Wow. I don’t even know how to begin to describe this cemetery. This is the mecca of all cemeteries. I mean, I haven’t been to all cemeteries, but I sincerely doubt there is any other that can top it. If you are even a tiny bit of a taphophile/tombstone tourist/graver/cemeterian/cemetery hunter or collector, this is the place for you. And even if you are not, this is the place to come. It should be the number one place people visit when they come to Genova, although I’m glad that they don’t. It’s so beautiful. Serene. Calm. Quiet. Majestic. Awesome. Inspiring. I want to live in Genova just so I can visit this cemetery on a regular basis. If you are stressed or need some sort of calming influence in your life, come here. Now that I haven’t built it up that much, here was my experience with it.
First of all, I missed the bus stop. I saw the signs for the cemetery but for some reason thought it would be more obvious where it was on the bus and it wasn’t till I got to the end of the line that I realized it was a lot closer to town than I thought. So I took the bus back and got off where there were a lot of funeral/flower places congregated. Even then I thought I was in the wrong place. Unlike Monumentale
cemetery in Milano, there is no grand entrance to the place. It was just a gravel alley with flower sellers to the right and some non-descript buildings on the left. But a lot of people were going into this place and I figured this had to be right. Unfortunately I soon realized that I was walking along with a funeral procession (the hearse gave it away) so I quickly made my way off to the left to leave them to their mourning.
Even then, even though I knew I was in Staglieno, I had some doubts. The graves at the entrance are a bit haphazard (possibly war memorials?) but then I realized there was a large colonnade in front of me and that would be a good place to start (if you look on the map it is in the “C” section). After photographing that section I went to my right, as I am wont to do, since it seemed that there would be a lot of monuments there. There was an elevator to take me to the top of a hill and that basically led me to the Pantheon (“D” section), which had one amazing tomb/sculpture after another, including the Monteverde Angel (see the image at the top of this post). After that I just followed my nose, which had me climbing a hill (“E” section) that had large tombs (the size of small houses in the case of some of them). While walking by these amazing tombs was incredibly peaceful, a sizeable blister on my foot and a sore back meant I had to conserve my energy. So I found a path leading back downhill and eventually made my way past the Protestant cemetery and under the aqueduct to “C” section once again, this time to visit the St. Angelo Portico, which I believe is the most recent structure there. It was there that I found the Burlando Tomb which features the statue which adorns David Robinson’s book. This was the statue I came here to photograph, and to be honest, I almost walked right past it! It was so small compared to the other statues in it’s vicinity. At that moment I cursed being so short (5’3″) since it meant I couldn’t get the top angle I wanted to photograph it. The light was harsh behind it (around 2 p.m.) so I decided to visit it the next day in the morning to see if the light would be better. Stupidly, I didn’t know where I was (or where it was) as it was just steps away from where I first explored the cemetery in the morning, but of course I kind of missed it. After that point I realized that I was pretty exhausted so decided to call it a day with less than 4 hours exploring (but very fruitful ones!). Having come back to the hotel and rested with lunch and lots of water I realized that I missed about half the cemetery, including some pretty famous monuments, like the grieving angel on the Ribaudo Tomb from Joy Divisions’ “Never Tear Us Apart.”
So the next morning I was there again, not at 7:30, but at 8, which was not bad. I went straight to the Burlando tomb and had the same problem I had had the day before – the background was well-lit – but it was a bit better this time around – there was more indirect light on the statue and the background light was not as harsh as it was in the morning. Honestly though, since this is a south-facing portico, there’s nothing to be done about it – you just have to hope for an overcast day to get a more balanced/ moody photo. Which is what I got a few hours later when a huge cloud covered the sun for about an hour – I made my back over to that section to photograph it once again and it was much better.
This second round I spent most of my time in the A and B sections which have several rows of sculptures per side and other funeral monuments. The galleries here are long and face different directions, so it’s worth visiting them at different times of day (even an hour makes a big difference) to get the right light. I did find that some of the galleries were too dark (I was shooting at 800 ISO at about f/4 at 1/30sec). I even pulled out my tripod, but just for the Ribaudo Tomb, and just because I was shooting infrared. Even though I had permission to do so, I was a little reluctant to do so because the thing about Staglieno is that it is very much a working cemetery. Every gallery I walked down had someone cleaning the tomb and laying flowers, and when I was in A/B there was someone being buried in the open section just beyond. Prior to that the bulldozers were there digging graves, and near the C section you could hear what sounded like gravestones being inscribed. No matter what section I visited, there was always someone there to visit a grave. Even this morning I rode the elevator with a grandmother and her very sweet little granddaughter holding flowers as they headed to one of the oldest sections of the cemetery. So even though I was really eager to photograph the cemetery, I was very aware of the people around me and tried my best to be unobtrusive, and in many cases, come back later to photograph a monument. Which also meant not using the tripod when really I should have. Of course, some things are more important than photographs.
So…22 rolls of film later, I feel happy about what I was able to photograph. Of course, I haven’t seen the entire cemetery, but as I was mostly chasing monuments I think I got most of what I came for. That being said, what I’ll really remember about this cemetery is how beautiful and peaceful it is. Walking along leaf- or needle-strewn paths, climbing up and down rickety stairs, watching out for broken slabs or other monuments, with the soft sound of leaves rustling in the breeze, the dappled light of the sun, the chirping of insects, the cooing of pigeons in the rafters, and strolling past the dusty monuments of the dead, many who are still very much remembered in the present…it was a wonderful experience. Even now I feel that my words (and photographs) cannot do this place justice. What’s that line? “We’ll always have Paris” — well, I’ll always have Staglieno.
Quality of Monuments: Outstanding. Do I even have to say it? The sheer number of tombs, monuments, and statues here is astounding. The quality too is unmatched to anything I’ve seen anywhere else. Many of the statues belong in galleries, yet here they are in a beautiful outdoor setting, which makes them even better. More marble here than I’ve seen anywhere else.
The Cemetery Grounds: Superb. As I’ve mentioned earlier, the grounds are amazing. The cemetery is well-maintained but not too well-maintained. Of course the statues are covered in dust, which is an issue, but there’s something about walking along leaf-strewn paths and holding on to rickety iron railings that makes this place seem like it has very slight feeling on benevolent neglect. A little more of a wabi sabi aesthetic if you will. The grounds are huge, and each section has a different character from the others, but they are all interesting to visit.
Visitors: There are some tourists here – more than Monumentale, less than Père Lachaise. But none will get in the way of visiting the cemetery. Of course there are mourners here too, more so than any other cemetery I’ve been to, so please be respectful of that. In many ways, I was moved by this very present show of devotion to family (and others). Some tombs were quite old and they still had someone there to look after it.
Photographer notes: You can use a tripod but you have to get permission first. Of course, being respectful of others and behaving properly is of paramount importance. This is very much a working cemetery, and unlike what most of us are familiar with in the west, a lot of people come here to visit and clean graves, in addition to funerals going on, so that definitely needs to be taken into consideration.
Overall satisfaction: Wonderful
This is the most amazing cemetery. Even if you never took a photo here, I guarantee that you will remember it. It’s stunning. It’s a combination garden/park/zen/cemetery as you will find anywhere. I’d like to think that my bias for cemeteries doesn’t bias me here.
Cemetery: Cimitero Monumentale di Staglieno
Location: About 5-10 minutes by bus from Genoa’s Brignole Station (#13, 14, 34-48) Get off the Picenza/Cimitero Staglione bus stop (the first one right after you go under an underpass). The cemetery is to your left.
Hours: 7:30-17:00 open daily