Maastricht General Cemetery opened in 1812. The site is some distance outside the old centre, a deliberate choice at the time. A cemetery outside the built-up heart of the city was more hygienic and better for public health. This General Cemetery is one of the oldest in the Netherlands.
In the past, the dead were usually buried in churches. This changed during the French period (1794-1814). An imperial order decreed that everyone would get an individual grave in a churchyard.
At that time, there was just one large burial place in Maastricht: the Blekerij. This cemetery for the poor was situated between Bogaardenstraat and Capucijnenstraat. However, it was no longer big enough to accommodate the number of inhabitants. So, in 1812, a new cemetery was created, away from the built-up centre. This was preferable in terms of hygiene and combating disease.
The site on Tongerseweg fit the bill. It was conveniently located on the new road to Tongeren and was easily accessible. The site was large and not too waterlogged. Burials in individual graves in this new General Cemetery began in 1812. It remains in use to this day. So far, 40,000 people have been buried here, either in a grave or on the urnfields. Many famous Maastricht residents also have their final resting place here, making this cemetery an important historical site.
The General Cemetery was, and is, a place for everyone. Initially, however, it was divided up on the basis of religion, age, wealth, and status. The catholic, protestant, and Jewish areas were kept separate from each other. There was also a separate area for unbaptized children.
In days gone by, even political leanings could dictate the location of a person's grave. Until 1830, socialists, for instance, were buried in unconsecrated ground, along with criminals, vagrants, and suicides.
Later on, people of no religion could also be buried on this site. Muslims also got their own area in the cemetery.
The General Cemetery has lots of greenery. There are also ancient trees, including giant sequoias. The site is laid out in a checkerboard pattern with rotunda, including one for the deans and one mayors’ rotunda.
On the Tongerseweg side, there is a wall with two gates and a gatehouse in the neoclassical style. Architect Jean François Soiron designed this boundary wall, along with the gravedigger's house. The gatehouse is the main entrance to the old part. On its left is the turning loop, an area where the carts used to bring the bodies.
In the late nineteenth century, architect Johannes Kayser designed a chapel with vault, which was built in the neo-Gothic style. Joseph Cuypers designed the statue of the Sacred Heart. A number of war graves and war memorials commemorate the wars and victims of wars from the twentieth century.
The cemetery has been extended several times. In 1961, an entrance was added on Javastraat.
Some important and famous Maastricht residents have their final resting place here. Special headstones remind us of a host of governors, politicians, industrialists, artists, and scientists. There is, for instance, a tomb for Louis Regout and his family (the founders and directors of Mosa, grave number L141 and L142). Also buried here are: writer Alfons Olterdissen (grave number V058), artist and designer Edmond Bellefroid (grave number S049), former mayor Fons Baeten (grave number F003C on the Mayors’ rotunda) and civil servant and founder of the Dutch historical monuments association Victor de Stuers (memorial dedication on obelisk, grave number E026).
One of the most unique graves is that of Barbara Bosch van Drakestein, née Volkhemer (grave number D034). She was just 22 when she died, in 1842. The grave consists of wrought iron railings resting on cast iron skulls and bones. A multitude of symbols of mourning are incorporated in the railings.