Yes, of course you have come to pay your respects to Garbo, which is probably the primary reason that you have traveled to Stockholm’s Woodland Cemetery – but this UNESCO World Heritage Site is not only the final resting place of one of Hollywood’s most legendary stars.
One of the world’s leading architectural sites, Woodland Cemetery (Skogskyrkogården in Swedish) is one of only two 20th-century heritage sites to be granted recognition by UNESCO.
Unlike Père-Lachaise in Paris or Arlington National in Washington, Woodland Cemetery, which has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1994, is set in natural parkland with nature as the central focus – rather than the graves.
A landscape influenced by Swedish romanticism, Woodland Cemetery was designed by Sigurd Lewerentz and Gunnar Asplund, the winners of an architects’ competition in 1915, whose goal was to blend Nordic woodland traditions with architecture.
Encompassing more than 250 acres, Woodland Cemetery is a sylvan Arcadia of birch and pine forests on green hills and grassy slopes, punctuated by low-lying headstones, which are all roughly the same size to convey the message that all people are equal.
The architects created a “designed experience,” which means that the visitor has been considered in the design and particularly those visitors who wish to reconcile personal loss with a walk in nature and a meditation on the circle of life.
A visit to Woodland can be as Wordsworthian romantic as it might be melancholic for others. Early in the morning or late in the afternoon, when the rising or setting sun is low on the horizon and the shadows of the trees are long across the ground, the park is a bucolic sanctuary as alluring for photography as it is for meditation.
A meditation grove is complemented by five chapels and a crematorium. The chapels are nestled into the topography, illuminated by natural light from domes, with exits that return visitors back into a peaceful setting.
But it’s Garbo that you’re seeking. Garbo’s final resting place is a terraced grave, chosen by her niece who spent several years searching for the proper burial place for the reticent Hollywood star.
From Woodland Chapel, which is crowned by sculptor Carl Milles’ “Angel of Death,” a zaftig cherubim who looks like she might break into a chorus of “You Gotta Get a Gimmick” from Sondheim’s Gypsy, you follow a series of limestone steps into a pastoral glade – and there she is, as circumspect in rest as she was in public.
Open every day of the year at all hours, with the Visitors Center open daily from June through August and on Sundays in May and September, Woodland Cemetery is easily accessible by metro with its own station.
If you’re lucky, you might see the butterscotch blond feline who patrols Garbo’s final resting place – and if you’re truly fortunate, she might let you pet her and hear her purr.