Kerepesi Cemetery (official: Fiume Road National Graveyard) is the most famous cemetery in Budapest. Sometimes referred to as the Père-Lachaise of Budapest, Kerepesi is one of the biggest National Pantheons and the biggest outdoor statue park in Europe, with an area of about 56 hectares. It has played an important role throughout history, particularly under the communist rule.
Founded in the mid 19th century, Kerepesi is located near Keleti pályaudvar (Eastern Railway Station). It is the innermost cemetery of Budapest, although it still lies about 2 kilometres from the downtown centre.
Among those interred here are former communist leader János Kádár; József Antall, the first democratically elected Prime Minister of Hungary after the fall of communism; famous architects Imre Steindl and Miklós Ybl; and other important figures of Hungarian history.
Kerepesi contains three mausoleums of leading Hungarian statesmen: Lajos Batthyány, Ferenc Deák and Lajos Kossuth. The artists’ sector – in which each tomb contains a notable Hungarian representative of the arts – was created in 1929. In 1874, a special parcel was established for those who were denied a church funeral (those who committed suicide and those executed).
There is also a notable mausoleum for Ábrahám Ganz (iron-founder, pioneer in Hungarian heavy industry), built to the plans of Miklós Ybl in 1868.
The cemetery is also famous for its arcades, built between 1908–1911, recalling the style of Northern Italian cemeteries.
Nowadays, the Kerepesi Cemetery, with its extended parks among the graves and monuments, is open to the public.
The cemetery’s first burial took place some two years after its opening, in 1849. About a century later, it was declared closed due to plans of using the site for a housing estate. Fortunately, this never came to existence; however, part of the site was given to the rubber factory nearby.
The first notable burial was that of the poet Mihály Vörösmarty in 1855. Since then numerous Hungarian notables (statesmen, writers, sculptors, architects, artists, composers, scientists, actors and actresses, etc.) have been interred there, several of them in ornate tombs or mausoleums. This was encouraged by the decision of the municipal authorities to declare Kerepesi a ‘ground of honour’ in 1885.
Until the 1940s, several tombs were removed to this cemetery from others in Budapest – for example, it is the fourth resting place of the poet Attila József.
The cemetery was declared closed for burials in 1952. This was partly because it had become damaged during World War II, and partly for political reasons, as the communist government sought to downplay the graves of those who had ‘exploited the working class’. At one point it was intended to build a housing estate over the cemetery. Some part of the grounds was in fact handed over to a nearby rubber factory and bulldozed in 1953.
The Mausoleum for the Labour movement, designed by József Körner, was created in 1958. The inscription on its wall, written in capital letters, says: “They lived for Communism and for the people”. There are also graves of Russian soldiers on the cemetery, fenced off in a separate plot.
In front of the white stone mausoleum there is a giant statue. It depicts two men and a woman standing in a typical socialist pose and holding hands. A stone plaque commemorates the bravery of socialist workers. During the communist period (which lasted from 1948 till 1989 in Hungary) this was the only part of the cemetery highlighted, or even mentioned by the authorities.
Buried there are Russian soldiers killed in 1945 fighting with Germans, and those who died in 1956. It is one of the last places in the city where you can spot a red star.
After the fall of communism, Kerepesi was still widely considered a communist cemetery (for example a son of Béla Bartók forbade his father’s ashes to be interred there).