Naples_Fontanelle Cemetery

With Halloween and All Saints’ Day just around the corner, I thought I’d share with you a list of some of the most interesting cemeteries well worth a visit while in Italy, and how to explore them…

 

Confession: I have a thing for cemeteries. Everywhere I go, I always try to squeeze in a visit to the local resting place. Creepy? Maybe, but I’m really fascinated by the stories and traditions hidden behind all those tombstones.

Italy boasts some pretty amazing cemeteries with beautiful architectural details, famous residents and pretty interesting inscriptions. Not to mention that these places often make for a great escape from the rushed crowds of the city centre.

So, here’s my personal list of some of the most amazing cemeteries in Italy

Protestant Cemetery, Rome

Rome_Acattolico Cemetery

Photo: @IlPost

A favorite of mine, Rome’s Protestant cemetery is the burial ground of non-Catholics, mostly English who spent time here as part of their Grand Tours. The oldest tomb predates the Colosseum; it’s an imposing pyramid built around 18 BC for Caius Cestius, a magistrate who got himself this tomb when everything Egyptian was trendy in ancient Rome.

Most visitors come here to pay homage to the cemetery’s famous residents, the English Romantic poets Keats and Shelley, but many other interesting personalities rest here. For example, Antonio Gramsci, one of the founders of the Italian Communist Party, Welsh sculptor John Gibson, and August von Goethe, the son of Wolfgang Goethe. My personal highlight is the beautiful epitaph on the tomb of Italian-American Beat Generation poet Gregory Corso: “Spirit is Life. It flows thru the death of me endlessly like a river, unafraid of becoming the sea”.

How to get there

The cemetery is located in the Testaccio district and can be reach with underground B, “Piramide” station. The site is open Monday-Saturday from 9.00 am to 5.00 pm and Sundays and public holidays from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm. Further details are available on the cemetery website.

Fontanelle Cemetery, Naples

The Fontanelle Cemetery is one of my favorite places in Naples . Together with the Church of Santa Maria delle Anime del Purgatorio, this cemetery is home to the cult of the anime pezzentelle (literally, poor souls), a spontaneous cult of devotion to the remains of indigent, unnamed dead that started in Naples in the XVII century.

The Fontanelle Cemetery is one of the most incredible places I’ve ever seen. It contains piles of bones and skulls belonging to hundreds of anonymous victims of the great plagues that hit the city in the XVII and XIX centuries. Many skulls have been enshrined or embellished with flowers and all around you’ll see little notes left by devotees with their prayers and requests.

How to get there

The Fontanelle Cemetery is located in via Fontanelle, in the Sanità district. It can be reached with underground line 1, Materdei stop, or  ANM bus C51. It’s open every day from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm and entrance is free. Further details are available on the Fontanelle Cemetery website

Monumental Cemetery, Milan

 

Milan_Monumentale Cemetery

The Monumental Cemetery is one of the highlights of any visit to Milan. Developing over an area of over 250,000 square meters, it is a huge cemetery with a fantastic collection of sculptures and artistic monuments. The Famedio is the main memorial chapel in the cemetery, housing the tombs of the city’s greatest personalities, such as the novelist Alessandro Manzoni.

Famous people buried here include the Nobel prize winner and poet Salvatore Quasimodo, the Milanese painter Francesco Hayez and other important local artists such as poet Alda Merini, songwriter Enzo Jannacci and architect Giò Ponti. You’ll also see the tomb of Hermann Einstein, the father of the famous Albert. Not to be missed is the impressive tomb of the Bernocchi family that resembles the Tower of Babel.

How to get there

The Monumental Cemetery is located in Piazzale Cimitero, not far from Garibaldi train station and the new Porta Nuova district. From Porta Garibaldi station (underground line 2), you can reach the cemetery with an 8-minute walk. It is open from Tuesday to Sunday, from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm, and entrance is free. Further details are available on Milan tourism website

Catacombe dei Cappuccini, Palermo

Palermo_Capuchin Catacombs

Photo: @Città Metropolitana di Palermo

The Capuchin Catacombs are perhaps the most unusual place you’ll ever see in Italy. Located just outside Palermo’s historic center, they were created in the XVI century by a group of local monks who discovered a special preservative in the underground of their monastery that allowed to mummify dead corpses. Today the Capuchin Catacombs are home to about 8,000 mummified bodies dating back to the XVI-XX centuries, mostly dressed in their original clothes. Some still have their own teeth and hair!

