Cemeteries around the world: Assistens Kirkegård Cemetery

Located in the Norrebro district of Copenhagen, Denmark, Assistens Kirkegård Cemetery was first opened in 1760, originally purposed as a burial site for paupers, to alleviate the crowded graveyards in the inner-city cemeteries of Copenhagen.

A large outbreak of the plague in 1711, killed around 23,000 Danes, exerting so much pressure on the existing burial sites in the city that up to five coffins were buried on top of each other. After a long consultation period, plans for Assistens were approved in 1757 by royal charter, to be located outside the Northern City Gate.

The cemetery grew popular with the upper class, when Johan Samuel Augustin, a renowned astronomical writer and member of the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and first secretary of the war chancellery, make requested to be buried in the grounds. He was buried at Assistens in 1785.

Augustin kicked off a trend for the cemetery, leading to aristocrats and celebrities of the 18th and 19th Century reside there. This has made the cemetery one of the most popular burial sites in Denmark, with over 300,000 laid to rest in the 25 hectares grounds to date.

The cemetery is split into sections, oldest part is Section A, and features the graves of philosopher Søren Kierkegaard and the painter Christen Købke among others. Section D is dedicated to religious minorities, containing Roman Catholic and Reformed graves as well as Russian graves. Section E is the section which originally served under Church of Our Lady.

Swedish poet Karl August Nicander spoke of the cemetery’s beauty during a visit to the Danish capital in 1827, he said: “It is certainly one of the most beautiful graveyards in Europe. Leafy trees, dark paths, bright open flowery expanses, temples shaded by poplars, marble tombs overhung by weeping willows, and urns or crosses wrapped in swathes of roses, fragrance and bird song, all transform this place of death into a little paradise.”

The cemetery has become a hub for locals and visitors alike, to enjoy the local scenery, and to escape the bustling city of Copenhagen, making it a must visit location for travellers staying in Norrebro area.

There is a small museum within the grounds of the cemetery, dedicated to writer and artist Herman Stilling a native to the Nørrebro area and mainly known for painting trolls. Alongside the permanent exhibition, the museum also contains an area for special exhibitions, a picture workshop for children and young people, and a café.

Guided tours are available for as little as 50kr (£60) for one person to 2500kr (£300) for a group up to 30 people. Unlike many other cemeteries, Assistens also hosts a variety of events all year round, from theatre productions to music festivals and poetry readings, making a real culture spot for national and international tourists.

Famous Burials

Hans Christian Andersen

Hans Christian Andersen died in Rolighed near Copenhagen in August 1875, and was interred at Assistens. He is revered as one of the founding fathers of modern fairytales, with many of his works turned into animated films, including The Snow Queen, The Ugly Duckling and The Little Mermaid.

He had a close relationship with Charles Dickens for a period of time and visited the UK many times, he was influential to many children’s authors, including A.A. Milne and Beatrix Potter. Andersen was so popular at the time of his death, that he was paid an annual stipend by the Danish government as a “national treasure”.

Niels Bohr

Niels Bohr died of heart failure in Carlsberg, Copenhagen in November 1962, he was cremated, and his ashes were buried in the family plot Assistens Cemetery along with those of his parents, his brother, and his son. Bohr was a renowned physicist, he is known for his contributions to understanding atomic structure and quantum theory, for which he received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1922.

On 7 October 1965, on what would have been his 80th birthday, the Institute for Theoretical Physics at the University of Copenhagen, was officially renamed to the Niels Bohr Institute.

Søren Kierkegaard

Søren Kierkegaard died of complications from a fall in November 1855, he was a philosopher poet and social critic and widely considered to be the first existentialist philosopher.

He wrote critical texts on organised religion, Christendom, morality, ethics, psychology, and the philosophy of religion, displaying a fondness for metaphor, irony and parables. His thought exerted a substantial influence on philosophy, theology and western culture after they were translated in the 20th Century.

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