“It might make one in love with death, to think That One Should be buried in so sweet a place,” wrote Shelley, not long before he drowned and was buried here.
With Halloween quickly approaching, I thought it would be appropriate to share my experience in one of Rome’s famous cemeteries.
Nestled deep in the Testaccio neighborhood of Rome, the renowned Non-Catholic Cemetery for Foreigners is believed to contain the highest density of famous and important graves anywhere in the world. It is one of the oldest burial grounds in continuous use in Europe. Also known as the Protestant Cemetery, it is nearly 300 years old.
I arrived one Autumn morning on foot after following the Tiber River southward from the Pantheon. As I entered through the gates, I was taken by surprise at the quiet peace and beautiful vegetation among the tombs. Although I had creepy on my mind, the fresh morning light and menagerie of resident cats made it much less so. However, this is one cemetery I would not care to venture into at dusk.
The graves lie under the shadow of the Pyramid of Caius Cestius, constructed in 13 B.C., a magistrate of ancient Rome. Although little is known about him, he was infatuated with Egyptian monuments, as were many of his time.
A praying angel lies on top of a grave bordered by white flowers. Many sculptures accent the grounds and bring a sense of sadness.
The young 29-year-old poet Shelley, who drowned in the Bay of Poets, is buried here along with Keats, who died of tuberculosis in Rome at the age of 25. Many other famous painters, sculptors, authors, scholars and diplomats have found their resting places here. Goethe’s only son lies among the many.
Those of different faiths, such as Muslim, Buddhism, Islam, Zoroastrianism, Confucianism and atheists are buried here. There are over 15 languages inscribed on the headstones and tombs.
Oscar Wilde referred to the cemetery as “the holiest place in Rome.”
Below is a strange photo that I can’t quite explain. In the center appears to be a cat standing on it’s hind legs. It looks a bit odd, but not sure what is happening here.
Sun beams cross some of the graves like long columns of brilliant light.
Pathway between graves that lead up to a large tomb.
Below is the famous Angel of Grief, sculpted by William Story, an American sculptor, for his beloved wife Emelyn. This is one of the most emotional statues I have seen. The angel appears to be sobbing in despair over Emelyn’s grave, as if giving up. Could it be that what the angel could not protect in life, it has determined to accompany in death?
During the daylight, the Protestant Cemetery is a lovely oasis away from Rome’s big-city chaos. But after nightfall, I can’t guarantee it.
I love visiting cemeteries…do you have a tale to tell? What is your favorite? Please share your stories…