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The <a href="/content/St._Charles_Borromeo_Cemetery_Church" style="color:blue">St. Charles Borromeo Cemetery Church</a> in the middle of the Vienna Central Cemetery
The St. Charles Borromeo Cemetery Church in the middle of the Vienna Central Cemetery

The Vienna Central Cemetery (German: Wiener Zentralfriedhof) is one of the largest cemeteries in the world by number of interred, and is the most famous cemetery among Vienna's nearly 50 cemeteries.

Name and location

The cemetery's name is descriptive of its significance as Vienna's biggest cemetery, not of its geographic location, as it is not situated in the city center of the Austrian capital, but on the outskirts, in the outer city district of Simmering.

History and description

Unlike many others, the Vienna Central Cemetery is not one that has evolved slowly with the passing of time. The decision to establish a new, big cemetery for Vienna came in 1863 when it became clear that – due to industrialization – the city's population would eventually increase to such an extent that the existing communal cemeteries would prove to be insufficient. City leaders expected that Vienna, then capital of the large Austro-Hungarian Empire, would grow to four million inhabitants by the end of the 20th century, as no-one foresaw the Empire's collapse in 1918. The city council therefore assigned an area significantly outside of the city's borders and of such a gigantic dimension, that it would suffice for a long time to come. They decided in 1869 that a flat area in Simmering should be the site of the future Central Cemetery. The cemetery was designed in 1870; according to the plans of the Frankfurt landscape architects Karl Jonas Mylius and Alfred Friedrich Bluntschli who were awarded for their project per angusta ad augusta (from dire to sublime).[1]

The cemetery was opened on All Saints' Day in 1874, far outside Vienna's city borders. However the consecration of the cemetery was not without controversy: the interdenominational character of the new cemetery – the different faith groups being interred on the same ground – met with fierce resistance, especially in conservative circles of the Roman Catholic Church.[2]

This argument became even more aggressive when the city announced that it did not want an official Catholic opening of the new cemetery – but gave a substantial amount of money toward the construction of a segregated Jewish section. In the end, the groups reached an agreement resulting in the Catholic representatives opening the Central Cemetery with a small ceremony. Due to refraining from having a large public showing, the new cemetery was inaugurated almost unnoticed in the early morning hours of 31 October 1874 by Vienna Mayor Baron Cajetan von Felder and Cardinal Joseph Othmar Rauscher to avoid an escalation of the public controversy.

The official opening of the Central Cemetery occurred the following day. The first burial was that of Jacob Zelzer, followed by 15 others that day. The grave of Jacob Zelzer still exists near the administration building at the cemetery wall.[3]

The cemetery spans 2.5 km2 (620 acres) with 330,000 interments and up to 25 burials daily. It is also the second largest cemetery, after the 4 km2 (990 acres) of Hamburg's Ohlsdorf Cemetery, which is the largest in Europe by number of interments and area.

The Viennese joke that the Central Cemetery is "half the size of Zurich, but twice as much fun", (German: Halb so groß wie Zürich – aber doppelt so lustig ist der Wiener Zentralfriedhof!) as the cemetery is half as large as the city of Zurich.[4] The Central Cemetery has a dead population of almost twice the present living residents of Vienna.

Opposite the cemetery's main gate, across Simmeringer Hauptstrasse, is the Feuerhalle Simmering, Vienna's first crematorium, which was built by Clemens Holzmeister in 1922 in the style of an oriental fortress.[5]

The church in the centre of the cemetery is the St. Charles Borromeo Cemetery Church. It used to be called Dr. Karl-Lueger-Gedächtniskirche (Karl Lueger Memorial Church) because of the crypt of the former mayor of Vienna below the high altar. This church in Art Nouveau style was built in 1908–1910 by Max Hegele. The crypt of the Austrian Federal Presidents is located in front of the church. Beneath the sarcophagus, is a burial vault with stairs leading down to a circular room whose walls are lined with niches where the deceased in an urn or coffin can be interred.


In its early incarnations, it was so unpopular due to the distance from the city center that the authorities had to think of ways to make it more attractive – hence the development of the grave of honor (German: Ehrengrab) as a kind of tourist attraction.

