A visit to the Santa Maria Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery in Old San Juan

It is that feeling of solitude that is most prevalent here, a sour stillness and peacefulness that emanates from beneath its marble graves. The permanent quietness is disturbed quite pleasantly by the crashing waves coming from the North Atlantic Ocean. My forehead happily graces the harshness of this Caribbean sun, my temples, and my face are whispered by the trade winds and sprayed by the remainders of the salt that permeate this sometimes quiet but often violent breeze.

There have been many instances when the living claims to see the dead in many forms. Some will mention stories of human-shaped silhouettes resting upon the sea walls; others claim that spirits have whispered into their frightful ears. And yet the graves have nothing to say and have remained silent since the first one was built in 1863 under the auspice of Ignacio Mascaro.

This "homage to the dead" was built just outside the "El Morro" fortress in Old San Juan and it has remained as one of the most famous landmarks on the island of Puerto Rico. The cemetery houses mausoleums belonging to the most notable and popular interments of native Puerto Rican culture such as; Academy Award-winning actor and director José Ferrer, better known for his role as "Cyrano de Bergerac", and nationalist leader and politician, Pedro Albizu Campos, among others. According to popular folklore, the colonial Spanish government began construction of the cemetery based upon their fears and all the mystery regarding death, and therefore placed it right next to the Atlantic Ocean in an effort to symbolize the "spirit's journey to cross over to the afterlife".

How to get there?

From San Juan Metro: Take the “Avenida Muñoz Rivera” towards Old San Juan then make right at “Norzagaray St.” which ends at the entrance to El Morro Castle, the cemetery entrance will be at your right-hand side. Opening hours are not specific, but cemetery usually closes around 3 pm, if you plan to visit, try to make it early in the morning.