One of the most revered bodies is that of Rosalia Lombardo, who died in 1920 at the age of 2. She is so perfectly preserved that she’s been nicknamed Palermo’s sleeping beauty. Definitely not a place  for the faint of heart…

How to get there

The Capuchin Catacombs are located in Piazza Cappuccini. From Piazza Indipendenza, you can either catch bus no. 327 or walk along via Cappuccini for about 15 minutes. The Catacombs are open every day from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm and from 3:00 pm to 6:00 pm (closed on Sunday afternoon between end of October and March). Further details are available on the Capuchin Catacombs website

Staglieno Cemetery, Genova

Genova_Staglieno Cemetery

Picture: @MondoRaro

The Staglieno Cemetery is often regarded as one of Europe’s most striking cemeteries, due to its incredible beauty and the amount of impressive sculptures and monuments it contains. It opened in 1851 and quickly became not only a popular burial place, but also a key tourist attraction able to enchant the likes of Friedrich Nietzsche, Guy de Maupassant, Empress Sissi and my beloved Mark Twain and Evelyn Waugh.

The cemetery features hundreds of amazing marble sculptures and richly adorned chapels dedicated to the personalities buried here. Famous residents include political activist Giuseppe Mazzini, the photographer Alfred Noack, Oscar Wilde’s wife Mary Lloyd and Italian songwriter Fabrizio De André.

How to get there

Staglieno Cemetery is located in Piazzale Resasco, that can be reached with bus #34 from Genova Principe railway station. It can be visited daily between 7:30 am and 4:30 pm, and entrance is free. Further details can be found on the Staglieno Cemetery website

Camposanto, Pisa 

Pisa_Camposanto Monumentale

There are lots of interesting things to see in Pisa beyond the leaning tower. One of these is Camposanto, the city’s monumental cemetery. Legend has it that it was built upon the soil brought from Golgotha, a place located right outside the walls of Jerusalem, where Jesus was crucified. The site is huge and contains some stunning frescoes about life and death and other interesting pieces, including the lamp that inspired Galileo to formulate the theory of the pendulum

Camposanto is the resting place of many prominent Pisans, including members of the Medici family and prestigious teachers of the University of Pisa.

How to get there

Camposanto is located in Piazza dei Miracoli, where it rubs elbow with the leaning tower. It is open to the public every day between 9:00 am and 7:00 pm and entry costs Eur 5. Further details are available on this website

English Cemetery, Florence

Firenze_English Cemetery

Photo: @FAI

Located on a hill overlooking Florence’s busy ring road, the English Cemetery is a beautiful testament to the city’s cosmopolitan soul. In fact, contrary to its nickname, it wasn’t built exclusively for English, and this is reflected in the various languages used for inscriptions and epitaphs. 

One of the most famous people buried here is Elizabeth Barrett Browning, who lived in Florence with her husband Robert Browning for many years. Novelist Frances Trollope, pedagogue Enrico Schneider, philosopher Sismondi, and Beatrice Shakespeare, descendant of William Shakespeare, are also buried here.

How to get there

The English Cemetery is located in Piazzale Donatello, about 14-minute walk from Piazza San Marco. It is open every day between 3:00 pm and 6:00 pm (9:00 am – 12:00 pm on Monday).

 

Pretty interesting, uh 😉

Have you ever visited a cemetery on your travels?

 

Until next time,

37 replies
  1. Sinjana
    Sinjana says:

    This is such a unique list. I have never thought of cemeteries as places to visit on travels but after reading this piece I may change my mind. The Protestant cemetery in Rome looks so beautiful. Would never have thought of it as a place to see great architecture and get insight about culture and history, but it clearly is. The huge cemetery in Milan looks like a museum. very interesting and insightful post

    Reply
  2. Sinjana
    Sinjana says:

    This is such a unique list. I have never thought of cemeteries as places to visit on travels but after reading this piece I may change my mind. The Protestant cemetery in Rome looks so beautiful. Would never have thought of it as a place to see great architecture and get insight about culture and history, but it clearly is. The huge cemetery in Milan looks like a museum. very interesting and insightful post

    Reply
  3. Rosie
    Rosie says:

    What a unique post – I wouldn’t usually look to visit a cemetery on my travels but the architecture at some of these looks incredible, especially Monumental cemetery in Milan! Perhaps I will have start adding cemeteries to my itinerary 😀

    Reply
    • Val
      Val says:

      Oh I know Rosie, it’s not the usual sight you would add to a travel itinerary, isn’t it? Still, I find cemeteries and the stories behind them truly fascinating and a great way to learn about the place I’m visiting 🙂

      Reply
  4. Paul
    Paul says:

    What an interesting topic for a post. I love articles like this that take you off the beaten track a bit. They all look great, but I would be particularly interested in seeing the one at Palermo! Not sure I’d like to see the mummified corpses that still have their hair and teeth but it would certainly make a good story.

    Reply
    • Val
      Val says:

      Thanks Paul! I felt a little bit uncomfortable too when visiting the catacombs in Palermo, but the stories behind it are so interesting and I think one cannot miss it when in town!

