Cemetery of Pleasure Administered by the Good Death Convent?
Pleasure isn’t normally what one thinks of when contemplating a cemetery, but one of the most famous cemeteries in the world, Cemitério dos Prazeres (Cemetery of Pleasure), is so named. Founded in 1833 after a cholera outbreak, the location chosen was in the parish of Prazeres (Pleasure) on the west side of Lisbon. In an eerie coincidence, the cemetery was briefly run by nuns at the strangely named (at least to American ears), Convento de Boa Morte (Good Death Convent).
What makes it spookier is that the cemetery consists solely of mausoleums, including Europe’s largest mausoleum, Mausoleum of the Dukes of Palmela.
Notable dignitaries are entombed there including Portuguese Presidents, Prime Ministers, artists, nobility, and writers.
A More Intimate Relationship with Death
My first experience of a Portuguese cemetery was in Azeitão, a beautiful village amidst vineyards. I walked through the cemetery behind the church in the main square, and as I remember it consisted solely of mausoleums as well.
It was peaceful but a bit jarring for an American to look through a mausoleum window with white curtains and see a coffin in full view on an upper shelf. It occurred to me that the Portuguese might not be as fearful of looking at death more directly—a window to the end, if you will.
Another example of the straightforwardness with which the Portuguese face death is the famous, Capela dos Ossos (Chapel of Bones) located in Évora. Capela dos Ossos is an entire chapel lined with human bones excavated from the graves in the surrounding cemetery. It certainly gives one pause and forces one to think on the finale in store for us all.
My sense is that this closer relationship with death is in part tied to Catholicism, by far Portugal’s most prevalent religion.
An Eerily Beautiful Place
As I walked through the carefully organized streets of Cemitério dos Prazeres, it was hard to miss the elegant, but somehow menacing cypress trees—the largest and oldest on the Iberian Peninsula.
One of the best views of Lisbon can be found looking over the cemetery wall out onto the Tagus River. If I were a wealthy Lisbon resident, I would want to rest in this place and occasionally rise to take in the view—a ghost or not.
As Mysterious in Life as He is in Death, Carvalho Monteiro
Among the residents of the cemetery is Carvalho Monteiro, the millionaire who built the mysterious Quinta da Regaleira Palace in Sintra. The palace is a series of buildings constructed in an ancient style with Knights Templar and/or Masonic symbols throughout the grounds. The most luring constructions are the initiation wells (into a Masonic order) that spiral down into the earth. At the bottom, are where the initiations took place. Additionally, there are a series of underground caves wherefrom the initiates had to find their way out, reportedly blindfolded.
Take the Famous 28 Trolley to Cemitério dos Prazeres
It was by accident that my sisters and I came upon Cemitério dos Prazeres. After we exited the famous 28 trolley, we looked before us and saw a big chapel. It was late winter, and the day was gray. We wandered behind the chapel and found a kind of wonderland of death—gorgeous mausoleums with cats wondering about. Though mysterious and daunting, we were glad we came upon it. Who knows? Maybe it was the spirit of Carvalho Monteiro who lured us—and then later, to Sintra. In any case, the Cemitério dos Prazeres is certainly worth a visit. Enter if you dare!