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Everything in the cemetery is made from natural materials, Source: City of Ghent

First natural cemetery in Flanders: no tombstones and biodegradable coffins

First natural cemetery in Flanders: no tombstones and biodegradable coffins

The main principle behind the cemetery is that it takes 25 years for the human body to decompose and become a part of nature

This Wednesday, the first natural cemetery in Flanders opened, in the town of Drongen, a satellite town of Ghent in Belgium. There are no tombstones or divided burial plots, nor paved paths. All the coffins need to be biodegradable, as well, since people can lease a plot there for only 25 years – the time it takes for a human body to be absorbed by nature.

Everything in the cemetery, such as place markers and benches, is made from felled trees and stumps, and if the family wants to honour the deceased, they can put up a named birdhouse in the cemetery.  

New traditions born out of a shift in culture

This is not the first natural cemetery in Flanders, however, Drogen’s is the first where people can bury their loved ones’ bodies. Up to this point, natural cemeteries were places where only the scattering of ashes and the burial of urns was allowed.

The dead are given a place where they can become one with nature again. There are no memorials, but relatives can hang a birdhouse with the name of the deceased on a tree.

Urns and coffins must be made of biodegradable materials, while people can lease the land for 25 years. People can reserve a place in advance, though, and there is room for a total of 600 graves on the property.

Cherries In a couple of years, the cemetery will become a cherry orchard,
 Source: City of Ghent

The Drogen Cemetery currently has 72 cherry trees and the developers preserved much of the features and landscape on the plot. A nice touch to the concept of the natural cemetery is that there are no evergreens – the usual types of trees used for cemeteries.

bronzeBronze age burial mound in the cemetery, Source: City of Ghent

Evergreens are usually planted so a cemetery can seem frozen in time, with the season barely noticeable. Here, though, the passage of time is somewhat built into the concept, so seasons will be clearly noticeable.

Reconnecting with the Bronze Age

Archaeologists have also discovered a Bronze age burial mound and have marked its contours with wooden posts and a moat. And, more importantly, people can bury urns on the ancient burial mound, creating a link between the distant past and the present.

Filip Watteeuw, Alderman of City Archaeology, was quoted in a press release, saying: “The City conducts archaeological research on all new developments. This also happened in connection with this new natural cemetery. The research has yielded a lot. It is great that the archaeological finds are incorporated in the new cemetery and given a new function.”

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