Tulcán, the capital of the province of Carchi in Ecuador, is a small city of 60,000, situated right on the border between Ecuador and Colombia. For the visitor, Tulcan offers nothing much noteworthy, except due to it’s proximity to Colombia it is a bustling city with a lot of trade passing through each day. The cemetery, however, is one that is worth visiting. While most tourist friendly cemeteries are known for its fantastic shrines and graves, the cemetery in Tulcan is known for its elaborately trimmed cypress bushes.
The cemetery of Tulcan was founded in 1932 to replace the old cemetery on the hill of Santiago that was severely damaged in the earthquake of 1923. It was built on 8 acres of land, northeast of the city, complying with the general rule of the time which required they be outside populated areas to avoid epidemics. The key feature of the terrain on which the cemetery is located is the calcareous soil that favor the growth of cypress.
José María Franco Guerrero, who held the position of Head of the Municipality of Tulcán Parks, started exploiting the favorable soil by planting rows of cypress trees that today cover almost half of the cemetery. He started pruning each tree into various figures inspired by pre-Columbian, Augustinian and Arabic totems. Some were mythological figures, others were animals and some simple geometric shapes. There are more than 300 figures in total.
Recognition of Mr. Guerrero’s work came in 1984 when his topiary garden was declared "Cultural Heritage of the State" by the Institute of Cultural Heritage of Ecuador. On the same year, the Ministry of Tourism declared the garden as a site of national interest.
José María Franco Guerrero died in 1985 and was befittingly buried in this very cemetery among the splendor he created. His epitaph reads: “In Tulcán, a cemetery so beautiful that it invites one to die!” His five sons continue the maintenance of the Topiary Garden Cemetery and the creation of its fascinating shrubbery to this day.
In 2005, the cemetery was renamed José María Azael Franco Cemetery.
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