Mount Auburn’s Seven Hills
Nature, which had once been something to fear, had by the early nineteenth century become considered a thing of beauty, mystery and awe. Mount Auburn’s founders embraced and celebrated the natural terrain of their new Cemetery. The design philosophies of the picturesque were developed in response to this new celebration of nature and the unknown. According to picturesque, a landscape should appear wild, yet be carefully planned with plantings that highlight its natural ruggedness as if to appear like a painting. Hills were considered to be a vital component of a picturesque landscape.
With the idea that the Cemetery should reflect only a “light hand of man,” the founders laid out roads and paths to enhance the natural hills and valleys and carefully created burial lots among the natural woodland. The seven distinct “sister” hills nestled in its center, and surrounding Consecration Dell, were marked as significant features within the landscape on the Cemetery’s earliest maps. From the earliest recorded histories of the ancient world, we know that hill cities and the number seven have always had significant associations. For instance, there are the “Seven Hills” of ancient Rome and it took seven days to create the earth and there are seven days in a week. To increase the significance of Mount Auburn’s hills, they were each given a name: Cedar Hill, Juniper Hill, Laurel Hill, Pine Hill, Harvard Hill, Temple Hill and Mount Auburn. In 1833, it was voted that no lots were to be laid out on the summit of any of the seven hills without the order or approval of the Cemetery trustees.
While Mount Auburn, the highest of the seven hills remains a distinct feature of the Cemetery’s landscape, the other six hills are now used for family burial lots. With only a series of winding footpaths, this tranquil area retains many of the ideas of the picturesque and remains as beautiful and mysterious now as it was in 1831.