Oval Crypta is a municipal mausoleum in Portugal. The building is constructed of granite and iron, and is oval-shaped. The mausoleum has three levels, one of which is below ground. The above-ground chamber is brightly lot, owing to a large oval-shaped skylight. Glass panels in the floor allow light to filter down to the below ground level. There is an old trolley and scissor lift in the main room.
We visited this Oval Crypta in the summer of 2017, as we explored Portugal. This tour is covered in my Portugal 2017 travel blog.
A grand ossuary for the poor
The walls of the Oval Crypta are lined with repositories. Inside these compartments, the bones of the deceased are stored. These people were too poor to afford a private plot, or a grand monument. Instead, the remains of the less affluent were laid to rest in the ossuary.
History of the Cemetery
The cemetery, in which this Oval Crypta now stands, was built in the1855. At this time, there was an increase in death rates due to a cholera epidemic. This outbreak was one of the largest cholera outbreaks in history. Victims that succumbed needed to be interred quickly, in order to prevent further spread of the disease. This burial ground quickly grew in size in response to this.
Subsequently, in the 1860s there was a restructuring to allow several private cemeteries. These fence-enclosed areas were owned by various Brotherhoods or Orders from the city.
By the 1870s, a chapel was also added to the cemetery. Shortly after this, the cemetry started to allow the installation of monuments. Elaborate mausoleums were starting to be built in this once simple burial ground. As the years progressed, the city’s wealthy became constructing increasingly elaborate and expensive monuments to the deceased. These grand crypts and mausoleums became the final resting places of many famous Portuguese. Artists, musicians, painters and architects all came to rest here.
Dark Tourism, but not “abandoned”
Oval Crypta is not an “abandoned crypt”, as some photographers seem to envoke in recent years. Rather, this mausoleum sits in a beautiful and well-maintained cemetry. This burial building. This building and the surrounding site, should be treated with a sense of respect.