of the old village, Olšany (Wolšany), to provide for a plague cemetery. The bodies of the deceased were buried in pits located where the St. Roch church, filial church of the Roman Catholic parish of St. Procopius, is standing today. The next Black Death epidemic in 1713-14 made an extension of the cemetery a necessity. Post-1786, when burials in inner Prague were prohibited, the Olšany Cemetery became the main Catholic cemetery for all “right-bank” Prague quarters. In the same year, the former plague cemetery was converted into the regular First Cemetery, and a new Second Cemetery was founded and consecrated. Another 7 cemeteries were added in the course of the 19th century, and in May 1900, upon the occasion of transferring the remains of Pavel Josef Šafařík from the abandoned Evangelic cemetery in Karlín, the Non-Confessional First Municipal Cemetery was opened. The Jana Želivského Avenue runs between those and the Tenth Cemetery, added in 1910, and the Second Municipal Cemetery where the first burials were made in  1917. The main entrances are from the Vinohradská Street. The entrance by the Fourth Cemetery, near the Flora Shopping Centre, dates back to the 19th century. The 1928 main entrance is roughly in the middle and behind it, to the left, is the Central Ceremony Hall built in 1894 and reconstructed in 1928. The Upper Entrance is close to the Jana Želivského Avenue and leads to the ceremony hall built in 1898 and remodelled in 1921 by architect František Nevole to serve as Prague’s first crematorium; it has been used as the new ceremony hall since 1932. The Second Municipal Cemetery accommodates the Orthodox cemetery with the Church of the Dormition of the Holy Theotokos built to the design of architect Vladimír Brandt and consecrated in 1925. The first Prime Minister of the Czechoslovak Republic, dr. Karel Kramář, is buried in the vault of the Church. A significant part of the Second Municipal Cemetery is taken by honorary military burial sites for WWI and WWII.  

The Olšany Cemeteries form a significant memorial with a highly valuable art collection of funeral sculpture and architecture ranging from Classicism to contemporary art. The artists represented include I. F. Platzer, F. X. Lederer, V. Prachner, J. Max, J. Malínský, J. V. Myslbek, B. Schnirch, J. Štursa, J. Kotěra, O. Zoubek, etc. A number of important figures from various fields of public life have been buried here, e.g. the Žižkov natives like Franta Sauer, Jaroslav Ježek, or representatives of science, culture, politics and sports alike. 

The Second Municipal Cemetery borders on the New Jewish Cemetery opened in 1890 after the closing of the Old Jewish Cemetery in Žižkov’s Fibichova Street, a part of which has been preserved in the present Mahler Gardens. The Ceremony Hall with a dignified prayer hall, purification house for the burial ceremonies, administration and auxiliary buildings, and the protective wall around the Cemetery were all built in the Neo-Renaissance style. The Ceremony Hall was designed by architect Bedřich Münzberger. The grave of Franz Kafka, the writer, ranks amongst the most frequently visited sites, and writer Ota Pavel is buried here as well. Burials continue here to this day, and although the Jewish tradition prohibits cremation, the Cemetery has a special permit to operate a Garden of Remembrance for cinerary urns. This option is used particularly by couples of differing faith.