Grave Expectations

by Danilo Brunetti

Everyone knows that Rome is a mecca of art and history. You’d be hard pressed to name another city in the world that can boast more churches, statues, fountains, museums, monumental squa­res, or ancient ruins. But Rome is also home to countless tombs and funerary monuments of both artistic and historic appeal. Since this month kicks off with All Saints’ and All Souls’ Day, we take you on an unconventional tour of the Eternal City’s fascinating cemeteries, where you’ll fìnd the fìnal resting places of some of the most famous fìgures of Italy and the world. By Federico Schiaffino


The Verano Monumental Cemetery in Rome’s San Lorenzo district has become a bit like its Parisian counterpart Père Lachaise, where every year thousands of Doors’ fans line up to pay homage at the grave of Jim Morrison. Tourists who are attracted to cemeteries aren’t necessarily fixated on the macabre; they simply wish to celebrate the lives of the greatest stars of the music, films, and literature of yesterday. In fact, there’s a silent movement of tourists and locals who prefer the tree-lined paths of a historic cemetery to the more conventional (and crowded) attractions in the city.

Verano Monumental Cemetery

The land on which the Verano Cemetery sprawls has been used as a burial ground for over two thousand years-the Catacombs of Santa Ciriaca, where St. Lawrence himself was buried, have been incorporated into the modern cemetery. The number of tombs of artistic importance has made the cemetery into a veritable open-air museum with an inestimable art-historic value dating prevalently to the second half of the 19th century and the entirety of the 20th century.

For this reason, free tours of the cemetery are perio­dically available, following itineraries of specific historical periods or categories. For example, the tombs of actors and directors such as Vittorio Gassman, Alberto Sordi, Roberto Rossellini, Nino Manfredi, and Vittorio De Sica are here. Some of them, like Manfredi and De Sica, are in family mausoleums, while others rest in individual tombs that have been memorialized by photos or famous lines uttered by their characters, inevitably quoted solemnly by visitors. – Piazzale del Verano, 7.

The Tomb of Alcide de Gasperi

One of the most illustrious Roman tombs belongs to Alcide de Ga­speri, considered a founding father of the Italian Republic. Located inside the Basilica of San Lorenzo Fuori le Mura, the tomb itself is cased in precious rose-colored marble, and sits upon a white marble base carved with intricate foliage. Above the tomb is a simple yet unusual stone plaque bearing the figure of an archbi­shop and a Latin epitaph that reads: Ei qui pacem Patriamque dilexit Lux requietis aeternae affulgeat (May eternai light shine on him who loved peace and his country). – Piazzale del Verano, 3.

The Non-Catholic Cemetery

This secluded and evocative cemetery, located in the shadow of the Pyramid of Cestius, is reserved, as its name suggests, for the tombs non-Catholic figures. It is home to the remains of many illustrious perso­nalities, including the English poets Percy Bysshe Shelley and John Keats, August von Goethe (son of the great German writer), and the American sculptor William Wetmore Story, who created the of Angel of Sorrow, the most beloved statue of the graveyard, in his wife’s memory before being buried beside her years later. Italian philosopher and free-thinker An­tonio Gramsci also lies here; his tomb is composed of a large stone column and a marble headstone inscribed with some of his most celebrated quotations. – Via Caio Cestio, 6.

The Pantheon

In addition to being the best preserved ancient monument in the world, a former pagan tempie, and a Catholic church, the Pantheon is also a mausoleum. The grandest funerary monuments inside are dedicated to the monarchs of the Italian State, namely King Vittorio Emanuele II and King Umberto I of Savoy (Italy’s fìrst two kings). The tomb of Queen Margherita, the fìrst queen of Italy and namesake of the beloved pizza, is also here. The tombs are placed on the sides of the cylindrical space and guarded over at all times by volunteers from the National Institute for the Honor Guard of the Royal Tombs of the Pantheon.

Perhaps of more interest to art-loving tourists is the tomb of Raphael Sanzio, arguably the greatest painter of the Renaissance. Raphael chose this church as his burial place, under the statue of The Madonna del Sasso, a work by Lorenzo Lotti that he commissioned himself. The moving epitaph, written by Renaissance poet Pietro Bem­bo, reads, “Here lies Raphael, by whom, while he lived, Nature feared to be outdone, and while he lay dying, feared she would die with him“. – Piazza della Rotonda.

The Tombs of the Medici Popes

Last but not least, neither in importance or beauty, are the monumental tombs of two popes of the Medici dynasty, Giulio and Giovanni respectively, more widely known as Popes ClementVII and Leo X. They are both buried in the Basilica of Santa Maria sopra Minerva, a church built with a mix of sty­les, making it one of the most fascinating in the entire city. The tombs of the two Popes, although very simple, pay homage to two fundamental figures in the history of the church and Italy. – Piazza della Minerva, 42.

Basilica di Santa Maria sopra Minerva

Want more insight into Rome’s most famous tombs? There’s an app for that. Download Cimiteri di Roma (available in English and Italian) for a guide to the most famous tombs in Rome’s three major cemeteries: Verano, Flaminio, and the Non-Catholic Cemetery. While you wander amongst the graves, your location will be updated via GPS, helping you locate the most important tombs in the immediate vicinity. The app also provides information about the deceased, including dates of birth and death, profession, and other historical details.