This cemetery has been on my cemetery bucket list for some time. I had initially planned two whole days there (just in case of bad weather, or whatever) but for some reason did not find out it was closed on Mondays until after I had finalized my trip, which had my full days for Sunday and Monday. So that meant it had to be all or nothing for Sunday, which initially looked like it would be rainy for most of the morning and instead was a beautiful, hot, blue sky with puffy clouds kind of day. Which actually, for cemetery photography, is not necessarily what you want, or I guess specifically what I want. It can create some interesting dynamic shadows but generally speaking I prefer overcast days after the rain – the flat light really lends itself to beautiful photographs, as do the wet monuments. However, I can’t control the weather (!) so I did the best I could chasing monuments in bright shadow.
I brought a lot of film on this trip – about 130 rolls, 100 of which are 120 film. That’s more film than I have ever brought on any trip and already I think I won’t have enough – I shot through 10 rolls at this cemetery alone! And that was being picky about which monuments to shoot. I mostly shot statues, and stayed away from the religious ones. I don’t want to say they weren’t interesting, because some were, but generally speaking they were not as appealing as the other statues due to their fairly bland and pious faces. I guess I’m drawn more to the extreme forms of expression, or visually interesting monuments.
Monumentale is a fairly large cemetery and I spent 8 hours there overall (took off two hours for lunch). That was enough time for me to see everything (I think) moving at a slow but steady pace. There were some tourists there, but nothing like the numbers at Pere Lachaise. I saw a couple of large groups come in, but I don’t think that they were there for more than an hour. The others that were there seemed interested to be there, but I also think didn’t spend more than 2-3 hours there. Certainly, I did not run into anyone who I had seen in the morning again in the afternoon. I will admit that by the end of the day I was really lagging – the heat, lack of water, heavy camera bag, and new shoes were all competing to do in me in, and I did have to take breaks now and again. That wasn’t so easy though, as there were few benches to be found, and all of them were near the entrance. It made me think that when I die (whenever and wherever that may be), rather than a headstone, I would prefer to have a bench erected in my name so that people can have a rest.
Here’s a little summary of what I think of the cemetery:
Quality of Monuments: Excellent. Great range of statues, tombs, and other types of monuments. The majority of statues are overtly religious in nature (Jesus, Jesus on the cross, Mary (and possibly other women and/or men) weeping over his body, angels, the departed one looking to and/or raising hands to heaven in rapture, etc). Others represent the departed one as in life or just after they died, and of course there were the ones that were distraught with grief. I also liked the ones that showed the departed ones particular passion – reading, violin playing, etc. There was even one of a swimmer diving into the water in mid-air for a former Olympian who had passed away. Older monuments tended to be made of stone or marble, but newer ones are a black stone – not sure if it’s granite or marble or what. Also, since this cemetery started a bit later than the other big famous ones (Pere Lachaise, Magnificent Seven) the headstones don’t have a lot of traditional symbols like inverted torches and whatnot. I did see a sphinx though. I also came across a couple of skulls, but there weren’t many.
The Cemetery Grounds: Excellent. The grounds are beautiful. Gravel paths, lots of trees, monuments are well-tended and those that aren’t are clearly being fixed in some way. It is very well maintained. And that’s why I’m going to take a sliver off the points for the grounds. They are a little too WELL maintained – of course, for the cemetery and the people that go there/get buried there that is the correct thing to do, but for a photographer it can be a little boring. A little ivy or moss covering a statue, or perhaps a broken door to a tomb…oh man, I think living in Japan has really affected me! (Acutally, I can give a little to the wall monuments – some of those rooms have more atmosphere than others).
Visitors: Excellent. Although this cemetery appears in guidebooks and “off-the-beaten-track” lists, there really aren’t that many visitors there at all. This includes both mourners and tourists alike.
Photographer notes: Tripod use is unknown. Due to the small number of visitors and the vastness of size, it would be very easy to set up one unnoticed. That being said, I have a feeling that tripod use would be frowned upon. I did try to find out before I went but I could not find any information about it, including how to contact the cemetery to ask them. In terms of light, I headed to the eastern (right) section first, as it had a bit more shadow cover in the morning. The porticos in the main building (upper floors) are full of light in the morning and early afternoon, but do get darker once the sun starts dipping to the west.
Overall satisfaction: Excellent
I spent a lot of time chasing a few monuments that I thought were there and (hopefully) weren’t (I have a feeling they may be in Genoa -edit- they were!). There is a map available and there are signboards across the cemetery that indicate notable monuments in the vicinity, but it didn’t help me out as much as I would have liked.
There’s nothing around the cemetery itself, so if you plan on staying there for the whole day, bring a packed lunch and plenty of water (not sure if the water from the spouts located all over the cemetery is potable or not).
Cemetery: Cimitero Monumentale di Milano
Location: About a 10-15 minute walk west of Port Girabaldi Train Station, Milan