Dating back to the 1800's, Highgate was a fashionable place for burials and was much admired and visited. The Victorian attitude to death and its presentation led to the creation of a wealth of Gothic tombs and buildings. It occupies a spectacular south-facing hillside site slightly downhill from the top of the hill of Highgate itself, next to Waterlow Park. I
In 1854 the area to the east of the original area across Swains Lane was bought to form the eastern part of the cemetery. This part is still used today for burials, as is the western part. Most of the open unforested area in the new addition still has fairly few graves on it.
The cemetery's grounds are full of trees, shrubbery and wild flowers, most of which have been planted and grown without human influence. The grounds are a haven for birds and small animals such as foxes. The Egyptian Avenue and the Circle of Lebanon (topped by a huge Cedar of Lebanon) feature tombs, vaults and winding paths dug into hillsides. For its protection, the oldest section, which holds an impressive collection of Victorian mausoleums and gravestones, plus elaborately carved tombs, allows admission only in tour groups.
The eastern section, which contains a mix of Victorian and modern statuary, can be toured unescorted.
The tomb of Karl Marx, the Egyptian Avenue and the Columbarium are Grade I listed buildings.
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A Day Among the Dead
Why would anyone spend a day in London walking through a cemetery? Morbid fascination? Possibly. Voyeuristic peek into past lives? Probably. Highgate Cemetery is a peaceful and leafy resting place for over 170,00 souls, although rumor has it not all are resting peacefully. Some of it's famous residents are Karl Marx, George Eliot, Douglas Adams and murdered spy Alexander Litvinenko. The East Cemetery is open for independent wandering. The West cemetery tour must be booked in advance and I suggest you do if only for a peek at the eerily romantic Circle of Lebanon. Ah, the romance, the architecture, the history of an ancient graveyard.