Art & Culture (le cose belle) / Historical Sites (l'antichità)

Rome’s Non-Catholic Cemetery

Antonio Gramsci's tomb being watched over by the local fuzz. See what I did there?

When you step into the Non-Catholic Cemetery, time suspends. The cemetery is encased in a constant cool, refreshing the air in lieu of its ever-reclining populace. The whir of wheel on asphalt from the nearby Piazzale Ostiense is absorbed by the rustling boughs of tall cyprus trees that line the rows of tombstones, young and old. Tall walls keep out the breeze and a lull lounges upon the scene. Cats pad their way over the graves, enjoying the slackened pace of their surroundings. These cats are perfect pets to the dead: undemanding, muted, lazy. At the same time, the felines gladly accept the role of caretaker, in these parts an easy and idle occupation. Their resigned tenants can offer no thanks, but no matter, the cats expect none. Together they inhabit this hushed home, passing the days in melted relaxation.

Though death may be the great equalizer, there are certain persons buried here that merit mention. The anonymous tomb of John Keats, who in 1821 succumbed to tuberculosis at the age of 25 in Rome, bears a famous epitaph that ends with the lines “here lies one whose name was writ in water.” Percy Bysshe Shelley, another English Romantic whose life was abbreviated after drowning in the Tyrrhenian Sea in 1822 at the age of 29, also resides in the cemetery. Political philosopher and one of the founders and former leaders of the Italian Communist Party, Antonio Gramsci, neighbors these two poets. Many others join them.

The Non-Catholic Cemetery is, appropriately, a place of peace. A stroll through its rows will cause ones spirits to revitalize, not rescind. Located behind the southern face of the pyramid, it is easily accessible (though please note that the entrance is not found in the huge piazza, but rather on Via Caio Cestio, shown here). Entrance is free, but donations are accepted; after a visit, one is hard pressed to not drop in at least a bit of change. As the days get warmer and longer, the Non-Catholic Cemetery is a marvelous place to spend a sleepy afternoon. And who knows, you might even make a friend:

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