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Italy: San Michele Cemetery

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San Michele Cemetery | Italy | Europe

[Visited: August 2005]

On an early morning boat to San Michele island, at the last stop before the cemetery, several elderly people with bouquets of flowers came on board. After disembarking, we entered a rather empty cemetery in the early morning sun just as it opened. The apparently perfect anthithesis of crowded Venice, this is an island of peace, a huge, quiet city park. Without a particular plan in mind, I started wandering around the cemetery grounds, just following my instinct. I saw impressive family graves, stately, important, some with beautiful names, or small black and white pictures, flowers real and fake, graceful statues decorating tombs, but also small tombstones with children's toys, for a boy died at the age of 6. In other sections, I saw the seemingly endless rows of ossuaries, walls with several floors of tombs.

Picture of San Michele Cemetery (Italy): San Michele cemetery: one of the many stretches of crosses

Although the cemetery looked completely full, it is not. Some of the areas are being cleared and prepared for new inhabitants, as the space os this cemetery is confined. One of the consequences of the lack of land is that the city for a long time did not have a real cemetery. In Napoleonic times, the early 19th century, this was changed, and the islands of San Michele and San Cristoforo were appointed the new cemetery for the city. The river separating the islands was filled up and thus one island was created around 1840. Thereafter, San Michele has been the cemetery for deceased Venetians ever since. Also for foreigners, though. There is a Greek section and an evangelical section. Walking into these, San Michele changes character, and it is easy to imagine yourself being in a small, forgotten cemetery. Grass growing high, trees scattered between the scant and tombstones covered by moss, these small spaces are the quiet corners of a quiet cemetery. The only nuisance can be the mosquitoes. Famous foreigners buried here include Serghej Diaghilev, Igor Strawinsky, and Ezra Pound.

Picture of San Michele Cemetery (Italy): San Michele cemetery: outside wall, church and bell tower

Among the few visitors to the cemetery, I noted an older man, walking slowly among the graves with his cane. Like me, he seemed to follow no particular plan, and somehow inevitably, we finally ran into each other and talked. He turned out to be much older than I had thought, was visiting his deceased relatives and friends, and was expecting to be buried here himself in the coming years, even though he was very bright and appeared very healthy. A friendly encounter with a friendly man, who gave me the secret of his longevity: no smoking and no drinking. Well, I can only hope to become as old as was in the same healthy conditions.

Picture of San Michele Cemetery (Italy): San Michele cemetery: one of the many walls with tombs
Picture of San Michele Cemetery (Italy): San Michele cemetery seen from a distance with gondola in the foreground
Picture of San Michele Cemetery (Italy): San Michele cemetery seen from a distance
Picture of San Michele Cemetery (Italy): San Michele cemetery: circle of mausolea at the entrance
Picture of San Michele Cemetery (Italy): San Michele cemetery: inner courtyard
Picture of San Michele Cemetery (Italy): San Michele cemetery: marble tombstone on a wall
Picture of San Michele Cemetery (Italy): San Michele cemetery: close up of wall with small tombs
Picture of San Michele Cemetery (Italy): San Michele cemetery: part of the cemetery with cipress trees
Picture of San Michele Cemetery (Italy): San Michele cemetery: part of the evangelic cemetery
Picture of San Michele Cemetery (Italy): San Michele cemetery: angel guarding the dead
Picture of San Michele Cemetery (Italy): San Michele cemetery: grave of Igor Stravinsky

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