The calmest place in Geneva in summer is not by the busy lake, but under the shades in the Cemetery of the Kings away from the frolics of the town.
It may sound ironic, even counterintuitive, but one can feel rejuvenated after nesting at a cemetery for a while. Once, just before heading to one of my favourite tea rooms and sweat wagashi treats, I nibbled my lunch mindfully on a shaded bench of one vast Tokyo cemetery. I even scribbled a few poems under the willow trees of another in Copenhagen. So often while gazing ahead on the Mediterranean blues, I contemplated my desired eternal resting site on the prow of the hill in St Paul de Vence.
Most recently, on the eve of a concert of my favourite contemporary piano composer in the plush the Théâtre du Léman, another live performance graced my day. As I attended to the birds orchestra perched in the crowns of the majestic trees in Geneva, two professional singers were stretching their chords in a tree studded corner. This not always vocal metamorphosis from mortality to eternity present so peacefully at cemeteries fascinates me. There are no ball games, no cyclists swishing by and only a few dare to picnic. These adorned spaces of bodily rest calm me and induce spacious focus that feels meditative and inspiring. Try it yourself, but beware as with everywhere else, only a few really feel like soul places, unique, mysteriously binding you to their aura.
flaneurSwiss street art

Naturally, the mood also depends on the cementerio (like Recoleta in Buenos Aires), cimetiére (Per Lachaise in Paris), cimiterio (Staglieno in Genova), friedhof (Petersfriedhof in Salzburg), hrbitov (Vyšehrad cemeteryin Prague), kirkegård (Assistens in Copenhagen) amongst many other sites of post-mortem respect, but somehow the older are more interesting.


From stone through sculpture, from primitive aesthetics to cultured sophistication, the naturist art at La Cimetière des Rois, the oldest cemetery in Geneva hosts the most prominent of its inhabitants from centuries under the French clasp and the later Swiss era that attracted global intellectuals in. The Argentine phenomenon Jorge Louis Borges grew up in Geneva and was also buried here.

In the Plainpalais district not far from the historic museum, théâtre and university areas, Geneva’s Cemetery of the Kings is more used by the savvy locals than tourists. The with trees clad space has since 1482 welcomed a few noble descendants of nobility (naturally, a baron’s grave is quite imposing), the city’s mayors, illustrious personalities like philosophers (Austria-born Robert Musil), painters (the leader of Genevan romanticism François Diday), poets (next to Simone Rapin, one Grisélidis Réal – “poet, writer and prostitute” is also buried there), religious reformers (Jean Calvin)writers (Jorge Luis Borges), next to world peace builders, ground breaking doctors, to the banking scions of the Pictet family.

Cemetery of the Kings in GenevaCemetery of the Kings in Geneva

If one is to find respite in the burdened mundane existence then a smaller scale, not as overwhelming burial site better serves a contemplative moment on one’s own. Perhaps only accompanied by the whispering spirits of the deceased. Well, a lot can still happen at a cemetery besides burial.

As I observed at the Cemetery of the Kings in Geneva, the resident fat rabbit amuses strollers in a vivid − nature meets men encounter. A mature gentleman on a shaded bench was extracting world news from a paper, cigar puffing out his bemused mouth, what a way to relish the everyday! I was turning my gaze away from a wandering couple binding their love by kissing unashamedly right in the middle lane.

Not just because of such entertainment, the Cemetery of the Kings is my favourite spot in Geneva. The lake might be as liberating, temporarily, but better on a sailboat. If one is bound to the shore of this Franco-Swiss metropolis that overall grew beyond its charming past, disruption and not enough space available for the mind to unwind, spurs the heart to release and the soul to open its wings somewhere.

La Cimetière des RoisCemetery of the Kings in Geneva

Some of the grave sites are not even made, sculpted or carved. I adore the present assemblies of a simple natural stone, some with a tree trunk winding around its eternal body and/or coated with mossy fur. These feel to me like the nativist kami or forest spirits one meets along pilgrimage trails in Japan. Such a place may invite a poem in a creative soul, peace in a bereaved’s heart, a reflective essay into an intellectual’s mind. The philosopher Nietzsche mentioned Genova’s Staglieno as “the most beautiful among the worlds most beautiful” as he found peace in his very alive moments at that Mediterranean cemetery. Praised by Byron, Dickens and Stendhal, the Certosa di Bologna cemetery with its monumental tombs that feel like an open-air-museum also moved the sensitive souls of the creatives. But you do not have to be an artist to appreciate calm moments on your own in the buzz and crowds of our current overpopulated world. Just go with the flow of the honourable space carved for our ancestors.