A Tuscan Cemetery

The graveyard of Cortona

The graveyard of Cortona

It’s impossible to visit a city in Italy without facing centuries of death.  It seems that every town is filled with crypts, catacombs and necropolises.  Some of the most compelling sites in this country are the graves of illustrious Italians.  We’ve seen the tomb of Michelangelo, Julius Caesar, St Francis of Assisi and Galileo Galilei among many others.  Even when the dead aren’t famous, their graves sometimes are. They are everywhere.

We visited the underground “Ipogeno dei Volumni” with our guests in December.  This is one of the best-preserved Etruscan tombs in Italy.  It dates back to 200 BC

We visited the underground “Ipogeno dei Volumni” with family in December. This is one of the best-preserved Etruscan tombs in Italy. It dates back to 200 BC.

Inside the ancient Pantheon rests the body of Renassaince artist Raphael Sanzio and two Italian kings, Vittorio Emanuele II and Umberto I.

Inside the ancient Pantheon rests the body of Renassaince artist Raphael Sanzio and two Italian kings, Vittorio Emanuele II and Umberto I.

There are three popes buried in Perugia.  This is Pope Benedict XI's tomb in San Dominica.  His bones are in the box on the wall to the left of his monument.

There are three popes buried in Perugia. This is Pope Benedict XI’s tomb in the Basilica of San Dominica. His bones are in the box on the wall to the left of his monument.

Beyond the famous burial sites, Italy is filled with cemeteries.  There is a “monumental” cemetery in Perugia that Matt and I visited a couple months ago.  Some of Perugia’s most important families have erected ornate (and fanciful) mausoleums here to house their remains.

These small apartments can hold lots of bodies

These small apartments can hold lots of bodies

Yes, a pyramid tomb in Perugia

Yes, a pyramid tomb in Perugia

Last weekend we were in Cortona, Tuscany.  As we were taking in the view from the top of this small hill town, Matt saw a big beautiful cemetery in the distance.  We decided to visit it on our way home.

Italy does cemeteries well.  The grounds are bright and colorful.  Nearly every grave or slot on the wall is full of flowers, flickering electric lights and framed photographs.  There is nothing creepy or ghosty about them.  The atmosphere is soft and the souls seem tangible.  The people look at you from their pictures, and you can’t help but want to know more.  I can imagine them once living and eating pasta, making wine and gesturing.

We arrived through the main gate with my parents (who are here for a few more days).  Once we entered, the six of us separated and wandered through the rows.  During our visit we admired the old names and we admired the elegant photos. We tried to find someone who had lived for up to 100 years (with no luck). We found the most recent date-of-death (February 23, 2013). We saw graves of kids.  We saw tombstones for entire families, and we discovered many parents who outlived their children.

My mom and Tom figure out the age of someone in the wall.

A wall of past lives

Dino and Ida, among others

Dino and Ida (RIP), among others

"He lived for three happy years.  The son of Atilo and Ginetta.  He was Little Francis.  Now he is an angel."

“I lived for three happy years. The son of Atilio and Ginetta. I was Little Francis. And now I am an angel. December 3, 1913-January 12, 1917”

I just couldn't wrap my head around the fact that this couple had to bury TWO young children in their lifetime.

It was hard to wrap my head around the fact that this couple had to bury TWO young children in their lifetime.  Mario was eight and Lidia was just four

This was our favorite - the absolute surrender to the sadness and desolation of death.

This was our favorite – the exhausted statue draped over the coffin in absolute surrender to the sadness and desolation of loss.

We finally left the grounds when the wind picked up. Despite the sunshine, we were freezing cold.  As we drove away, we talked about the graves and the people who died. Tom and Ray both said that this cemetery was way better than a museum or church.

Then we talked about what we wanted to do with our own remains.  The boys are undecided about cremation or coffins.  Matt wants to donate his whole body to research, so do my mom and dad (then they want to be buried near Eugene or at their farm.)  I think I might want my ashes to be gently tucked away in an Italian cemetery like this one.

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