I don’t want to give you the impression that I loiter around cemeteries but I’m afraid that’s just what might happen. I introduced you to Franco in yesterday’s post and how we went to the EUR in Rome. The rest of the day was spent walking around basically all of Rome, visiting churches and statues. I’m pleased to report that at my advanced age, I could walk from 9.00am to around 6.00pm with only a quick break for lunch in the Jewish Quarter. You have to be fit to keep up with Franco. No way was I going to let him think I couldn’t keep up with a 65-year old.

But first of all, I have to admit that when I was a teenager, I used to visit Gore Hill cemetery in Sydney with a school friend. We were both taking art classes outside of school and we’d go to the cemetery to sketch elaborate headstones. I didn’t have some sort of morbid obsession with death but I have to admit that I found the cemetery hauntingly beautiful (pun intended).

And a cemetery is the very first place Franco took me. I freaked out a bit, wondering if he knew of my secret teenage interest but no, he wanted to show me a little known place to visit in Rome. Free of tourists. The cemetery is called Campo Cestio in Piramide and is a cemetery for “non-Catholic foreigners”.

Franco wanted me to see the graves of John Keats (d. 1821); Percy Shelley (d.1822); Johann Wolfgang von Goethe; and Antonio Gramsci (Italian politician). Keats is buried next to Joseph Severn, an English painter and close friend. When Keats was diagnosed with tuberculosis and shipped over to the warmer climate of Rome, Severn accompanied him. I’m not sure what the relationship was between Keats and Severn, but Severn’s father was apparently so outraged that he travelled to Rome with Keats, that he struck his son. In fact, Severn never saw his father again and died many years after Keats, in 1879. To see Keats’ grave was an amazing moment for me as I’ve always loved his poetry.

You have to be rich to be buried at Campo Cestio. The cemetery no longer takes new clients (shall we say) but made a recent exception when it came to the Bulgari family (of jewellery fame). You can see from some of the stunningly beautiful headstones from the 1800s that people of wealth made Campo Cestio their final resting place.

In the cemetery is a spectacular pyramid. Piramide means pyramid in Italian. Apparently, some Roman senator was enamoured with all things Egyptian and built himself a pyramid (as you do). Not only did he build a pyramid, he lived in it. Imagine.

Campo Cestio is also full of cats. Cats are about as sacred in Rome as they were in ancient Egypt. You don’t manhandle a cat and get away with it in Rome.There are cats at Largo di Torre Argentina, which is a square that even boasts a cat hospital. The cemetery cats look very well-fed to me. Apparently, some dude feeds them around midday. He rings a bell and the cats come running.

If you are in Rome and want to visit somewhere peaceful and well…..different – go to Camp Cestio. It’s not open on Sundays though. You will be expected to make a donation of at least Euro 3.00, which I think is not enough to keep this cemetery looking as beautiful as it does.

A Roman senator built this pyramid and even lived in it.

The graves of Keats and Severn - side by side.

Goethe's headstone.

Shelley's headstone.

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