A crypt door at Il Monumental Cimitero, Milan.



e visit cemeteries everywhere we travel. Italy is an old country, with Eutruscian tombs and early Christian burial catacombs, but we had no clue what to expect from the actual cemeteries in this country. Italians have a flair for passionate art, and we envisioned lots of gorgeous marble sculpture. We were not disappointed. Something in the Italian mindset needs to dramatize, and the cemeteries of Italy reflect this esthetic approach to remembering the departed. It would not have seemed inappropriate if a tragic opera had been performed on the grounds we visited. Each cemetery we had the opportunity to wander is unique, each extraordinarily lovely in its own way. Italy caters to its dead, and in so doing, offers the living comfort and hope.



e travelled to Milan by train, arriving in the black Art Deco train station built by Mousolini in the 1930s. A wooden streetcar took us to the north west corner of the city. There we found Milan's oldest and largest cemetery, Il Monumental Cimitero, so named for the perponderance of monuments. Designed by Carlo Maciachini and founded in 1866, this cemetery covers about 250,000 square meters. The styles form a mosaic, ranging from Pisano Gothic, Lumbard Romanesque and Byzantine. The monuments here are pure Italian operatic drama.

Entrance to Il Monumental Cimitero, Milan.

Interior vault adorned with flowers.
Exterior vault with pictures of the deceased.

A flora-covered grave.

Many sculptures are of children.

A painted crypt interior.
A 'cellar' floor inside a crypt,
where the coffins are below ground.

A tableau--carrying the deceased to his eternal rest.

A sweet image of comfort.



e made a side trip from Milan to Genoa to see the amazing Cimitero Monumentale di Staglieno. This spectacular city of the dead is more of an open-air art museum than anything else. Created between 1844 and 1851, the Staglieno is crammed with Neoclassical Porticos, Gothic chapels and sensual funereal statues. It climbs a mountain with row upon row of wide stone steps, and each level is full of surprises. Parts of this cemetery are reminiscent of Père Lachaise in Paris, parts of Highgate in London. But Staglieno has its own graceful style. Immediately upon entering the grounds we encountered enormous vaulted porticos with hundreds of individual statues and tableaux played out in niches along the decaying walls.

One of the hundreds of tableaux surrounding the initial graveyard.
An interior vault of burial 'drawers'.

The first graveyard, surrounded by walls of sculptures.

The pantheon. A Parthenon-style mausoleum.

One of many sculptures of women from the 1800s.

Angels abound at Staglieno.
The wings are highly detailed.

A view from a higher level.

An enormous crypt the size of a two-story house,
inaccessible from the roads.

The loveliness of overgrowth.



now fell heavily as we pulled into the train station of Venice. We walked up the gang plank covered with slippery ice to the water bus, and the ticket collector told us he couldn't remember snow in Venice. Our boat wove through the canals, with the front doors of buildings at water level, the architecture touched by Middle Eastern arches and colors. Ahead lay an island with a ray of sun shining directly over it amidst the snowy grey sky. The entire isola (island) is the Cimitero San Michele, a former prison island. When Napolean occupied Venice in the 1800s he insisted that Venetians ferry their dead across the water to this island. Franciscian monks are in charge of maintianing the garden-like grounds, which we wandered in the quiet of a now-sunny afternoon.

The San Michele Island Cemetery of Venice.

A cherub writes the name of the dead.

A bereaved woman contemplates mortality.

A room of cremation urns.
Cremation can be
as elaborate as burial.

Busts are common.
Several of the oldest grave markers contain
skull and crossed-bones.

One of many small segregated family plots.

A memorial to a patriarch.



n Pompeii outside Roma, doomed when Vesuvius erupted in 79 A.D., we found old Roman burial areas. The Romans usually cremated their dead, sometimes dismembering them. These markers were for the wealthy, and the nobility, and indicate cremain lies beneath them.

Ancient Roman grave markers.
Tombs at Pompeii.

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