The desire for human beings to conquer giant mountains, to get closer to the sky, to reach remote peaks and be free like a bird, is everlasting. Many times this luring drive has caused people to overestimate their own stamina and abilities. And the High Tatras - beautiful but merciless mountains - claim new victims each year.
It was the painter Otakar Stafl (1884-1945) who came up with the idea of setting up a symbolic cemetery in the High Tatras dedicated to lost alpinists. Stafl loved the Tatra mountains. He was a good climber and skier and the natural beauty of the Tatras was his favorite painting motif. In 1932 he sent a proposal for this "cemetery without graves" to the Czechoslovak Tourist Club (CTC).
After a lot of persuasion, a small but dedicated group of enthusiasts created a place in 1934 in the pine forest below Ostrva peak in the Mengusovská valley. Folk artist Jozef Fekiac Sumny from Detva carved remarkable wooden crucifixes. Construction of a building housing administrators at the cemetery was started in 1936. That same year a chapel with Otakar Stafl's painting titled "To the Victims of the Mountains" and hiking trails were made open for the public.
An iron bell was cast and presented as a gift by Genia Vyskočilová for the chapel tower with the motto, "In memory of the dead, as a warning to the living." Commemoration of the cemetery took place on All Saints Day, November 1, 1936, with the symbolic placing of a green wreath in the chapel.
Since that time, every year on this date families and friends of victims from the High Tatras along with mountain guides, mountaineers, and teams from the rescue service, gather to pay respect to their loved ones and the mountains that took them.
A few years later a curator was established to maintain the grounds and place new headstones. When the Symbolic Cemetery first came into being, designers ordered 57 crucifixes assuming that it would be a sufficient amount for the next 50 years. They could hardly have predicted the mass tourist and sport development that later invaded the High Tatras.
Over the past few decades, it has become impossible to offer a headstone to each dead climber. Therefore, headstones have been dedicated only to those with outstanding contributions to tourism, mountaineering or skiing.
Currently there are around 200 stone tablets in memory of more than 250 mostly young people of various nationalities. They all had one common love - the love of the mountains. This love was betrayed. Keep in mind the warning on the Chapel bell which rings into the mountain air for all of us to remember to be careful.
S&S Travel Tips
By car- We recommend going to Poprad via Banská Bystrica even though you have to go over the Low Tatras at Čertovica near Brezno. The roads are better, and it is easier to pass other cars (4 hour travel time). There are too many trucks on the Žilina route and going can be really slow (5 hour travel time).
By train- every two hours from 7: 55 to 17:55, a direct train goes from Bratislava to Poprad via Žilina. Travel time takes less than five hours.
Chata kpt. Morávku- Popradské Pleso - Štrbské Pleso, tel. 0969/92-177. Prices double room: 120-250 Sk, plus 60 Sk for breakfast. 120 beds.
Hotel Panoráma- Štrbské Pleso, tel. 0969/492-111. Prices double room: 910-1,940 Sk, plus 50 Sk for breakfast. Two stars. 150 beds.
Hotel Patria- Štrbské Pleso, tel. 0969/925-91. Prices double room: 1,000 Sk, including breakfast. Three stars. 300 beds.
14. Aug 1997 at 0:00 | Ľubica Sokolíková