Architecture and Ornaments of War Cemeteries

Architecture and Ornaments of War Cemeteries

Cemeteries were established in the vicinity of the battlefields and front lines, locations where the battles were fought and soldiers died. The creators of the necropolises attempted, whenever possible, to establish the cemeteries in picturesque locations, where they would be visible from a distance, e.g. on hilltops, and would harmonize with the surroundings. Some of the war cemeteries were adjacent to the already existing parish or communal necropolises.

Special guidelines applied to the design of the cemetery complexes. They had to have a representative entrance, had to be surrounded by a wall (made of concrete or stone), or a fence (made of wood or cast-iron), and the main design axis had to be underscored by stairs or a main alley. The central element of the complex was supposed to be a pedestal topped with a cross, a tall wooden cross, obelisk, or a chapel. Earth graves were formed in the shape of mounds or embankments, and were topped with wooden or cast-iron crosses, although tombstones made of concrete or stone were also used. Regardless of the selected concept, the necropolis design was supposed to be uniform, and the tombstones were to be modest, made of local materials, and were not supposed to differentiate between the soldiers of one’s own or enemy’s army.



Małopolska war cemeteries feature a multitude of funeral motifs dating from various epochs and styles. This diversity perfectly reflected the character of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, the country of many cultures and religions. Colonnades, pylons, pyramids, or open-air altars were inspirations borrowed from antiquity. On the other hand, the cross-monuments refer to the folk tradition and to the customs of placing huge crosses on the battlefields in the German-speaking countries. Local traditions gave inspirations for small, shingled chapels made of wood or field stone. Among the popular sculpting motifs were a hoplite’s helmet, dragon’s head and a soldier’s cap.
Inscriptions engraved on the stone plaques also played a significant role. They served as reminders that death ends all struggle and hatred, and that the fallen gave the living the precious gift of peace. There are also many stanzas about the Mother Earth taking in all of her children, stars looking down on the battlefields, or the shadows of the dead wandering back to their homelands.

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