Gradina sufletelor

By definition, a cemetery is not a place you go to visit. It is a place you go to reflect, meditate, a place where you come to pay a tribute to those who “rest” there. However, the “Bellu” Cemetery must not be visited as a cemetery, but as a place filled with history, a place full of impressive stories, a place full of so many art monuments, a place where all of those who wrote grand pages in the history of Romania are resting, no matter whether they were politicians, scientists, artists…
The “Bellu” Cemetery is a museum you must enter holding the history book in your hand and exit with its stories deeply graven in your memory. “Bellu” and its alleys are the intrigue of a story with a different ending for each epoch and each name. A legacy chiseled for over 160 years in cold stone.

The “Bellu” Cemetery is the largest cemetery in Bucharest and one of the most renown in the country, after the “Merry” Cemetery at Sapanta. As an artistic, symbolic and documentary value, the “Bellu” Cemetery is certainly one of the best known in Europe, alongside the Perre Lachaise in Paris or the Cemetery in Madrid, and its enlistment in ASCE (Association of Significant Cemeteries of Europe), in 2012, only confirmed it. But beyond this international recognition, it needs a different type of acknowledgement on a national level.

The history of the “Bellu” Cemetery begins on the 26th of November 1852 with the development of a 15 ha terrain where there were three windmills on the property of Vacaresti and the garden of baron Barbu Bellu, minister of cults and justice, which he donates to the city hall, an example which is shortly followed by the monks in the Vacaresti Monastery. Since 1858 the cemetery starts to operate legally and since 1859 the government applies the law by moving those inhumed in the city to their new cemetery. Until the 19th century, people living in Bucharest would bury their dead around various churches, as there were only 7-8 cemeteries outside the town for the poor, the prisoners or those who died because of the frequent contagions. In 1831 it is decided that the old laws and medieval customs to bury around churches should be abolished, but it is only in 1850 that this law is put in practice.

C.A.Rosetti, at that time the mayor of the capital and the administrator of the projects in the new cemetery, was also the first grantee of a grave, as registered in the Archive of Cemeteries – in November 1859 he was buying a resting place for the burial of his daughter, Elena. He is then followed by writer Cezar Bolliac, who, in 1860, buried his wife, Aristita, here.

Applying the Organic Law and the existence of this new cemetery become and event in that epoch and the great, old manorial families are starting to bring here their ancestors’ remains… we are talking about families Cantacuzino, Rosetti, Vacarescu, Florescu, Ghica, Mihailescu Barbu Slatineanu, Manu, Racovita. As time passed, the “Bellu” Cemetery becomes a true art museum, as famous architects, sculptors and stonemasons created wonderful works which nestled or evoked renowned individuals buried in the cemetery. The architect Ion Mincu developed the mausoleum of Ghica and Cantacuzino families, of the Georghief bankers, the chapels of Tache Protopopescu and Iacob Lahovary. The Italian sculptor Raffaelo Romanelli, Dumitru Paciurea, Storck, Lidia Kotzebue, Ernest Dubois are only a few of the prestigious names of the architects and sculptors that created the pieces of art here.

Rightfully named the National Pantheon, in the garden of souls inside the “Bellu” Cemetery rest the great people of our ancestry Mihail Eminescu, Barbu Catargi, Toma Caragiu, Haricleea Darele, Valentin Lipatti, Petrache Poenaru, Prince Ion D. Bibescu, I. L. Caragiaie, George Cosbuc, Mihail Sadoveanu, Cincinat Pavelescu, Maria Tanase, Constantin Tanase, Petre Ispirescu, Titu Maiorescu, Liviu Rebreanu, Hortensia Papadat Bengescu, lulia Hasdeu, Nicolae lorga, Constantin Esarcu, Cella Delavrancea, Ionel Teodoreanu, Nae lonescu, Gica Petrescu, Contii de Gramont, Mina Minovici, Spiru Haret, Dalles Family, Aurel Vlaicu, Traian Vuia, Alexandru Odobescu, Fory Etterle, Amza Pelea, Tudor Musatescu, Ioana Radu, Grigore Gafencu, Dem Radulescu, Dumitru Furdui, Acad. Horia Hulubei, Marin Sorescu, Nichita Stanescu.

