Belgians often visit their relatives’ graves in November. But if you don’t have any relatives buried here you might decide to take a look at the grand tombs of eminent Belgians in Laeken Cemetery. Begun during the period of Austrian rule in the 18th century, its most striking tombs date from the late 19th century.
The cemetery’s admirers like to compare Laeken Cemetery with Père Lachaise in Paris, where maps are sold at the gate to guide visitors to the famous graves. But Laken doesn’t offer much help to visitors. Along the main avenues, impressive tombs of former mayors and military leaders occupy prime spots, while artists and musicians are buried on the less-important lanes.
The tomb of Jef Dillen, a 19th-century art collector, is decorated with a version of Rodin’s famous figure of Le Penseur. And a weeping willow shades the tomb of Maria Félicita Garcia, a Spanish opera signer who first performed in Naples at the age of five. In 1830, she married a Belgian, François Malibran, and became known to her fans as La Malibran. Badly injured when she was thrown from a horse in a London park, she died at the age of 28.
The flamboyant church next to the cemetery was built by King Léopold I in memory of his wife. The tombs of the Belgian kings are down in the crypt where no one can see them.
The Atelier Salu next to the entrance created many of the bronze figures of fainting girls and mourning women that decorate the tombs.
Derek Blyth’s hidden secret of the day: Derek Blyth is the author of the bestselling “The 500 Hidden Secrets of Belgium”. He picks out one of his favourite hidden secrets for The Brussels Times every day.