Vienna has been a city of music since time immemorial, and the municipality expressed gratitude to composers by granting them monumental tombs. Interred in the Central Cemetery are notables such as Ludwig van Beethoven; Franz Schubert, who were moved to the Central Cemetery from "Währinger Ostfriedhof" in 1888; Johannes Brahms; Antonio Salieri; Johann Strauss II and Arnold Schoenberg. A cenotaph honours Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who is buried in nearby St. Marx Cemetery.

The interdenominational character

In addition to the Catholic section, the cemetery houses a Protestant cemetery (opened 1904) and two Jewish cemeteries.

Although the older of the two, established in 1863, was destroyed by the Nazis during the Kristallnacht, around 60,000 graves remain intact. Cemetery records indicate 79,833 Jewish burials as of 10 July 2011. Prominent burials here include those of the Rothschild family and that of the author Arthur Schnitzler. The second Jewish cemetery was built in 1917 and is still in use today. There were 58,804 Jewish burials in the new section as of 21 November 2007.[6] Officials discovered the desecration of 43 Jewish graves in the two Jewish sections on 29 June 2012, allegedly as an anti-Semitic act – the stones and slabs were toppled or damaged.[7]

Since 1876, Muslims have been buried at Vienna's Zentralfriedhof. The dead are buried according to Austrian law, in a coffin, in contrast to the Islamic ritual practice; burial in a shroud. The opening of the new Islamic cemetery of the Islamic Faith Community took place on 3 October 2008 in Liesing.

The cemetery also contains Russian Orthodox burial grounds (Saint Lazarus chapel, 1894) and plots dedicated for the use of various Orthodox churches. Since 1869, members of the Greek Orthodox community have been buried in Section 30 A, just west of Gate 2, near the arcades. The Romanian Orthodox community is near Gate 3 in Section 38 as are members of the Bulgarian Orthodox churches. The Serbian Orthodox community received portions of Sections 68 B and 69 C, near Gate 3. Section 27 A contains the tombs of the Coptic Orthodox Church.[8]

The Protestant section on the east side is dedicated for the use of both confessions-parts of the Evangelical Protestant church in Austria, the Lutheran A.B (Evangelische Kirche Augsburger Bekenntnis) and Calvinist H.B (Evangelische Kirche Helvetisches Bekenntnis). The cemetery was inaugurated in the presence of the President of the Evangelical Protestant Church, Dr. Rudolf Franz on 14 November 1904. The cemetery was expanded in 1926, 1972 and 1998. The Protestant section consists of 6,000 graves and 300 family vaults.[9]

Europe's first Buddhist cemetery was established in the Vienna Central Cemetery in May 2005. An area of the Central Cemetery has been set aside for this purpose centered around a stupa, and was consecrated by a Tibetan monk.[10]

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Austria celebrated the dedication of an hectare-sized plot set apart for the Mormon deceased in the Vienna Central Cemetery 19 September 2009.


The new Anatomy Memorial opened in Section 26, on 5 March 2009, for interments of the Institute of Anatomy of the Medical University of Vienna and for the people who donated their bodies to science.[11]

In 2000, a Baby burial ground opened in Section 35 B near Gate 3 where stillborn infants, dead babies, and young children up to 110 centimetres (43 in) of height are interred.[12]


Due to the vast size of the cemetery, private car traffic is allowed on the cemetery grounds every day of the year except 1 November (All Saint's Day), although vehicles must pay a toll, currently €2.80. Because of the large number of visitors on 1 November, private vehicles are not permitted. A public "cemetery bus" line (Route 106) operates on the grounds with several stops to transport visitors.

The old Simmering horse tram was replaced by an electric tram, running from Schwarzenbergplatz to the Central Cemetery, in 1901 and it was renumbered as "71" (der 71er) in 1907: it remains the most popular route to the cemetery using public transport. Among the Viennese, a popular euphemism for a death is that the deceased person "has taken the 71" ("Er hat den 71er genommen").

The "Zentralfriedhof" stop on the Vienna S-Bahn (metro suburban railway) is close to the old Jewish part of the cemetery. The closest underground stop is "Simmering" (Vienna U-Bahn, line U3), about 2 kilometres (1.2 mi) from the cemetery.

Cultural references

The musician Wolfgang Ambros honoured the Central Cemetery in his 1975 song Es lebe der Zentralfriedhof ("Long live the Central Cemetery"), marking with it the 100th anniversary of the cemetery's opening.

The Central Cemetery is the scene of Harry Lime's fake and real funeral at the beginning and end of The Third Man.[13]

Notable interments

See also

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