A World Apart: Rome’s English Cemetery
England’s 19th-century love affair with Italy has left a legacy in cemeteries across the country. Not all English visitors went home to die. Thus Florence, Livorno, Naples and Rome are Italian cities that boast a Cimitero degli Inglesi.
At rest abroad
Each warrants a visit, but don’t expect to find a little exclave of England. For all four of these cemeteries are very cosmopolitan in nature. The English, as the dominant group of visitors to Italy in the post-Napoleonic period, may have been instrumental in developing an independent burial tradition, but the plots were generally available to anyone who would not naturally be buried in a regular Catholic cemetery.
The Florence cemetery has sepulchral inscriptions in a dozen languages, among them in Russian, Hebrew and Danish. There is a substantial area reserved for the deceased of the Orthodox Christian tradition, many of whom had no connection whatsoever with England.
Rome’s Cimitero degli Inglesi
The Rome cemetery is equally eclectic in character and its appeal to more than merely the English is explicit in the various names used for the cemetery. While many people refer to it as the English cemetery, other prefer the more all-embracing Protestant cemetery or non-Catholic cemetery.
It is one of our favorite spots in Rome, a real haven of quiet in an otherwise busy city. The cemetery is at Via Caio Cestio 6 in the Testaccio district south of the city center. Take Metro Line B to Piramide station—where there really is a pyramid, also well worth a look. The cemetery opens daily at nine in the morning, remaining open until late afternoon Monday thru Friday, but closing at lunchtime on Saturdays and Sundays.
Poets and politicians
Take time for exploring the English cemetery. Among the celebs in residence are the poets Keats and Shelley. Keats died of tuberculosis in Rome in 1821 when he was only 25 years old. Shelley came to an unhappy end the following year when he drowned off the coast at Lerici. He was just 29 years old.
The pilgrims who make their way nowadays to this serene corner of Rome are often driven more by politics than by poetry. For here lies the final resting place of Antonio Gramsci, one-time leader of the Partito Comunista d’Italia and one of the most celebrated political thinkers of the last century. He died in Rome in 1937 at age 46, while being held in detention by the Fascist government.
More about the cemetery
There is a small reception center for visitors to the cemetery, and it makes sense to leave a small donation. Beyond that, facilities are sparse, but there is a good selection of bistros and cafés in nearby streets. This is one of the best documented cemeteries in the world. Volunteers produce an excellent newsletter three or four times each year.
A new book on the cemetery has just been published. Written by Nicholas Stanley-Price and entitled The Non-Catholic Cemetery in Rome, the volume tracks the history of the cemetery. It includes several maps, and is surely a must-read for visitors intent on understanding more about this intriguing Roman space.