Cimitero Monumentale del Verano, Rome

I recently reviewed a place in TripAdvisor, and thought it would be interesting to share the review here with some images. I didn’t have my DSLR with me, alas, but the photo’s are decent enough to show a small selection. The Cimitero Monumentale del Verano is an interesting place. It covers a vast part of Rome not far outside the ancient city walls. It didn’t grow organically like some other historic burial sites, but was planned by an architect (Guiseppe Valadier) during the napoleontic era. One of many traces of Napoleon’s legacy all over Europe. Like other famous cemeteries, Père Lachaise springs to mind, it is an encyclopaedia of eclectic architectural styles, ornamentation and sepulchral art. Some parts are well-kept, some graves are derelict.

Portrait on marble, 19th century, Cimetero Monumentale del Verano, Rome. Photo: Eelco Bruinsma 2014
Portrait on marble, 19th century, Cimetero Monumentale del Verano, Rome. Photo: Eelco Bruinsma 2014

What struck me were the many portraits, painted on the marble, or alabaster. The colours on many of them are still fresh and vivid, their surfaces unblemished. There are some very touching ones. I have done some painting on marble myself in the past, it’s an incredible smooth an pleasant surface to paint upon, but I didn’t know paintings can survive for so long under the blazing Roman sun.

Portrait in relief, alabaster (?) tondo mounted in marble, Cimitero Monumentale del Verano, Rome. Photo: Eelco Bruinsma 2014.
Portrait in relief, alabaster (?) tondo mounted in marble, Cimitero Monumentale del Verano, Rome. Photo: Eelco Bruinsma 2014.

The sculptures are of course a familiar feature when you are used to visiting these historic cemeteries in France and Italy. Still, there were some very nice examples, weathered through time.

Cimitero Monumentale del Verano, Rome. Example of eclectic tomb architecture I. Photo: Eelco Bruinsma 2014.
Cimitero Monumentale del Verano, Rome. Example of eclectic tomb architecture I. Photo: Eelco Bruinsma 2014.

Walking around, one is surrounded by a stunning architectural landscape, artfully lined by the ubiquitous pines and cypress trees. I was constantly doing 360 degree turns to appreciate the changing vistas and perspectives. As I had only one free afternoon in Rome before a meeting at Sapienza University, and I was already staying in the area, which is not at all the crowded touristic heart of the city, I decided to pick one monument and headed from my hotel to the cemetery as soon as I dropped off my luggage. I’m glad I did. Walking around there is both eerie and fascinating. I was struck by the pervasive scent of a specific tree (I still haven’t identified it) that flowered at that time (june). The tree produces a pleasant and sweet perfume, not exclusive for the cemetery, though, because it was also very present in the streets and lanes of the area.

Cimitero Monumentale del Verano, Rome. Example of eclectic tomb architecture II. Photo: Eelco Bruinsma 2014.
Cimitero Monumentale del Verano, Rome. Example of eclectic tomb architecture II. Photo: Eelco Bruinsma 2014.

If you still have some feeling in your feet left after visiting the cemetery, it is a good idea to walk through the Via dei Volsci, where many of the monument-related artisans have their workshops. You hear the sawing of stone. The water cooling the saws runs through the street. Large slabs of marble, granite, and all types of stone line the walls. A strange, and fascinating microcosm.

Entrance to the Via di Volsci, Rome. Photo Eelco Bruinsma 2014.
Entrance to the Via di Volsci, Rome. Photo Eelco Bruinsma 2014.

Just next to the monumental entrance lies the somewhat austere church of San Lorenzo fuori le Mura (St Lawrence outside the Walls). Apart from a few sarcophaguses my attention was drawn to the tomb of Alcide de Gasperi, one of the visionaries that created the European Union. The creator of the tomb was the famous Giacomo Manzu, but I only learnt that after my short visit, although I could have known of course, seeing the image of the priest.

San Lorenzo fuori le Mura, sarcophagus
San Lorenzo fuori le Mura, sarcophagus. Photo, Eelco Bruinsma 2014.
San Lorenzo fuori le Mura, in the distance the tomb of Alcide de Gasperi
San Lorenzo fuori le Mura, in the distance the tomb of Alcide de Gasperi. Photo: Eelco Bruinsma 2014.
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