I remember driving through Liège as a child always made an impression. The actual border crossing was just marked with a sign: “Welcome to Belgium” but from Liège on it felt like you entered a different world. It was a bit of a gruesome place with heavy industry, dirty looking flats and spooky mansions along the river. My fascination for cemeteries brought me to Liège once more, and it left quite an impression.
Browsing the internet I first learned about the local cemetery Robermont – referred to as the Père Lachaise of Liège. Online photos of the place mainly show the historical, quite pompous grave monuments of local notables. And sure, walking around the 44 hectare cemetery I did notice those eye catching grave monuments. I also noticed the beautiful family graves covered with photographs and ceramic flowers and crosses. Even in this rainy weather they present a certain beauty and serenity. But it weren’t those graves that left a lasting impression but more the overall atmosphere of decay that caught on to me. And where decay in the setting of historical cemeteries can enhance a feeling of nostalgia, here it felt more like despair. The walled premises is situated at the top of a hill just outside the town with no clear main gate. We entered via the parking lot of the funeral center/crematorium and stumbled into a quite dreary plot of graves. An odd mix of older and recent graves, with and without grave markers. Many graves consisted simply of a pile of gravel, without any name or number. A simple wooden cross, a piece of stone stating Mama I love you. I miss you, plastic flowers, or a little angel (or cat) figure are placed to mark a grave site. In particular this part of the cemetery is very much unlike Dutch cemeteries that are in general quite neat, well organized and uniform (read egalitarian).
The cemetery also reflects the diverse population of Liège. The coal and steel industry has attracted migrant workers from Italy, the Balkans, Turkey, Northern Africa. They worked and lived here and many were (and will be) buried there after their death. There is quite a large Muslim section with graves situated towards the East/Mecca.
Robermont Cemetery has a lot of stories to tell; depending on what you are willing to see…
All pictures are made by Claudia Venhorst, March 7 2017, Liège (B).