See Art for Free in Italy: Visit the Cemetery!

Monument to Maria and Antonio, Cemetery of the Holy Gate, Florence Monument to Maria and Antonio, Cemetery of the Holy Gate, Florence

Italy is packed with art, but not just in museums where some of the most famous paintings, sculptures and tapestries are on display. The country is full of artistic works that can be viewed free of charge. For example, sculptures can be found in piazzas, as ornamentation on buildings or even in private homes. One of the best places to see amazing sculpture is in the local cemeteries where artists creating grave memorials do not restrict themselves to crosses, as I discovered in the Cemetery of the Holy Gate in Florence and the English Cemetery in Rome.

Climbing the steep path to San Minato al Monte you are rewarded with a stunning view of Firenze as well as the Basilica dating between the 11th and 13th centuries. The Basilica may be best known to tourists for the Gregorian chants sung by the brothers during celebrations. The main level mosaics and the crypt are well worth the climb but plan time for a visit to the cemetery as well.

The entrance to the Cemetery of the Holy Gates at the left of the church holds a sea of stones, monuments and mausoleums. The first section of small grave sites is dedicated to children and infants. Proceeding to the largest part of the cemetery, clusters of visitors are stopped at a striking monument to Maria and Antonio. Their deaths were only months apart in 1941. Were they newly married or brother and sister? Both online stories claim to be accurate, but it is still a sad mystery to me. 

There are remarkable carvings of angels, both traditional and modern, grieving relatives, perhaps, and allegorical symbols. The mausoleums are miniature villas where entire families are entombed. The bouquets of fresh flowers on many of the graves show the devotion Italian families have to their relatives.
Artist William Story crafted a monument for his wife’s grave that draws many visitors to the English Cemetery, a compact, Non-Catholic Cemetery, in Rome. The prostrate figure is named the Angel of Grief; a moving tribute to the sculptor’s wife.

The small gift shop run by British expat volunteers has a selection of books about the cemetery and many of the famous residents. The well-informed staff can show you how to locate a particular grave and might be able to share some historic facts. There are endless monuments along the trimmed paths here.
Perhaps on your next visit to Italy, plan to stroll through a local cemetery or two to witness the beauty of art as it celebrates those who have past.