      Reply
  5. Nicole Hunter
    Nicole Hunter says:

    I love seeing how different cultures bury their dead. I agree – they are usually very interesting and often quite beautiful. However, my favourite is definitely going to catacombs. These are super creepy. There always seem to be some horrible stories attached to them which make them definitely attention worthy! I like your summary of cemeteries in Italy and will keep an eye out for these the next time that I am there.

    Reply
  6. Diana
    Diana says:

    The first time I went to a cemetery at the recommendation of friends was Pere Lachaise in Paris, and I was blown away. I thought I would hate it because I’ve never much cared for cemeteries or anything dark like that, but it was such a unique and cool experience that now I recommend it to everyone. So I can definitely see your fascination with cemeteries, and I’d love to check out some of the ones you included on your list since I’ve never been to any of those before!

    Reply
  7. Stefanie
    Stefanie says:

    First of all, I loved reading this post, Val! I, too, have a morbid fascination with cemeteries — and with catacombs and bone chapels as well. I’ve been to some very interesting ones around Europe, including the bone house in Hallstatt (Austria), the bone chapel in Evora (Portugal), and the catacombs of Paris. But I haven’t been to a single one mentioned on your list! This will change! I feel blessed to be able to travel to Italy each year for work, so you bet I will be visiting as many of these spots as possible! I really loved the history you included in the post as well, from the poets buried in Rome to the 8,000 mummified bodies in Palermo — including the two-year old “Sleeping Beauty.” Not for the faint of heart, indeed! Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
  8. Daniel
    Daniel says:

    Cemeteries might not be something one is looking to visit during their travels but I like visiting unusual (and sometimes spooky) places. This seems like an amazing experience for travelers like me. I actually visited the one in Palermo last year and was blown away.

    PS. I don’t normally do this when commenting on other blogs but it seems like we have a similar taste when it comes to traveling- that’s why I think you’ll love an article I recently wrote about the most haunted places in Europe 🙂

    Reply
  9. amar singh
    amar singh says:

    I have travelled Italy quite a bit but never thought about this aspect which has a lot of architecture and history connected to it I must say. There is something about cemeteries which is so peaceful and calming and one which people don’t think of visiting when you visit a country. For me the top picks will be the one in Rome and Naples due to the history and the catacombs. Thanks for this post and opening a new avenue of tourism .

    Reply
  10. Yukti
    Yukti says:

    I never thought of visiting cemeteries during my travel. But these Italian cemeteries are architectural wonders. Staglineo cemetery of Genova with that sculpture looks really beautiful. Thanks for sharing all the wonderful post with the list of something unique to visit in Italy.

    Reply
  11. Kavita Favelle
    Kavita Favelle says:

    What a great idea for a post, love the theme, and totally understand your fascination with cemetaries. People might think it a bit ghoulish but actually it’s a fascinating way to learn some additional history plus usually also pretty peaceful and sometimes weird! I’ve seen the Capuchin Catacombs, they were unbelievable! I haven’t visited your others, but can I recommend San Michele island in Venice, it’s the lagoon’s cemetary island.

    Reply
  12. Deeptha
    Deeptha says:

    A very fascinating read, Val. I like visiting cemeteries on my travels too. The St. Peter’s Monastery, Cemetery & Catacombs in Salzburg is beautiful as is the Modernist Cemetery in Lloret de Mar. Loved visiting both.

    Reply
  13. Lisa
    Lisa says:

    You are a braver person than me Val! I’m not a fan at all of any these cemetaries but I really enjoyed reading this post. The Capuchin Catacombs freak me out the most, mainly because of the story of the little girl there! It’s very cool about the famous residents in the cemetary in Rome; maybe I’ll visit the next time I’m there.

    Reply
  14. Annick
    Annick says:

    A blogger I follow said once you can judge a city by its bars, markets and cemeteries, so yes, I’ve visited quite a few. I like your list because it includes traditional cemeteries and catacombs. Isn’t it fascinating how detailed and beautiful some of the sculptures are? And what amazing people are buried here too. Very interesting!

    Reply
  15. Anshula
    Anshula says:

    Eeeeppp…Rosalia Lombardo sounds so creepy! Totally perfect post for the Halloween time! I love Elizabeth Browning, I had no idea that she was buried here.

    Reply
  16. FS Page
    FS Page says:

    Well, I must say you have this weird liking for cemeteries. The one in Naples looks so scary. The others look awesome in fact. Loved the architecture in a few of them. You have done a good research of what famous people are buried where!!

    Reply
  17. Becca Talbot
    Becca Talbot says:

    I love this article so much Valentina! Sounds morbid, but I love exploring graveyards and cemeteries when I am travelling – they’re always very different in different countries, to it’s interesting to see how people bury their deceased x

    Reply

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