Thursday, 28 November 2013

Cemetery or tourist attraction?

May seem a bit dismal visiting a cemetery on our holidays, but the truth is that the Sara Braun Cemetery, in Punta Arenas, is a tourist attraction, actually is one of the most visited tourist attraction of the city, tourists from different  parts of the world enjoy visiting it, in an organised tour or individually.

The virtual site, Tripadvisor, ranked the Sara Braun Cemetery #2 of 19 attractions in Punta Arenas, and there are 206 reviews. Also 226 visitors rated it and the results are:
95 voted excellent
86 voted very good
23 voted average
2   voted poor

On December 7th 2012 the Sara Braun Cemetery was designated National Monument in the category of Historical Monument. The declaratory reads: "The historic value is evident in the set of influences of different nationalities of immigrants who arrived in the region in search of a better future and that created the Magellan culture. In this place rest the pioneers, settlers and traders who made the city a point of reference in southern Chile, providing History, tradition and legends."

Also it has been ranked by CNN as the top ten beautiful cemetery in the world.

The cemetery is located in the main road of Punta Arenas, Avenida Bulnes.
It boasts a solid material porch surrounded by walls of the same material. Inside surprises the visitors with a central square, long avenues of Canadian cypresses, magnificent mausoleums built in the early decades of 20th century, richly ornated in bronze, marble and iron, monuments and posthumous tributes that bring interesting stories about the people that colonised the region.
All that together form a strange but beautiful place that has achieved international recognition.

The cemetery was inaugurated on the 9th of  April 1894 replacing the small one.
The porch and the walls were built between 1919-1923 by the engineer Fortunato Circutti and the decorative elements by artist Pascual Borich, financed by Sara Braun and her father Elias Braun.

One of the most interesting stories about people buried in that cemetery is actually about Sara Braun, it is said that she gave everything for building the porch of the cemetery but on the condition that after her death, the central door of the place had to be closed forever. Although the local authorities have not confirmed if such clause exists the fact is that the central door was closed after Sara braun's funeral and has been kept closed until now, the public make their entrance by lateral doors. (see blog: "The colony became city).

The avenues of Canadian cypresses are what most impress visitors: 660 cypresses elaborately sculpted in form of chubby fingers, some of them already reach 12 meters high. Trimming is performed annually between the months of May and August, depending on the weather it could take 3 month of completion.
A team of 5 gardeners spend about 30 to 45 minutes to trim a tree, however the highest ones may take more than two hours. 2 men trim the lower branches of the tree and 3 the highest ones.
The management of the saint field pays close attention to maintenance and cleanliness of the avenues.

Also the cemetery is known because of its attractive stories related to the mausoleums and monuments that turn the place in a magical mystery environment. My favourite story is related to a mausoleum which is right of central square. It is a love story. An Croatian immigrant, Giovanni Perusovic, arrived to Punta Arenas in 1900 and opened a barbershop in the main street, Calle Boris. Shortly after he met a young woman from Venice, Juana de Polo, and fell in love with her at first sight and not lingered to marry. It is said when they had their first child, a boy, their happiness was completed.
However their happiness was short lived as Juana died few years later.
Giovanni could not find solace in the lost of his lover, so he embalm her body and built a mausoleum recording in the wall: "REST IN PEACE, JUANA." And weekly he use to come to the mausoleum to make up her and comb the hair of his beloved wife, thus keeping their eternal love.
Later their son moved to Buenos Aires and after the death of Giovanni the mausoleum was abandoned and in 1960 was sold and the words Giovanni had engraved on the wall were erased by a black painting.
To built a mausoleum in the main square of the cemetery was really an act of love for a barber shopper because it was too expensive, however he spent everything he had to build that place to give eternal peace to his lover. Her remaining was moved to other place of the cemetery.

Also as a custom in South American cemeteries this one has a display of popular religiosity. It is about an Aborigine that was murdered in 1930 in a confused episode involving marble mine workers in the Diego Almagro Island. The body was taken to the morgue of Punta Arenas for investigation however nobody claimed his body so the cemetery management donated a grave and buried him. Few years later candles and coins started to be placed around the grave also letters of gratitude for being helped by the indian. The belief that he granted miracles spread quickly, so the coins in a considerable quantity began to be regularly collected and donated to the Red Cross of Punta Arenas. Later a place of veneration was built and also a safe was place to facilitate the collection of the coins.

Also there are interesting stories about pioneers resting in that place.
The oldest grave is that of Margarita Vives Siel, who was murdered in 1894.
The first concrete grave built in the cemetery was also in 1894, Osvaldo Wehrharan.
The first mausoleum built belonged to Spanish Society.
And a curious Egyptian pyramid grave-shaped with the names of James and Donald Miller engraved in it.

Dr Thomas Fenton, from Ireland, was an inspired pioneer who came to Punta Arenas in 1875 as the Magellanic territory's first medical officer. Few years later, 1877, his medical skills were tested when he had to attend to the victims of a violent riot that left some of members the small population serious injured as Mrs Maria
Dr Thomas also personally managed his sheep-ranching business, actually in a letter to his mother he mentions the success of the business and his plans for moving away from practise the medicine in order to expand the business.
In his tomb there is a monolith that symbolises the gratitude of the people of Punta Arenas for services rendered by Dr Thomas fenton.

Also there are interesting monuments that worth to know, for example the monument in honor of  Earl Maximilian Von Spee, German navy vice-admiral, in recognition of his bravery in a naval combat in Falkland Island during World War I. The story related to this monument is about the German cruiser SMS Dresden which was the only ship to escape destruction at the mentioned battle, when the British cruisers Inflexible and Invincible sank four of Von Spee's ships. During several months the Dresden avoided capture by the British navy seeking refuge in the network channels and bays in southern Chile supported by Albert Pagels, a local German fisherman. However when the Dresden put into an island off Chilean coast, in Cumberland bay, the British ships Kent and Glasgow found her. But once again the Dresden avoided capture, the captain Fritz Emil Von Luedecke managed the situation ordering his crew to abandon the ship and scuttle it.

Another respectable monument is a plaque in memory of those who died after the screw sloop HMS Doterel exploded.
At about 10:15am on 26th April 1881, while the ship was at anchor off Punta Arenas, the accidental explosion occurred sinking the vessel in minutes causing 143 deaths, only 12 members of the crew survived, including the ship's captain. their remains were buried in the old cemetery but later transferred  to the new one,Sara Braun Cemetery.
The plaque records the names of the victims. Also a marble memorial tablet was placed in The Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich, London.

Would you celebrate new year in a cemetery?
Well, Sara Braun cemetery is one of the Chilean cemetery that keep their doors open at 31 December- January 1,  from 11pm to 1am for those who want to celebrate new year, respectfully, in the grave of their beloved ones. Believe me, not few do it.

Beauty, History and architecture are some of the tourist attractions of Sara Braun Cemetery, unmissable, recommended.

to book a two hours guided tour, contact:
Regina Braga
phone: 957223458

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