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One of the cemetery's two lakes
Vestre Kirkegård was opened on 2 November 1870 to accommodate an urgent need for adequate burial places for the growing population of Copenhagen. Assistens Cemetery, till then the main cemetery of the city, had long been unable to cope with the increasing number of burials.
Hans Jørgen Holm, who was resident architect for the Copenhagen Burial Services, in collaboration with landscape architect Edvard Glæsel (1858-1915)and city ingeneer stadsingeniør Charles Ambt, was responsible for the overall planning and landscaping of the new cemetery. First a burial place for the poor, Vestre Kirkegaard became the principal burial place during the 1990s.
The cemetery is noted for its beautiful scenery, offers a maze of dense groves, open lawns, winding paths, hedges, overgrown tombs, monuments, tree-lined avenues, ponds and other garden features. Many graves have distinctive gravestones, sculptures or large mausoleums and are eclectically placed. The cemetery's grounds boast a huge variety of trees with many rare species and is a heaven to birds and small mammals.
Holm designed both the North Chapel and South Chapel (1906) as well as an office building the gate at the main entrance. It is unclear who were responsible for the design of the former inspector's house just inside the main entrance.
The Crossroads Project (Danish: Stjernevejsprojektet), designed by Schønher Landskab, is a landscape project centred on the remains of the West Chapel, now serving as a pavilion for contemplation. It was created in 2003 after Copenhagen Municipality arranged a competition for the regeneration of an area characterized by the abandoned South Chapel of the cemetery and elm trees dead from Dutch elm disease. The complex is intended to serve a dual purpose both relating to the location's function as a burial place and as an open space and meeting place in the city, for those seeking peace and silence.
The complex consists of two intersecting axes with the former Southern Chapel in its centre. The chapel was partly demolished, leaving only the central part as an open pavilion-like domed structure. The building is partly overgrown by ivy. The surrounding garden spaces of the two axes, creating a Greek cross, are confined by tall yew hedges and have a grass surface. Embedded in the lawns of the cross arms are narrow, rust coloured paths made of oxidized iron plates, flanked by rows by cherry trees. At the end of each cross arm is a 9 metre tall rust coloured iron arch.
The design of the project is inspired by Bramante's Tempietto in Rome and the baroque gardens of Villa Gori in Siena. The latter is characterized by the garden being contained in the two axes of the garden, instead of the axes being the connecting feature of the surrounding gardens as is normally the case.
Just inside the main entrance is Arne Bang's bronze statue En Falden ("A Fallen), which was installed in 1942 to commemorate the Danish soldiers that were killed when Denmark was occupied by Nazi Germany on 9 April 1940. In the North Chapel's courtyard garden are two reliefs by the artist Henrik Starcke, Death and Resurrection, which were installed in 1949. They were a gift from the Albertina Foundation.
Nineteen British former prisoners of war, homeward bound, died at Copenhagen around New Year 1919. Among them were a Canadian, an Indian and an Australian from Tasmania. Each has a Commonwealth War Graves Commission headstone and a fine memorial, given by the Danes, was unveiled in their honour in 1920.
Among the notables interred at the cemetery are political and business leaders, philosophers, artists, and musicians:
In Nordisk Foraar (1911, "Nordic Spring"), Johannes V. Jensen refers to Vestre Kirkegård as the fairest park in Copenhagen, "taller, more elegant than the city centre" (”Jeg gaar ud på Vestre Kirkegaard en Formiddag og finder mig til Rette./ Det er den smukkeste Park vi har, her er højere end inde i Byen, friere,/ og de unge Træer staar i Luftningen ude fra Søen og gror, svulmer af Frodighed”).
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