Innsbruck’s forests are full of curiosities, and none is more curious than the Tummelplatz cemetery. Set in a clearing above the district of Amras, this historic graveyard was used as a resting place for deceased soldiers from the late 1700s right up until the end of the Second World War. Its neat rows of graves are a journey through Austria’s military past, and an honest reminder of the horrors of war.

We took a trip to the Tummelplatz to discover more about Innsbruck’s most unusual cemetery and its unique past.

The Original Cemetery

The Tummelplatz was never intended to be a cemetery. The forest clearing was originally used as an exercise paddock for horses from the nearby Ambras Castle—in German, “Tummelplatz” literally means “romping ground”. But in 1797, that all changed. The Napoleonic Wars were raging in Europe and it was decided that Ambras Castle should be turned into a military hospital, to care for injured soldiers returning from abroad.

In addition to the military hospital, a cemetery was also required as a final resting place for the soldiers who did not pull through. As the Tummelplatz was the closest open ground to Ambras Castle, it was a quiet and convenient place for the military graveyard. Between 1797 and 1806, almost a thousand soldiers were buried at the Tummelplatz, as well as five nurses from the hospital.

There is some beautiful metalwork to be seen at the Tummelplatz cemetery. © Fiona Park

A Place of Remembrance

The oldest grave still standing in the cemetery today was erected in 1811, in memory of all those who had fallen in the Napoleonic Wars. From that point until the end of the Second World War, countless graves and memorials were placed at the Tummelplatz, usually by relatives of the deceased. In total, there are around 1000 headstones throughout the graveyard, commemorating the loss of at least 2000 soldiers (although some historians say the number could be as high as 7000).

You can find many different types of headstone throughout the cemetery, ranging from ornate metal memorials to simple wooden crosses. The artwork and words on the headstones are beautiful, but often depict the fallen soldiers as heroes and patriots, which was a little shocking to see, particularly on the graves from the Second World War. The information sign at the start of the graveyard advises that you view the graves in the context of the time they were erected. If nothing else, they show how complicated Austria’s relationship with its recent past can be.

The sheer number of graves is pretty striking. © Fiona Park

A Natural Beauty Spot

Graveyards are meant to be places of peace, and they don’t come more peaceful than the Tummelplatz. Although it is only a short walk or tram ride from the city, it seems a million miles away from the hustle and bustle down below. The dappled sunlight filters down through the leaves above and casts a golden glow on the neat, well-kept graves. Spring can be a particularly stunning time to visit, with fresh buds on the trees and dainty little flowers poking out from the forest floor.

But in contrast to the beautiful environment, the Tummelplatz also creates an uneasy atmosphere. Walking through the graves, you are struck by the size of the sacrifice made by young men in the war games of their emperors and rulers. A quick look at the dates suggests that the majority of these men were only in their early 20s when they were sent abroad to their death, often with their brothers and childhood friends beside them. If you ever need a stark reminder of the human cost of war, this is it.

There are also numerous war memorials throughout the cemetery. © Fiona Park

The best way to reach the Tummelplatz cemetery is to take the number 6 tram from the Bergisel to the Tummelplatz stop. Alternatively, you can take the bus to Ambras Castle (worth seeing in itself) and walk across to the graveyard or walk up through the forest from the Innsbruck district of Amras.