Friday, July 19, 2013

A Visit to Rome's Protestant Cemetery

Set in the peaceful, shady, and beautiful Protestant Cemetery located at 6 via Caio Cestius (officially, Cimitero acattolico, sometimes referred to as Cimitero degli Inglesi), are the graves of poets John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley. Here you will also find the grave of Beat Generation poet, Gregory Corso, the final resting place of Wordsworth's grandson, and a memorial to Goethe's son. It's a lovely place to spend an afternoon, away from the hectic city center. We even packed a lunch and ate at one of the benches overlooking the Pyramid of Cestius. There were chirping birds, a gentle breeze, lots of flowers, stunning statuary, and none of Rome's summer crowds. Oh, and there were lots of cats to make friends with. :)

Take Rome's Metro Line B to the Pyramide station, and walk across the street towards the Pyramid. Follow the road to the right about a block, along the cemetery wall, and you will come to Caio Cestius on the left. It's just a short walk down to the entrance on the left from there. Note: just after you turn onto Caio Cestius, look through the little screened window in the cemetery wall--it looks right onto the grave of John Keats! There is no entrance fee to the cemetery, but they do suggest a donation of 3 Euros. Be sure to stop by the visitor's center, and grab a map (for a small fee). Coming out of the visitor's center, turn left, and go through the arched door toward the pyramid. If you follow the path to the corner of the cemetery, you'll find Keats' grave, along with Severn's and Severn's infant son. There's also a memorial plaque on the wall, and a bench where you can sit and visit.

John Keats' grave

Keats memorial plaque

From there, continue following the path, past the pyramid, and toward the back of the cemetery. If you stay on that path, up to the rise of the small hill, you will find Shelley's grave at the top along the wall, and that of his friend, Edward Trelawny.

Shelley's grave. Cor Cordium: "Heart of Hearts"

Was Shelley's heart really saved by Trelawny during the cremation on the beach, and sent to Mary Shelley in England, to be later buried with their son? Or is that just a romantic legend? It's something lovely to ponder, at any rate, as you pay your respects. Note also the lines from Shakespeare's The Tempest at the bottom of the headstone, as well. Directly in front of/below Shelley's grave, you will find the grave of Gregory Corso, a Beat Generation poet:

Gregory Corso's grave

Corso died in Minnesota, but his ashes were brought all the way to Rome, to be buried at the feet of his beloved Shelley. And though Corso was Catholic, an exception was made to allow his ashes to be laid to rest in the Protestant-only cemetery.

Other special tombstones include Wordsworth's grandson's; the memorial stone to Goethe's son; the famous "Angel of Grief" of William Wetmore Story; and those of various artists, writers, and musicians. In particular, I loved all the angel statuary everywhere--there are some very striking ones. In fact, I found this to be one of the loveliest cemeteries, if not THE loveliest cemetery, I've ever visited (and I've been in a lot of cemeteries around the world!). So, if you're not into the Romantics or the Beat Generation, or poetry and literature, or heck, even cemeteries, you will still find this to be a worthy excursion, just for the sheer beauty of the place, and a quieter, gentler experience of Rome.

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