A secret wander around Rome’s Verano cemetery

I have always appreciated the peaceful atmosphere of cemeteries. When I was young I remember wandering around the graves at Layston in Buntingford, England. Then during my time at university in Edinburgh I visited the cemeteries of the Scottish capital, including Greyfriars Kirkyard and Old Calton Cemetery.

In Rome, I often take guests to the Non-Catholic cemetery near Piramide, where the English poets John Keats and Percy Shelley are buried. In recent years I have discovered the municipal cemetery at Campo Verano, stretching over the site of the estate of emperor Lucius Verus, in the San Lorenzo district. A few weeks ago I went back there for a walk.

According to my research, the area around the church of Saint Lawrence outside the walls has been a burial ground for centuries. Testimony to this are the ancient catacombs of Santa Ciriaca, underneath the church. The Verano cemetery next door was constructed from 1804, following the Edict of St. Cloud establishing that all burials should take place outside the city walls. Work was started under Napoleonic rule based on a project by Giuseppe Valadier. It was then carried on by the architect Virginio Vespignani under papal rule. Parts of the cemetery, such as the entrance and area around the military memorial,  were damaged by allied bombing in World War Two and subsequently rebuilt.

On my recent visit I entered through the impressive front archways, which are flanked by four large statues representing, from left to right on the photo below, Silence, Charity, Hope and Meditation.

veranoentranceI wandered through the cemetery to the large courtyard at the far end. I took a moment to admire its symmetrical lay-out. I also noted several graves of nuns and monks  amid the flowers and hedges in the central square.

verano1

photo 2

I walked through the arcades around the edge of the courtyard, which contained rows of shrines, like this one:

shrine

Next I veered up the steps to the graveyard stretching over the hillside. I stopped to look at the details on some of the graves, including statues of pensive and forlorn angels.

angel2

angel

flightofthespirit

Some graves also have images or pictures of the people buried here. Many of these are by Filippo Severati, who developed an unprecedented technique of glazed painting which was long-lasting and resistant to the atmosphere.

tomb

photo (10)

The family tombs varied in appearance and decoration. Some were covered in mosaics, reinterpreting themes from the early Christian and Byzantine eras. This one was particularly striking:

photo (11)

There were two graves I  wanted to see especially in Verano cemetery: those of the Roman poets Trilussa and Giuseppe Gioachino Belli. You have to walk across the Pincetto Nuovo area to the  Rampa Caracciolo to see the grave of Trilussa (1873-1950):

One of his poems is engraved in the little stone booklet to the right:

C’è un ape che se posa
su un bottone de rosa
lo succhia e se ne va:
tutto sommato, la felicità
è una piccola cosa.

There is a bee that settles
on a rose bud.
It savours it, and goes:
all in all, happiness
is a small thing.

The grave of Belli (1791-1863), meanwhile is located in the Altopiano Pincetto. It bears an epitaph written by Belli’s friend Francesco Spada, along the lines of: “In this place is Giuseppe Gioacchino Belli, a Roman, who by faith, morals, ingenuity – exemplary , wholesome, incisive – shone everywhere: with his verses of all kinds, amusing and admonishing at the same time.”

After this I headed back down the hill, past more grave stones flanked by overgrown flower bushes, and out towards the church of St. Lawrence.

blueflowers

Several other prominent Italians and foreigners are buried in Verano cemetery, including actor Ennio Balbo, novelist Alberto Moravia, and poet Giuseppe Ungaretti. I’ll leave you with a poem Ungaretti wrote in response to World War Two and the bombing of Verano cemetery. I have read various interpretations of it but in essence one could say he is inviting people to stop hating each other and listen in silence to the message of those who have died in war, to ensure that they did not die in vain.

No more crying out

Stop murdering the dead.
Be still, cry out no longer
If you really want to hear them,
If you hope not to perish.

Theirs is the faintest murmur,
They make no more disturbance
Than the springing up of grasses
Happy where no man passes.


15 thoughts on “A secret wander around Rome’s Verano cemetery

  1. I will be in Rome June 2016 and want to find the grave of American sculptor Randolph Rogers who is in Campo Verano. Is there a way I can write ahead to get directions to his grave. Thank you for your beautiful pictures!

  2. Thanks Catherine. I tried the info email and have gotten no response in a month. I have no ability to call internationally. I have to find someone there to be a contact. BTW do you know if photography for personal use is permitted?

  3. Dear Deb, I think you are better off speaking directly to Verano about these details. Sorry you’ve received no reply. Try sending another email? I plan to visit again in the next few months and if i find out any information to help you I’ll let you know.

      1. Hi Deb, please note reader comment below. Maybe it will help. Actually following all of this I did some research online and realised I have seen Randolph Rogers’ grave in Verano, as it is a copy of his Flight of the Spirit bas-relief on the Waterman monument. I specifically remember noticing that image of the veiled woman and thinking it was quite haunting. It was in the Pincetto Vecchio, up the steps from the Quadriportico. I can’t confirm details of the exact location though at moment.

  4. Hi, I live in Rome, I swung by the cemetery for you and while I didn’t get a picture yet, I DID get the grave information; so just bring a map (which you can find online (better so you have it with you!) or view at the entrance). I will try to get pictures next time I’m in the area, I just didn’t have time to go to the grave this time.
    There are several interred in the grave; I assume some are family:
    location
    Zona/Zone – Pincetto Vecchio
    Sottozona/Sub zone – Ex Vigna Cappuccini
    Riquadro/panel – 20
    Numero/Number – 27
    Fila/Row – 97
    Posti/Places – 000

    Those who are buried there and/or have their names on the grave and dates of death (where applicable)are:
    Mary Rogers – 13/10/1859
    Rogers Randolph
    Edmond Rosa – 29/05/1867
    Rogers Randolph – 15/01/1891
    Gibson Rosa – 29/07/1890
    Rogers Virginia
    Santini Pietro – 29/08/1961

  5. Thank you! You are fantastic, Daltont2000! I will look for the map online. Can’t wait to visit Rome. I love that city!

    1. You’re welcome Deb! The info I provided is from the office on the cemetery grounds, which I went to personally, so it should be 100% accurate. I hope you enjoy your visit to Rome. Thomas

  6. I also am lookin gfor a grave somewhere in the “San Lorenzo cemetery ” as I understood it was called. She was a Catholic nun, Mother or Sister Mary Raphael of the Little Company of mary (LCM) died 1929. Any help to find her grave when I visit Rome next month would be most appreciated.

      1. Just a further query. The lady I am searching for was a nun of the Little Company of mary (in English) , as I said buried in 1929. The information I have is that “she is buried in San Lorenzo” – am I right to presume she is now in part of Verano cemetery or is there a smaller cemetery called San Lorenzo? She may be in a section for the Little Company of Mary sisters – is there one on the list you have? Also her burial may be under her surname which is Farrar or Byrne Farrar. or Byrne Farrer.
        I am grateful for your assistance. I will call the cemetery when I arrive in Rome or perhaps I should write as my Italian is very limited.

  7. If it is San Lorenzo, Rome, it sounds most likely to me to be Verano. My lists are just of artists and politicians. You could try calling beforehand and seeing if someone can speak English, otherwise going to the office in the cemetery at the times it mentions it is open sounds like your best bet (bearing in mind however that August is a very quiet month in Italy). In fact here I have found the reduced hours in the yellow box on this page. It says is only open in the mornings of Mon-Sat in August, 8.15-1230, and not on holidays which will include the August 15 holiday, and it is closed also on the 16th and 17th. http://www.cimitericapitolini.it/pagine/45-contatti.html
    Good luck!

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