I’ve never visited a cemetery. Ever. And definitely never a cemetery like Staglieno, an expansive, and beautiful monumental cemetery to the east of Genoa’s center and one of the largest in Europe. A 20 minute bus ride along the coast and then following the river north, leads you right to it’s walls.
We couldn’t initially find the entrance, and it even seemed closed, but eventually we came across a small gate that seemed to be a back entrance. The first sight we had was of a wall covered in flowers curving along a ramp and a view of a hill spotted with monuments. Looking closer, each flower was accompanied by a small, bright light and a portrait. I’m not sure about the true purpose of the light, but I really like it. From the get go I realized that death is commemorated very differently in Italian culture, or different from what I know.
Walking passed the wall of flowers, you find the more ‘typical’ sector of the cemetery: an expansive lawn with small headstones organized in a perfect rhythm. Looking back to the east, you get a more privileged view of the hill and start to notice smaller details. Hidden steps lead to the innumerable and stylistically varied mausoleums. One of the most impressive was a mausoleum that looked like a gothic cathedral, mingling with others in renaissance and art nouveau styles.
My favorite area of the cemetery was a sector dedicated to memorial statuary. The statues were placed along the deteriorating colonnade, at the head of the graves. The sculptures were some of the most impressive and interesting I had ever seen. Some of them depicted the last breathes of the dead… They were almost life-like, petrified in a moment of sadness and disbelief. Others included angels, young children, and one of the creepiest was of a seated girl, doubled over with her hair flowing along her legs.
This sculpture struck me not only because of the detail but because of the low relief it was achieved in. The figures are flattened but you can appreciate the depth from 180 degrees around the it. It is a shame that the grounds are not properly maintained and the art is covered in a thick layer of dust.
The whole time I felt a little weird… I was touring a cemetery. It seemed wrong. But my friend reminded me that we’re not the first ones to do this: pilgrimages have visited burial sites for centuries, in Mexico on the Day of the Dead the cemetery is alive with activity, and she brought up Père Lachaise in Paris, an incredibly popular stop for tourists. Some people simply go to visit Jim Morrison or Oscar Wilde’s graves or to tour it’s grounds. (Random fact: Oscar Wilde’s wife is buried at Staglieno.) After that I felt at ease… well, as eased as I could possibly feel in a cemetery.
Visiting Staglieno was a great experience and I highly recommend it for anyone who visits Genoa. It really is a under appreciated and its state of disrepair is evident of that. When we visited, after weeks of heavy rain and flooding, part of the cemetery has been destroyed, which is really a shame. I plan on visiting again on a sunny, weekend afternoon. By visiting, you’re honoring the people who are interned there and it’s an incredible place for a walk and reflection.