Serafimovskoye Cemetery

   - darkometer rating: 4 -
A large cemetery in the north of St Petersburg which is of particular interest to dark tourists mainly for two reasons: a) it was one of the sites of mass graves for victims of the Siege of Leningrad, commemorated through a large war memorial, and b) for the memorial for the “Kursk” submarine disaster, next to which most of the sailors as well as the sub's commander are buried.   
More background info: The cemetery dates back to the early years of the 20th century, when a small chapel was built and named after St Seraphim of Sarov – which also gave the cemetery its name. It was initially a cemetery for the poor people of this region north-west of the city of St Petersburg.
During the Siege of Leningrad (see “Road of Life” tour, and Leningrad Blockade Museum), the cemetery became one of the main burial sites for victims of those hard times. Those who succumbed to the cold and hunger were buried in mass graves here, especially in the harsh winter of 1941-42. In total over 100,000 Leningrad citizens are estimated to have ended up buried here, though no exact figures are known.
After the war the cemetery was expanded and also increasingly acquired its military “clientèle”. For the 21st anniversary of the lifting of the Leningrad Blockade a large memorial monument was erected in the south-eastern corner of the cemetery in 1965.
Amongst the many navy sailors' graves are those that perished in the tragic “Kursk” disaster in 2000, which is also marked by its own memorial monument. Other drowned sailors are also here, as well as firefighters who perished on duty. The cemetery is still in use.
What there is to see: Arriving through the side entrance on Torfyanaya Doroga you first walk down a path leading from west to east. There's a map and list of notable graves and memorials by the gate, but it's all in Russian only.
It's a very green place – and a watery one: little canals criss-cross the fields of graves and woodland. This must have been a swamp or marshland before it was turned into a cemetery. This also means that you're pretty much bound to using the central path, especially in wet weather, because then the side paths are muddy or even impassable.
But keep your eyes open to the left and right of the main path and you'll spot many an interesting tombstone – as well as plenty of Soviet stars. Towards the end of the west-east path the proportion of military graves increases and you find tombstones featuring, for instance, aircraft and navy ships, including submarines. To my surprise I also found one representation of the Soviet space shuttle “Buran” flying off into starry space … even though in reality the craft only had one short dip into space (in 1988) and that was an unmanned mission. So its significance here remains a bit obscure.
At the end of the first path you come to the chapel. When I got there it was busy with some funeral ceremony either just about to begin or maybe just finishing. Anyway, there were lots of people around the chapel, some in military uniform. I didn't want to disturb the gathering and hence did not get a chance to have a look inside the chapel.
Instead I turned left and proceeded north towards my main destination and principal reason for coming here: the “Kursk” memorial and graves of its crew. The nuclear submarine “Kursk” was lost during a military exercise in the year 2000, after two explosions ripped the vessel apart. Most on board were killed outright, but a handful of surviving crew members managed to take refuge in the stern section. But tragically, the long-drawn-out, botched rescue efforts came too late to save any of these men. The total death toll thus was 118. It was the USSR's worst naval disasters since the Cold War. (See also under Murmansk and Central Museum of the Armed Forces, Moscow.)
The memorial at Serfimovskoye cemetery is in itself rather abstract: a large block of black marble with a bird sculpture emerging at the top. It stands atop a mound in the shape of a low pyramid, onto which several memorial plaques are attached … plus plenty of wreaths with Russian flags and so on.
In front of the monument stand rows of graves of the crew of the “Kursk” – all with the same date of death, of course – but this uniformity only adds to the poignancy of the place. Amongst the graves, in the row immediately in front of the monument, is the gave of the stricken vessel's commander.
In the vicinity of the “Kursk” section there are also other navy graves, some tombstones also featuring etchings of other submarines. Furthermore there are anchor sculptures and a very bizarre one featuring a lion and an Egyptian-sphinx-like cross between a woman and a lioness. I have no idea what this might stand for.
Heading back south, and past the chapel, you eventually come to the large war and Leningrad Siege memorial complex. The central part of it is dominated by a row of five granite sculptures with their backs against a portico with four arches and a (still burning) eternal flame in front of them.
