The Italian Cypress

August 6, 2009 / Local Interest

People everywhere associate the cypress tree with Italy. The Etruscans, who were present in Italy for at least 500 years, marked their gardens and cemeteries with it. When the Romans stole their culture and destroyed their civilization, they also planted the Etruscans’ favorite tree in their own gardens. ItalianCypress2

Perhaps the largest and oldest living tree of any kind is the gigantic cypress tree in Soma, Lombardy. It is thought to have been planted in the year of the birth of Christ, and is looked upon with great reverence. More than 120 feet in height, its trunk is twenty-three feet round. In the Italian climate, a cypress tree’s average height after forty years may be as tall as fifty or sixty feet.
From mediaeval times the coffins of the Popes were made of cypress wood, at least in part; and it is rumored that the doors of St. Peter’s were also made of this wood.

I’ve asked around why Cypress trees are planted in cemeteries. Practicality tells me it’s because its roots grow straight down and won’t disturb anything around it, but lovers of the Italian landscape tell me that the wood is so strongly scented that the tree has been planted around houses, churches and cemeteries in Italy for centuries. Italians believed that the air was “freshened” by the tree, giving rise to the quintessential “Italian landscape.”


Evanne Brandon-Diner

by Evanne Brandon-Diner

Chronicler of local village life in Northern Lazio, and property restoration and purchasing consultant.

21 Responses to “The Italian Cypress”

  1. Paul Huckett

    In my region of Australia ,many irrigated farms have planted countless thousands of cypresses as boundary markers .A beautiful sight when driving through the area but nothing to compare with the historical cypresses of Italy .

  2. Gurio Vincenti

    I giardini sono una meraviglia, ma li convinca a aprirli di sera.Le mie figlie si sono innamorate della Tuscia e anche di Bomarzo.

  3. Marie Elina

    Dear Eva !
    This is great. I love your articels :)
    Marie Elina

  4. Rosann Dionese

    I enjoyed this article very much and would now like to know more about the umbrella pines.

  5. Antoinette Quesada

    Again many thanks for all the lovely articles and photos of the most beautiful country I’ve ever visited. Have a great vacation and I am looking forward to September and the rest of the year.
    Antoinette Quesada

  6. Randy Bosch

    Wonderful article. Thanks! However, regarding oldest living trees, Bristlecone Pines in the White Mountains on the California/Nevada border in North America have been tree ring dated at over 4,000 years, and still living !!!

  7. Hi,

    I have always wondered why there are so many cypress trees in cemeteries. In my little town of Villa S. Lucia in Abruzzo, there are tall, beautiful ones in the local cemetery. Thank you for answering my questions.

  8. Tom Jordan

    Italian cypresses are indeed beautiful trees. Unfortunately, for the accuracy of the article, they are not even half the height of giant sequoias which approach 300′ and are also 2000+ years old. That said, the article is still a great reminder of Italy’s natural wonders.

  9. Lori Benacci

    I have been waiting for this article as I have been mystified by cypresses I have seen in Italy. And the photographs are breathtaking.

  10. Lori Benacci

    I have been waiting for this article for months…cypresses are so beautiful when seen in person, in photograhs, and in the movies. The included photos were breathtaking.

  11. ellen cool

    I have so enjoyed your informative and amusing articles……..

    the Italian colloquial phrases you use in context and translate are particularly special to me.

    …have a nice vacation………E

  12. Charles M. Luther

    I would have thought your research would be better. The Bristlecone trees of the American Rockies are older by far, as are some of the Sequoias of California.

  13. Rick in denver

    Really enjoyed the articolo, Eva, please keep up the good work.
    how about some pieces on Lazio.

  14. All my life I have loved the Italian cypress. I am surprised the article did not include a photo of the oldest cypress tree in Lombardy. However, do try to be a little better on your research

  15. Evanne Diner

    Thanks for the corrections, and don’t shoot the messenger. That’s GB, who is the real treasure. My research surely must be from European sources!

  16. Penny Ewles-Bergeron
    Penny Ewles-Bergeron

    Thanks Evanne – a note as elegant as the tree itself. Beautiful photos. best, Penny

  17. Joseph F. Krupsky

    Permit me to offer a counterview. The Romans did not “steal” Etruscan culture, nor did the Romans “destroy” Etruscan civilization.
    If I steal from someone, that person has nothing left of the thing stolen. The Romans “adopted, mimiced” significant aspects of Etruscan culture while leaving that culture entact.
    The Romans did not “destroy” Etruscan civilization. If I destroy something, there is nothing left of that thing. The Romans allowed Etruscan civilization over many generations to fall of its own weight.In fact as late as the mid 16th century many Roman noble families (think Colonna) tried mightly to date their ancestry to the Etruscans.

  18. Stanley Crabb

    KB, are the gardens of Tivoli still “running?” If so, it would make a great story. In my day that’s where couples went after or before their wedding. How romantic. No nicer place on a hot summer day in Rome.

  19. davi mondt lowman

    when i think of my beloved tuscany, it is never without the vision of cypress. these trees are truly the epitome of italy and i just love them. near castellina-in-chianti, there is a one of a kind natural cypress grove, the “sant agnese forest reserve”, which is breathtaking. it dates back about 1000 years. one of my favorite spots!


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