Oct 10, 2013

Afternoon at the Cemetery on Isola di San Michele

Let me start off by saying that despite being someone who’s curious and intrigued by the subject matter of death, I’ve never really been much of a cemetery person. It’s not that they scare me or anything (unless maybe I’d just watched an episode of Walking Dead), but I’ve just never really had the urge to visit them.

That said, this is absolutely one of the most fascinating and beautiful cemeteries I’ve ever been to.

My buddies and I woke up that Saturday morning and decided to play that day by ear.  We had a very loose plan that day to grab some espresso, trek across Venice, board a ferry over to the island of San Michele where this cemetery is, and then go from there.


Surprisingly, we were almost the only people there that day.  There were maybe only five other people there during the time that we were there.  Though it was fairly desolate (and keep in mind that this was in August when locals went away on holiday), there still felt like there were signs of life, that people were just there to visit the graves of their loved ones.  There were flowers on grave sites all over the place.  Some fresh flowers, some silk flowers, but they were there (there’s also the possibility that loved ones pay the cemetery to keep fresh flowers refilled).

One of the things that I was most intrigued by were these private burial rooms that looked very, very ancient.  Most were locked.  A few were boarded up.  Of the ones that I could peer into, it looked like either whole families were buried there or at least memorialized there.  Some look like they hadn’t been touched in decades, while others were full of flowers and gifts.


This cemetery has been around since the mid-1800s.  Veterans of several historical wars over the past couple of centuries are buried here.  It’s also on its very own island.  There’s nothing else on it but the cemetery.  So as I walked around with those things in mind, there were so many things that I couldn’t help but wonder.

Since it’s so old, I wonder if and how often the descendents of those interred here visit, especially of the ones who were interred very long ago.  I wondered if they even had descendents anymore, and if they did, I wondered if they who knew of these people and grave sites.   I also wondered if they were still in Venice or even Italy.  As I looked at portraits on grave stones and the read bios on them, I wondered what kind of lives they led and what things were like when they were alive in the in the 1800s and early 1900s.

This beautiful columbarium was, as far as I could tell, babies from the turn of the century through the mid-20th century.

This is the newer section of the cemetery.


This part is definitely the oldest section of the cemetery and it’s fascinating to see how burial practices have changed over the years.  They probably hadn’t mastered the art of burial during the 1800s as some of the large flat gravestones were caving in.  Some had to be reinforced with a short metal fence around it.  Seeing those, I wondered who put those up and when.








Though it wasn’t my idea to visit this cemetery, I’m sure glad that I had the opportunity to.  It was a nice escape from bustling Venice, as well as a humbling experience and the absolute most perfect and tranquil way to spend a beautiful Saturday summer afternoon in Italy.


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