Forest Cemetery

Date 1931–1932
Code Z8
Address Filmová, Zlín
Public transport Public transport: Lesní hřbitov (BUS 31)
GPS 49.1989814N, 17.6635917E
  • Kamila Nečasová, David Valůšek, Historie zlínských hřbitovů, Zlín 2006

The question of the establishment of a new cemetery repeatedly surfaced at the meetings of the municipal government throughout the 1920s. The existing burial ground above the Kudlov dam (in places where there is a park today) had been unsatisfactory for a long time. In the corner stood a half-ruined mortuary, there was not much space remaining, and the enclosure wall had been neglected. After unrealised concepts of expansion, the search for a suitable plot of land for the establishment of a new cemetery began.
Sometime around 1928, it was decided to proceed with the concept of a forest cemetery. This direction was perhaps initiated by Tomáš Baťa. We can deduce this from a text from 1931, in which he describes his idea of ​​the cemetery as a park for the living, suitable for Sunday visits and picnics. As so often in Zlín, we can look for sources of inspiration in the American model. American nature cemeteries are referred to in several period articles in the Zlín newspaper. Emphasis is placed on the return to nature or the beneficial effects of the natural environment on the bereaved. There is also an argument pointing to the elimination of class and social differences, as respect for the natural environment of the forest does not allow the construction of opulent and expensive graves. The original plan to explore several forest cemeteries in Germany, France, and England did not materialise, and the main inspiration for the Zlín plan was two visits (1929, 1931) to the cemetery in Nový Bor, founded in 1909 according to a project by landscape architect Hans Pietzner.
In 1930, a suitable 50-hectare plot of land in the Díly area was selected and the district office issued a permit, but for an unknown reason the plan fell through and another location was sought. Everything accelerated at the beginning of 1931, when the son of the city doctor Rudolf Gerbec developed pneumonia, to which he eventually succumbed on April 18, 1931. The serious illness and death of medical student Rudolf Gerbec Jr. coincided in time with the accelerated search of land for the cemetery. On 13 April a plot of land in the Barabáš forest, by the road from Zlín to Březnice, was approved by the city council. Permission to establish a cemetery was issued by the District Office in Uherské Hradiště on April 23, 1931, two days after the funeral of Rudolf Gerbec. The allotted area of ​​the new cemetery with a total area of ​​33.34 ha was to be modified gradually. Interventions in the forest were to be as small as possible in order to preserve its essential character. Nevertheless, it was necessary to gradually build several buildings. To the west of the entrance is a standard corporate single-family house for the cemetery administrator, while to the east there was a cafe offering refreshments to visitors. It is not clear whether the planned autopsy room and mortuary were built. A regular bus service was planned to facilitate cemetery visits.
Further alterations to the future Forest Cemetery were not made until the tragic death of Tomáš Baťa on July 12, 1932. It was not until the second half of 1932 that the architect F. L. Gahura, together with the engineer Josef Harvánek, prepared a plan for the Forest Cemetery. The implemented design took account of the shape of the terrain. From the entrance to the cemetery in the notch of the hill, the central wide road rises to the dominant central cross with the figure of Christ the Victorious by F. L. Gahura, located at the highest point. From this road, forest paths run in all directions. It was not intended to build regular pathways in the grid of hectare fields defined by the plan. The eastern part of the cemetery, bordered by the main road, was set aside for the Roman Catholic Church; in the western part, the fields were divided according to other Christian denominations and for non-believers. The formulation of regulatory rules for the modification of graves were made, respecting the natural space of the forest by not exceeding the given height (maximum height of the tombstone is 1 metre). The appearance of all tombstones was approved by the cemetery commission. This apparently respected the repeatedly formulated recommendations of F. L. Gahura that stonemasons use geometric forms and natural materials when designing tombstones. The consecration of the Roman Catholic section of the cemetery on November 6, 1932 can be considered the official opening date. In 1935, field number 17 was set aside for the establishment of a Jewish cemetery.
The originally planned construction of a Roman Catholic chapel and ceremonial hall symmetrically in the area of the central cross was not realised, although architect Gahura created a number of designs in 1935–1938 conceptually related to his work with the Baťa building system, based on the use of a regular grid of reinforced concrete columns, face brick infills and large windows. Other proposals for alterations were also unrealised: a more modest ceremonial hall (1941) and a mausoleum (1945) by architect Gahura, and alterations to the entrance to the cemetery (1943) by architect Jan Víšek.
The construction of the ceremonial hall with the crematorium by the architect Jiří Čančík (1967–1978), including the cemetery administration building at the entrance, thus represents the first significant alteration to the Forest Cemetery since its opening. In connection with this construction, the original house of the administrator was probably demolished. At this time, the first meadow for scattering human ashes was established. The second was designed by the garden architect Kateřina Tuzarová in 1995 in the form of a gate and a stone Styx river, symbolically separating the space of the living and the dead. Since 2004, a mausoleum has been built in several stages in the enclosure wall of the cemetery.
Despite all the interventions, the Forest Cemetery has not lost its original expression and it retains its unique atmosphere. It is an important place of local memory, as it is the last resting place of many personalities: filmmakers Hermína Týrlová, Karel Zeman, Jaroslav Novotný, and Josef Pinkas, artists Zdeněk Kovář, Libuše Niklová and František Nikl, journalist Josef Vaňhara, parachutist Ivan Kolařík and architects Miroslav Drofa, Eduard Staša and Zdeněk Plesník. The grave of the author of the cemetery design, F. L. Gahura, captures his opinion on the ideal appearance of a tombstone - a small stone slab in the shape of an annulus sector is laid on the ground in accord with the space of the forest. Particularly impressive is the area of the honorary burial ground of the Baťa family and their closest collaborators, again designed by Gahura. The graves are covered with slabs of black polished marble, which reflect the surrounding forest. The space is enhanced by a reduced version of the central cross. This ensemble best exhibits the originally formulated intention of maximum respect for the natural forest environment.