The Cemeteries of Istanbul: Escape from the Hustle and Bustle of the City
photo by asaf berhaya

Cities are visited for hundreds of reasons. It can be a museum, a palace, a tower, a fountain, a shopping street, a public park, a festival, or a restaurant that can encourage you to pay a visit to that city. There are some cities that are also visited for their cemeteries and catacombs. Despite the perceived morbidity, cemeteries and catacombs are poetic, calming, and tranquil places. Famous of them are often listed in guidebooks. Paris is well-known for its Père Lachaise, the resting place of many French intellectuals, and also of Jim Morrisson. Prague is famous for its Old Jewish Cemetery and Venice has its San Michele. There are even cemeteries which can be a major tourist attraction with only one grave. For example, the grave of Eva Peron draws countless tourists to La Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires. The vast majority of cemeteries, however, are not well-known, nor are they found in guidebooks. The cemeteries of Istanbul are of such. They escape the attention of many travelers and tourists.

The Zincirlikuyu Cemetery is situated in the European part of Istanbul. It is the first Père Lachaise-like cemetery in Turkey. Inaugurated in the 1950s, it is a resting place of many prominent figures of Turkish politics, arts, culture, and sports. A meaningful verse from the Qur’an embellishes the central archway facing the Büyükdere Street: “Her canlı ölümü tadacaktır” (Every soul shall taste death).

The Edirnekapı Martyr’s Cemetery is an important burial ground for Turkish citizens. It is located outside Edirnekapı, the Gate of Charisius of the city wall, on top of the sixth hill of the old city. It is originally formed for the Ottoman soldiers who fell during the Siege of Constantinople in 1453. In the old part of the cemetery, there are graves of soldiers and statesmen, who died during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78, the Balkan Wars, and the First World War. In the new part, military personnel of the Turkish Army, Navy, and Air Force, as well as writers, artists, journalists, and poets are buried. Some of the celebrities at Edirnekapı are national poet Mehmet Akif Ersoy, journalist Yunus Nadi, and Pan-Turkist activist Yusuf Akçura

Located on a ridge between the Bebek and Rumelihisarı districts in the European part of the Istanbul, the Aşiyan Asri Cemetery is a small burial ground with an excellent panoramic view of the Bosporus. There are many prominent intellectuals, writers, poets, composers, and artists resting here; including poets Orhan Veli Kanık, Yahya Kemal Beyatlı, Tevfik Fikret, and Attila İlhan, composer Münir Nurettin Selçuk, novelist Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar, and painter Avni Arbaş.

The Karacaahmet Cemetery is not only the oldest, but also the largest burial ground in Istanbul. It is located in the Üsküdar district of Istanbul. It is founded in the mid-14th century by a warrior companion of Orhan Bey, the second sultan of the Ottoman Empire. There are thousands of longtime inhabitants here, such as novelist Reşat Nuri Güntekin, poet Fazıl Hüsnü Dağlarca, musician Cem Karaca, and painter Fikret Mualla. The most famous tomb here, however, is of Karaca Ahmet Sultan, who was a 13th century physician and an Alevite saint.

An ultimate cemetery as a destination for British tourists in Istanbul is the Haydarpaşa Cemetery. Located a few minutes away from the Haydarpaşa Train Station in the Asian part of the city, it is a burial ground established initially for British military personnel, who took part in the Crimean War. An obelisk was erected by Queen Victoria in 1857 within the cemetery to commemorate the British soldiers who died in the Crimean War.

There are thousands of famous inhabitants resting in hundreds of cemeteries in Istanbul. When you go to Istanbul, take a break in one of the cemeteries and have a leisurely walk. They are usually shaded, quiet, and peaceful places which can offer you a chance to escape from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Meet the author


Onur Inal was born in Izmir, Turkey in 1979. He studied Political Science and International Relations at Yeditepe University. Onur has an M.A from Koç University's Anatolian Civilizations and Cultural Heritage Management program. He is currently a Ph.D. student in the History Department of the University of Arizona.

Onur is one of the founders of Sırtçantalılar, a group of budget travelers in Turkey. In addition to his cultural history book about the Beyoğlu district of Istanbul, Pera'dan Beyoğlu'na, he has written articles about travel, history, and culinary culture for various newspapers and magazines in Turkey.