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Friday, November 2, 2018

Cemetery wanderings - a great trek through Cimitero Verano in Rome

We should've known from the size of the huge green oval on Rome maps that the main Rome cemetery, Cimitero Verano, was much, much larger than it first appears.  We had visited it many years ago and appreciated its almost Rococo excesses in funerary monuments as well as notables buried there. Like much else in Rome, it was (and is) in a state of disrepair.

Also, like much else in Rome, burials in this location--along the via Tiburtina consular road and adjacent to the Basilica of San Lorenzo fuori le mura ("San Lorenzo outside the walls")--have been going on for over 2,000 years.  

Virginio Vespignani's "Meditation," at the entrance
to Rome's Verano Cemetery. Note the skull under
her foot.  She is meditating on death. About 1880.
The current cemetery is basically attributable to Napoleon, who wanted to displace the Church. During his 1805-14 reign, he established the rule that burials must be outside Rome's walls (and not within church yards) and brought in Rome's notable architect, Giuseppe Valadier, to design Verano. Although the Popes took over again after Napoleon, the cemetery was expanded just after the establishment of the secular Italy monarchy in 1870.  As a result the basic design of the cemetery is not particularly religious.  The imposing entrance is dominated by four huge statues of  Meditation, Hope, Charity and Silence, rather than statues to saints.

The monument to Goffredo Mameli, who, on July 6, 1849 [here in Roman numerals]
 died at 22 of wounds in the campaign to free Italy from the Popes (the Risorgimento).
Mameli also wrote the lyrics for what is now the Italian national anthem "Il Canto degli Italiani,"
also known as Inno di Mameli (Mameli's Hymn). The monument has the Rome she-wolf
and the twins Romulus and Remus at the top. It has fasci on the sides, indicating
it might have been erected in the Fascist era. The quote on the back is from
Mameli's friend and Risorgimento giant, Giuseppe Mazzini.

Once through the entrance, and once through the older part of the cemetery, enormous newer areas open up, often in mid-20th-century architectural styles. One reason for the newer parts of the cemetery as well is the extensive bombing by the Allies of the church, the cemetery and the areas around it in World War II. 

The cemetery also is rightly famous for the famous people buried there, from actors to politicians. We found particularly interesting the monument to Goffredo Mameli in the older part.

Actor Alberto Sordi's mausoleum is one,
if not the only one, with an alarm system.
Apparently Sordi was known for wanting
to make sure no one took his "stuff,"
even in death.

The mausoleums of beloved comedic actor Alberto Sordi and Mussolini Mistress Clara Petacci are in the newer part. 

The cemetery also was divided into Catholic and Jewish sections, with an additional World War I section.  Today the burials are not so divided.  There is also a powerful memorial to those who died in the German concentration camps.
But Sordi couldn't prevent a bit of
fan graffiti.

More on those monuments and other parts of the cemetery in the captions of the photos below. There are also lists of notable people buried in the cemetery on both English and Italian sites.
And the "Find a Grave" site has Verano listed with many "Famous Memorials." such as philosopher George Santayana (who famously said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it") and author Alberto Moravia, about whom we've written.

After I wrote this post but before it was published, Cynthia Coco Camille Korzekwa posted in RST's Facebook site on work she had done and an excellent Web site (in English), with descriptions of art work in the cemetery.

One of the 20th century mausoleums and our guide,
Diego, with "lo zainetto rosso," his little red

We owe our great trek through the newer parts of the cemetery to the guide, "Lo zainetto rosso" ("the little red backpack), aka Diego Cruciani.  Diego has an unusual sensibility and is incredibly knowledgeable.  He guides in two languages at once, basically--Italian and English. You can see his latest plans on his Facebook page. And you can join his email list ( You just show up - no prior reservations. And he accepts very modest donations at the end (I think - after asking our other fellow followers - we contributed 5 Euros each after 2.5 hours of a tour with about 10 people).

The cemetery's Web site in English:  The site also lists all the trams and buses that go to the cemetery (and San Lorenzo fuori le mura), and the hours it's open.

More photos and history below.  Dianne

And for another capital city and its history through the cemetery, see Abby A. Johnson and Ronald M. Johnson's "In the Shadow of the United States Capitol: Congressional Cemetery and the Memory of the Nation."
"In memory of the 2,728 Roman citizens eliminated in the Nazi extermination camps, 1943-1945."

Diego explains this monument to Attilio Ferraris, which calls him "Champion of the world,"
and has a bas-relief of a fallen soccer player.  Ferraris was part of Italy's 1934 World
Championship team and died at 43, in 1947,  while playing an old-timers game.
The mausoleum of  Clara Petacci, Mussolini's mistress
 who was executed with him by partisans near Lake Como in 1945.
The monument was at one time in shambles, but somebody obviously
 paid to restore it. The people in our tour group who approached
the mausoleum (several declined) are reading a recent
hand-written note to Clara.


A children's section.

An elaborate monument to architect Vittorio Ballio Morpurgo. He was notably active in Rome in the 1930s, including working on what was to be the Fascist Party Headquarters (now "La Farnesina," the State Department) and the
Fascist Piazza Augusto Imperatore, where Mussolini wanted to be buried (in Emperor Augustus's tomb). That didn't work out, but the piazza still carries its rationalist design and is in RST's Top 40. Interestingly Morpurgo was Jewish. One biographical note says simply "He was not much affected by the race laws." And he added his mother's name to his last name (Ballio) after World War II and managed to continue his profession, as did many architect's associated with the Fascist regime. He died in 1966.
A small part of a lovely grotto-like section, composed mainly of "in
memento mori" - memorials rather than tombs.

I can't find out anything more about this Guglielmotti
family.  We rather liked the mausoleum, and the sculpture--
which looks like it's from the 1970s.

1 comment:

Melissa Susan Weekley said...

I went to the cemetery in Milano, also has some amazing sculptures to see. Italy is not only beautiful for the living but for the dead as well.