Rome is a nutty city. The drivers are wild (though with their own certain logic), the store/museum/church/restaurant hours are variable and unreliable, the public transit is a lost cause. Romans, tourists, and ex-pats orbit each other in alternating tense or relaxed revolutions. Amidst all the crazy I always sought out calm and quiet. Usually that meant I headed out of the city center to places like my beloved Parco degli Acquedotti, or out of town completely. But there is a teeny oasis right on the edge of the throbbing heart of Rome: the Protestant Cemetery or Cimitero Acattolico.
It’s right around the corner from the Piramide metro stop (B line) and some of the walls of the cemetery also comprise part of the Aurelian Walls of the city center itself. Despite its relative centrality and the fame of one of its denizens (more on that in a moment), it’s almost always little-visited, quiet, calm. Regular readers will recognize my preference for places that can be described thus, and for those things the Protestant Cemetery is perfect.
My melodramatic post yesterday featured one of the tombs at the Cemetery, perhaps its second most famous monument. The weeping angel tomb was created by the sculptor William Wetmore Story for his wife Evelyn. The sculpture is stunning in its pathos and particularly interesting to me because it relates to the subject of my dissertation (women’s tombs in 15th century Italy, wahoo). It’s also wildly appropriate when one wants to be overly dramatic about the state of one’s employment.
While the Story tomb might be the Cemetery’s most lovely, the most famous monument there is that of John Keats, who notoriously lies in an unmarked grave with the haunting epitaph: Here Lies One Whose Name Was Writ in Water. Keats’ tomb is in the corner of the Cemetery off on its own. Despite its fame, it is possible, as I did the last time I was there, to sit on the bench in front of Keats’ grave for over an hour and not see a single other soul.
Art historians ought to make a pilgrimage to the Cemetery (as those who are fellows at the Hertziana are compelled to do), because there you can honor not only Henrietta Hertz, but also Wolfgang Lotz (architecture for the win!) and the inimitable Richard Krautheimer. Other less art historical notables include Percy Bysshe Shelley and August von Goethe one of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s sons, among many, many others.
As morbid as it sounds (particularly coming from someone who spent years thinking and writing about tombs and death), the Protestant Cemetery is one of the loveliest places in Rome and well worth a visit. As is the Campo Verano, a massive Catholic Cemetery on the edge of San Lorenzo, where primarily Italian notables and anonymous alike are buried. The huge complex is like a silent city and showcases more affecting personal, private histories than even the most impressive ruins can provide.
All these words combine simply to say that you should visit these Cemeteries. But not too many of you and not too often. Go if you need to feel some calm and removed from the city. Go if you can embrace the myriad personal tragedies and stand witness to the fragile beauty of it all. Go if you can appreciate the quiet and the stillness in the shade of the cypress trees.