The “Bellu” Cemetery also keeps the mystery of a few love stories behind some statues, the most moving being those of the lady with the umbrella and the children of the Porroinianu family, and it also has a strong esoteric energy from the tomb of Iulia Hasdeu.
On the burial chamber of “The lady with the umbrella”, Katalina Boschott wrote: “This animal doctor killed me!”. Behind one of the most beautiful sculptures in the “Bellu” Cemetery lies the love story between a governess from the high Belgian society and a Romanian medic called Andrei Popovici. Because his wife died young, leaving two children without a mother, doctor Popovici searched for a governess in Paris. This is when he met the beautiful Katalina Boschott. One summer, the two fell in love and they went on holiday to be alone. In 1906, they went together to the Herculane Spa region. Here Katalina came down with peritonitis. She was transported to the hospital in Herculane, but the lack of skill of a medic killed her on the operating table. The grieving lover buried her at “Bellu” but kept their love story secret. This also explains why the famous sculptor Raffaelo Romanelli, when asked who ordered such a statue for a simple governess, answered: “A well-off gentleman who wanted to stay anonymous”. The sculptor finished the work depicting Katalina in a real size holding an umbrella. Until recently the following text was written on the wall of the monument in brass letters: “Cet animal de médecin m’a tuée!” (This animal medic killed me!).

A much sadlier story is the love story that seems taken from soap opera. At the end of the 19th century, Constantin Porroinianu, the son of a great aristocrat in Oltenia, left to study in Paris. At a students’ party, the young man from Olt has a one night adventure with a beautiful Parisian girl. The girl became pregnant, but Porroinianu leaves her to return to his country and look after his own business. In Romania he managed to become one of the richest aristocrats, acquiring properties over three counties: Dambovita, Ilfov and Romanati. Porroinianu had become famous in his times for the charitable deeds he made almost daily: he offered food to the poor, books and notebooks to pupils, and the high schools in the country would receive the newest maps and anatomic boards from him.

The years have passed and Porroinianu sends his son to study in Paris at the same university where he had studied 20 years before. Just like his father, his son meets a Parisian student at a party: the two fall in love and after a little while they secretly get married. The son returns home to present his wife to his father. The nurse of the landlord made the connections and communicated the two the awful news: the girl was the child of the Parisian that Porroinianu senior had had an affair with when he was you and the newlyweds were in fact brother and sister. The same day the two youngsters killed themselves. To this day they rest at “Bellu” under a monument created by the renowned Italian artist from Florence, Raffaelo Romanelli (1856-1928). In the same place rests landlord Porroinianu, who, smitten by suffering, ended just like his son, killing himself. He took his life only one day after writing his will through which he gave all his fortune to the city hall in Caracal.

In the ’80s, an esoteric association in Brazil offered 5 million dollars to the state lead by Ceausescu, to buy the burial place of Iulia Hasdeu (1869-1888) along with the remains, but the Romanian authorities at that time opposed. The Brazilians offered to pay this fortune not for what Iulia Hasdeu represented during her lifetime but because of what she is said to have become in the afterlife. The girl’s father, writer Bogdan Petriceicu Hasdeu, was also claiming that Iulia’s tomb was built under the directions received by his daughter before her death, indications communicated to the writer during several spiritism sessions. In the place where the cross of the tomb would normally be, there is a world globe held by two sphinxes. Underneath them there is an open human skull around which is written: “Let the marthlet make her nest”. But what amazes even more is the interior of the crypt. Bogdan Petriceicu claimed that he had received post-mortem indication from his daughter, through which she demanded that the upper part of the tomb would be made of glass so that everyone who comes to her can see her embalmed face. In the ’30s however, the head of Iulia Hasdeu was stolen by several students to use it in spiritism sessions.

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