How lovely it is to be in Rome in late March. The weather is warm and sunny, the trees and flowers are in bloom, and the tourists are not overwhelming. Rome, of course, is no stranger to tourists, having been art of nearly every tourist’s European tour for centuries. Especially in the 17th-19th centuries, young men and women of wealthy means often undertook a journey throughout Europe, visiting such iconic cities as Paris, Geneva, Venice, Florence, and Rome. Many of these tourists were from the UK, and some of them spent significant amounts of time in the Italian cities, often for their health. But, as is the case even today, some died while abroad and needed a place to be buried. Many of the non-Italian, non-Catholic Europeans needed a proper place to be buried – they couldn’t be buried in Catholic cemeteries, nor was it appropriate to bury them in the same unconsecrated grounds as suicides and non-baptized infants. So the Catholic Church allowed for Protestants and other non-Catholics to be buried in a cemetery next to the Pyramid of Caius Crespius, which was erected between 18-12 BCE. It first opened in 1716, but the first burial was in 1738.
I came here fairly early in the morning, but there were already many tour groups and other tourists inside. To avoid them, I headed over to the “old” section of the cemetery, which is directly across from the Pyramid, and is more of a grassy park than the high density newer cemetery next door. It’s in this older section that a young John Keats, who died in 1821 at 25, is buried. He went to Rome to recover from tuberculosis, which was a common treatment in those days (not necessarily going to Rome, but spending time in warmer climates). He died despondent that he did not achieve any fame for his poetry, which is why his tombstone does not bear his name. His friend Joseph Severn, who helped nurse him, is buried beside him, and the infant sone of Percy B. and Mary Shelley lays nearby. That same year, the. Church declared that no new burials would be allowed in across from the Pyramid, and the “new” cemetery was established next door. This is where the majority of the burials and monuments are today.
Inside the newer section of the cemetery is probably one of the most iconic funerary statues ever created, the grieving angel sculpted by William Wetmore Story, after his wife Emelyn Story passed away. This statue is at the top of the hill that the cemetery rests on, and seems to attract a lot of visitors, who may or may not have known of its existence prior to coming here (most were in tour groups). In fact, the number of people visiting this statue forced me to explore the rest of the cemetery first, which turned out to be exactly what I needed, since being there in the morning meant that part of the statue was in bright light, and the rest in shadow, making it difficult to get a nice photo of it. By the time I circled back it was closer to noon, and even though it was a sunny, blue sky day, the statue was more evenly lit, being in shadow from the tall trees blocking out the sun.
Even though this is (also) known as the Protestant Cemetery, it is in fact a cemetery for non-Catholic residents of Rome, (and also the Catholic spouses of those buried in the cemetery). As such, there are also Orthodox, Jewish, and Muslim graves within the grounds. That said, the vast majority belong to English-speaking Protestants who had the (un)fortunate luck of dying while in Rome. Some of the larger tombs are quite impressive, with long epitaphs.
Overall I really enjoyed visiting this cemetery and will definitely go back again if and when I make it back to Rome.
Monuments: There is a really nice variety of tombs and statues here, and the long history of the cemetery means that you can see a variety of styles of monuments here. As a number of famous or rich people are buried here, there are quite a few beautiful statues, considering how small the cemetery really is.
Grounds: The cemetery is in two parts – the older, flat section near the pyramid, and the newer section which is on the hillside. It is a very well-maintained cemetery and easy to get around, but a number of sections were closed off for repairs while I was there, which meant a lot of backtracking to get around.
Visitors: Being a cemetery with some famous internments, in one of the most famous in the world means that there were quite a few tourists here. In fact, there were no less than 4 different tour groups going around the cemetery, in addition to individuals, while I was there.
Notes: The hillside location, trees, and weather means that you can (and will) get some very high contrast situations here, making it difficult to get nice (or evenly lit) photos of the monuments. A bright overcast day would be the best time to visit I think.
Cemetery: Non-Catholic Cemetery (Cimitero Acattolico), also known as the Protestant Cemetery (Cimitero dei protestanti) or the Englishmen’s Cemetery (Cimitero degli Inglesi)
Notable Internments: John Keats, Percy B. Shelley, Peitro Boyesen (photographer), Antonio Gramsci (leader of the Italian Communist Party), Lindsay Kemp (British choreographer and dancer), and many others
Location: Via Caio Cestio, 6, 00153 Roma. A number of buses run near the cemetery, but it’s walkable from the historic centre.
Hours: Daily 09:30-16:30 except Sundays, when it closes at 12:30. A suggested donation of 3 euros is appreciated.
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