Beyond this is the main gate for visitors coming by car. I tried to get back to the metro that way but found there was no proper pavement by the busy road, so I thought better of it and headed back the way I had come – after a failed attempt of finding a different path through the woodland. This was ended by a broken bridge across one of the many canals – so I decided to stick to the main path after all.
All in all this is a worthwhile excursion when in St Petersburg to a place that sees very few foreign visitors. Not only does the cemetery feature lots of quirky and unusual sepulchral art, going to the “Kursk” memorial is an especially moving pilgrimage.
Location: in the Primorsky district in the north-west of St Petersburg, Russia, near Staraya Derevnya metro station, between Torfyanaya Doroga and Zausadebnaya Ulitsa, some 6 miles (9 km) from the city centre.
Google maps locators:
Pedestrians' entrance: [59.99199, 30.25595]
Chapel: [59.9918, 30.2703]
Kursk memorial: [59.99297, 30.26978]
Leningrad Siege memorial: [59.98885, 30.27089]
Access and costs: far out, but reachable by metro, free.
Details: To get to the cemetery from the city centre you have to use the metro, namely line 5 (purple), e.g. from Spasskaya or Admiralteyskaya, all the way to Staraya Derevnya.
On exiting the metro station, cross the road, Torfyanaya Doroga, and turn left; walk along this road heading north for about 300 yards to get to the small entrance to the cemetery for pedestrians. There's also an entrance on the south of the cemetery on Zausadebnaya Ulitsa, but that's rather for visitors who come by car. A lack of a proper pavement by the roadside makes this less suitable for people on foot.
Opening times: daily at least from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (possibly longer in summer)
Free admission.
Time required: about an hour, plus at least another hour for getting there and back.
Combinations with other dark destinations: in general see under St Petersburg.
There is nothing else of particular dark interest in this area, but there's another important cemetery in the north-east of the city, Piskaryovskoye Memorial Cemetery, which is the site of the largest mass graves of victims of the Siege of Leningrad. It was part of my “Road of Life” tour and is described in that chapter.
Combinations with non-dark destinations: this is a decidedly un-touristy part of the city. But just a few blocks south from Staraya Derevnya metro station is the unexpected sight of a (working) Buddhist Temple, and across the bridge behind it you get to Yelagin Island with the palace of the same name, while the rest of the traffic-free island is a large park with woodland paths and wetlands you can explore by rented rowing boats. On the neighbouring Krestovsky Island you can find a fun-fair-like amusement park with rides, yet more parkland, and on the western tip the brand-new main stadium of St Petersburg, constructed for the Russia 2018 football World Cup.
To get to the classic tourist attractions, however, you have to go back to the centre of St Petersburg.
  • Serafimovskoye 01 - planSerafimovskoye 01 - plan
  • Serafimovskoye 02 - red starSerafimovskoye 02 - red star
  • Serafimovskoye 03 - another, bigger Soviet starSerafimovskoye 03 - another, bigger Soviet star
  • Serafimovskoye 04 - crossSerafimovskoye 04 - cross
  • Serafimovskoye 05 - rather wet landSerafimovskoye 05 - rather wet land
  • Serafimovskoye 06 - tombstone of a designer of hydroelectric damsSerafimovskoye 06 - tombstone of a designer of hydroelectric dams
  • Serafimovskoye 07 - submariner tombstoneSerafimovskoye 07 - submariner tombstone
  • Serafimovskoye 08 - presumably a helicopter pilot tombstoneSerafimovskoye 08 - presumably a helicopter pilot tombstone
  • Serafimovskoye 09 - pack of liesSerafimovskoye 09 - pack of lies
  • Serafimovskoye 10 - busy chapelSerafimovskoye 10 - busy chapel
  • Serafimovskoye 11 - Kursk memorialSerafimovskoye 11 - Kursk memorial
  • Serafimovskoye 12 - thorny issue, bitter memoriesSerafimovskoye 12 - thorny issue, bitter memories
  • Serafimovskoye 13 - grave of the commanderSerafimovskoye 13 - grave of the commander
  • Serafimovskoye 14 - more graves, all with the same death dateSerafimovskoye 14 - more graves, all with the same death date
  • Serafimovskoye 15 - anchorSerafimovskoye 15 - anchor
  • Serafimovskoye 16 - mysteriously EgyptianSerafimovskoye 16 - mysteriously Egyptian
  • Serafimovskoye 17 - fake and real flowersSerafimovskoye 17 - fake and real flowers
  • Serafimovskoye 18 - tree of deathSerafimovskoye 18 - tree of death
  • Serafimovskoye 19 - cagedSerafimovskoye 19 - caged
  • Serafimovskoye 20 - mourning HarlequinSerafimovskoye 20 - mourning Harlequin
  • Serafimovskoye 21 - war memorialSerafimovskoye 21 - war memorial

©, Peter Hohenhaus 2010-2019

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