Rest in trees

What makes Skogskyrkogarden so special it would be named a World Heritage Site? This is what it’s like to visit Stockholm’s Woodland Cemetery.

Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. He has been a journalist for more than 20 years and has travelled the world full time since 2011.

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle and has been travelling full time for a decade.

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Skogskyrkogården, The Woodland Cemetery, Stockholm, Sweden

In the quiet of this crisp windless morning, the trees seem so still.

The tall pines surround the graves, solemn in their silence, as though they are mourners gathered around for a perpetual funeral ceremony.

As rigid as the tombstones, they seem to be empathising with the dead that they watch over.

Skogskyrkogarden, The Woodland Cemetery, Stockholm, Sweden

Yet the trees are alive, strong and healthy. Their stillness does not mean death.

It means peace. And this is what they reflect back out through the cemetery.

Skogskyrkogarden, The Woodland Cemetery, Stockholm, Sweden

These pines give us comfort to lay loved ones to rest here because they will never be alone.

As the sun passes across the sky, as snow falls and melts, as more join them in the earth, they lie in a park of peace. And all around, watching on, are the towering living trees.

Skogskyrkogarden, The Woodland Cemetery, Stockholm, Sweden

At Skogskyrkogården in Stockholm – known as The Woodland Cemetery in English – life and death are fused together.

The natural course of a human’s story is commemorated in a place where man and nature meet. That was the aim of the cemetery’s design, which was guided by gentle hands.

Skogskyrkogarden, The Woodland Cemetery, Stockholm, Sweden

Between 1917 and 1920, two young Swedish architects, Gunnar Asplund and Sigurd Lewerentz, created Skogskyrkogården after winning a design competition for the job.

Unlike most cemetery design at the time, there was no rigid structure to the layout. It acquiesced to the elements of the landscape, rather than bending the ground to its will.

There was something primitive to the concept.

Skogskyrkogarden, The Woodland Cemetery, Stockholm, Sweden

And, thinking about it, is that not life? We are all primitive at our core, following our base instincts as we navigate through the years we’ve been gifted.

We cannot bend nature to suit us, we live within its boundaries.

But rarely do we find our time taking us down a straight path without unexpected curves.

Skogskyrkogarden, The Woodland Cemetery, Stockholm, Sweden

I don’t know exactly what was in the minds of Asplund and Lewerentz as they laid out this cemetery. Some of their comments in later years referred to a return to the past.

The rejection of discipline in the design was, in some ways, a rejection of the idea of industrialisation that was taking hold in Sweden at the time.

They found influence in old Nordic culture and symbols.

Those buried were saved from the cities and returned to a primordial landscape.

Skogskyrkogarden, The Woodland Cemetery, Stockholm, Sweden
Skogskyrkogarden, The Woodland Cemetery, Stockholm, Sweden

Near the main entrance, rising up from the landscape and silhouetted by the sky, is a large dark granite cross.

It’s a striking welcome (or farewell) to the Woodland Cemetery, a symbolic introduction to what lays ahead, a transition from the life outside to the death within.

Skogskyrkogarden, The Woodland Cemetery, Stockholm, Sweden

Despite the obvious relationship to Christianity, the architects also rejected that exclusive connection in later years, claiming the shape is open to interpretation even by non-Christians.

“To those who see it as such, a consolation, to those who do not, simply a cross.”

Skogskyrkogarden, The Woodland Cemetery, Stockholm, Sweden

Because who are they to tell any of us what to believe? Who are they to force a particular meaning on anything within Skogskyrkogården?

Skogskyrkogarden, The Woodland Cemetery, Stockholm, Sweden

Life does not have a simple single meaning. Our conscious years are what we make of them, meandering through the forest of our time, primitive and natural.

Like in death, we hope we are not alone, we hope we are looked after, we hope we find peace.

Skogskyrkogarden, The Woodland Cemetery, Stockholm, Sweden

That’s the meaning I take from my time at the Woodland Cemetery on this crisp windless morning in Stockholm.

THE BEST ACCOMMODATION IN STOCKHOLM

It’s easy to visit the Woodland Cemetery from the centre of Stockholm, where you’ll find great accommodation options.

BACKPACKER

For a great budget option, the City Backpackers Hostel has a really fun atmosphere.

BUDGET

Cheap hotels are hard to find but I think Motel L is usually a good deal.

BOUTIQUE

For a cool design hotel, Downtown Camper is a fantastic option.

LUXURY

And if you’re looking for a luxury room, I would suggest the Grand Hôtel.

UNESCO logo

This site is on the UNESCO World Heritage List!
I'm on a mission to visit as many World Heritage Sites as I can. Only about 800 more to go... eek!

15 thoughts on “Rest in trees”

  1. Different concept i heard about. Due to our busy schedules we often forgot to stay in couch with nature and this post, atmosphere is the live example of nature’s beauty. Well written stuff.

    Reply
    • Maybe it’s a pity that we don’t get enough time during our lives to connect with nature. Well, some people do… but many don’t. And that is what brings us to this cemetery, where at least the final resting place is amongst the trees.

      Reply
  2. Hi Michael,

    I love the contrast between the lively trees and the tombstones.

    Factor in your brilliant photos, and the vivid green you capture, and you have a telling post.

    After only flying through Stockholm I noted how incredibly neat this country is. Everything is clean, orderly and pleasant to look at. This cemetery is no different.

    Great work here dude.

    Thanks for sharing with us.

    Ryan

    Reply
    • Hey Ryan. It’s funny how you notice that Stockholm is really clean and orderly. It is, and that’s reflected in some elements of the cemetery. But the architects were apparently also trying to break away from that order and create something that has more of an organic and less-structured feel to it. I wonder if you can get that sense as well from the photos.

      Reply
  3. This look so beautiful in your post. This is really different for other post and unique also. Loved the photos. Thanks for sharing with us.

    Reply
  4. I want to visit this beautiful place one day. Maybe I will succeed, if the situation with the pandemic calms down. A peaceful place for a thousand souls …

    Reply

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