A Very Roman Resting Place

April 4, 2008 / Local Interest
When the sun, heat, and crowds of the usual sights become overwhelming, there is a little known place in Rome that is worth a visit. Home to the usual coterie of Roman cats that have the run of the place, it tells the fascinating story of foreigners in Rome over the ages.

Due to the Vatican’s restrictions on the burial of non-Catholics on consecrated ground, cemeteries had to be provided for Protestants, Jews, Russian and Greek Orthodox, and anyone of other religions who passed away in Rome. This cemetery, privately owned and funded by a group of Embassies present in Rome and located by Porta San Paolo and the piramide Cestia (photo 3, below) has been the main Cimitero per Acattolici (Cemetery for Non-Catholics) for the past three hundred years.

A walk along the tree shaded alleys that run parallel to and just inside the ancient Roman walls tells many stories. For example that of the whole period of the English “Grand Tour” visitors, among these Keats (photo 2) and Shelley, both buried here. Or that of the constant presence in Rome of the many foreign artists, archaeologists, and academics who came for inspiration, discovery, and research. Or again the many military personnel and ambassadors representing their countries, at first only to the pope and then once founded to the Italian State as well, their titles and accomplishments proudly on display. A walk also tells the stories of foreigners who then married Italians, the many double foreign-Italian last names on the headstones example after great example of cultures literally combining. It also tells the sad story of the incredibly high number of children decimated by malaria up until the 20th century, so many small statues of angels interspersed between the more austere graves of the adults.

Visiting a cemetery? . . . well, it is a different kind of visit for sure, but one that speaks just as eloquently about Italy and Rome’s history and the people who lived it as do the better known sights and ruins.


by GB Bernardini

Editor, Italian Notebook

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