No graves in cemetery at end of the world (video)

FISTERRA, 2 Nov 2022:

In the westernmost reaches of mainland Spain, where the Romans believed the world ended, there is a cemetery devoid of life or death.

Located in Galicia’s far flung Cape Finisterre, granite cubes rise out of the ground and a host of empty tombs blend into the landscape.

A political cadaver, the cemetery has never been put to use in the 25 years since its construction – it now mainly serves as an attraction for passing tourists and pilgrims.

The project, designed by prize-winning architect César Portela, was approved by the Finisterre town council in 1997 under the then socialist mayor Ernesto Insua.

Lying on the interior slope of Cape Finisterre (known locally as Cabo Fisterra), some 2km from the town, the cemetery looks out to sea and back over to Spain – in an area exposed to the wind and rain typical of the Atlantic region.

“The first thing I wanted to offer the dead was the rest they deserve in a sublime location where the architecture was able to merge positively with nature, the same they have always done in that place, the earth, the sea and the sky,” the architect explained on his website.

Contrary to the traditional idea of a walled-in necropolis adorned with crosses, Portela’s concept comprises a network of paths winding through 14 granite cubes containing cemetery niches.

The first three blocks – which were originally intended to be a funeral home, chapel and autopsy room – are now covered with weeds.

Although the original idea was for nature to be part of the environment, political apathy has allowed it to completely reclaim the space.

A series of Fisterra mayors have come and gone. None have followed through with the inauguration of the €300,000 project.

Current mayor José Marcote returned to the idea when he was re-elected in 2019. But, although the only resources required to open the complex are water and electricity, it remains paralysed to this day.

“At the beginning there were budget problems to finish off the work, but these could have been resolved like any other project. The work has to be finished. If there is a problem with the budget, then what you have to do is fix it and find a solution,” Marcote explained, noting there was also socio-political opposition to the cemetery.

Many Fisterra residents believe it is too far away from the town and too modern compared to the more traditional graveyard at the Santa María das Areas church.

Marcote believes social opposition was “an excuse” that was used “politically.”

Opinions in the town are undoubtedly split.

Segundo López, a local resident, says “money has been thrown away” and that Portela’s cemetery is deteriorating and “useless.”

“I don’t think anyone will go. There were people from here in the town who went to bury (people) in another parish,” he says, adding that the “ideal” plan would be to build a cemetery in an area next to the town church where there is now an old football pitch.

However, Carmen Estévez, a volunteer with the local parish, wants the project to be finished. “They should spend a little more money and find a solution so that people can bury their dead a bit better.”

With a bucket and a scouring pad, Estévez cleans the tombstones in the Santa María das Areas cemetery. They are piled up in vertical rows and at capacity.

“It is too overcrowded and there are no more niches or tombstones, it’s impossible,” she noted.

She acknowledges the differences of opinion in the village, but believes that Portela’s cemetery is necessary to avoid local residents having to find spaces for tombs in neighbouring villages.

What everyone does agree on is the interest, especially among foreigners, in scattering ashes in the local area.

“It must be because we are at the end of the world, at the end of the Earth, and here everything ends,” said Estévez.

Given the large number of requests, Marcote says that the city council is working on a new municipal ordinance to open the Portela cemetery as a columbarium, in which people can deposit urns.

“As scattering ashes any old way is not allowed, this could be one of the alternatives,” the mayor says, adding that many visitors already illicitly scatter ashes in the area.

In fact, hidden in one of the blocks in the remote location, lies a small purple urn with the name Brigitte, who died in 2021.

Although it is not yet in operation, the César Portela cemetery could already have its first tenant.