The Dramatic and Intensely Moving Monumental Cemetery of Staglieno
The Monumental Cemetery of Staglieno is a well-known burial site located in the Italian city of Genoa, which is considered one of the most beautiful cemeteries in the whole of Europe. It is famous for the stunning, life-like sculptures of people mourning their loved ones. Over the years, the cemetery has been visited by many prominent figures, who later wrote about their recollections of the cemetery and the monuments they saw there.
“…We shall continue to remember it after we shall have forgotten the palaces,” wrote Mark Twain.
A moving tribute in the Cemetery of Staglieno ( Fabio Zenoardo / flickr )
The Dead Banished from Within the Walls of the City
In 1804, the Edict of Saint-Cloud was passed by the French government, which dealt with the issue of the burial of the dead, and one of its terms was that the dead were no longer allowed to be interred within the walls of a city, in churches, and in parish cemeteries. The rationale for this was to improve the public health of urban centres. Therefore, cemeteries were to be placed beyond the city walls. Whilst this edict did not affect Genoa during that time, which, incidentally, was then part of a French satellite known as the Republic of Liguria, it would indirectly do so about three decades later.
A woman peers below a shroud covering a deceased loved one. Staglieno Cemetery:, 1881 ( Sean Perry / flickr )
Following the final defeat of Napoleonic France, and the Congress of Vienna (1814-1815), Genoa was added to the Kingdom of Sardinia, and in 1831, Charles Albert succeeded his distant cousin, Charles Felix, as the King of Sardinia, as the latter died without leaving a male heir. The new king had grown up in France during the reign of Napoleon, and would probably have been aware of the Edict of Saint-Cloud during his time there. Thus, in 1832, a decree similar to this edict was issued by Charles Albert.
Grave monument of Lavarella (1914), monumental cemetery of Staglieno ( CC by SA 3.0 / Carossa Eugenia )
The actual beginnings of the Monumental Cemetery of Staglieno, however, may be traced to 1835, when the design of this cemetery was entrusted to Carlo Barabino, a prominent Genoese architect. Unfortunately, Barabino died in the same year as a result of cholera, and the project was handed down to one of his pupils, Giovanni Battista Resasco. The new architect decided to stick to his master’s plan, which was to create a cemetery in the Neo-Classical style, and this plan was finally approved in 1840. Although the Monumental Cemetery of Staglieno was finally opened to the public in 1851, work continued for several more decades, and the cemetery was finally completed in 1880.
The ’Sleeping Beauty’ at Staglieno Cemetery ( Aramisse / flickr )
Whilst the Staglieno Cemetery was created in the Neo-Classical style, which places a strong emphasis on formalism and order, Resasco added a naturalistic touch to it, thereby softening the hard edges of the former style, so to speak. The cemetery is divided into seven sectors, each of which has each own unique attractions. As an example, in Sector D, which is known also as ‘Porticato Superiore’, there is the Pantheon, the design of which is drawn from the original Pantheon in Rome, as well as from the Temple of Canova, a Roman Catholic church located in Possagno, Veneto.
A woman weeps in despair, Monumental Cemetery of Staglieno ( CC by SA 3.0 / Camillo Ferrari )
An Open-Air Museum
The cemetery is arguably best-known for the monuments erected in memory of the dead, which has led it being considered by many as an open-air museum. One of the most famous monuments in this cemetery is that belonging to Caterina Campodonico, who is nicknamed as the ‘peanut pedlar’. This monument may be found in Sector A (the ‘Porticato Inferiore’), at the base of the staircase leading to Sector D. According to the epitaph on her memorial, Campodonico had saved up the money she made from selling peanuts and doughnuts so that she may have the funds to commission her own memorial. Her statue, created by the sculptor Lorenzo Orengo, depicts her with the goods she sold during her lifetime.
The stunning sculpture of Caterina Campodonico ( CC by SA 3.0 / Anselmoorsi )
Apart from Campodonico’s monument, there are many other interesting sculptures to be found at the Monumental Cemetery of Staglieno. As a result of this, towards the end of the 19 th century, the cemetery had become a popular tourist attraction as well. Famous individuals who have visited, and written about the cemetery include Mark Twain, Guy de Maupassant, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Empress Elizabeth of Austria. It remains as a very moving tribute to the many individuals who are buried there.
Top image: Angel of the Ribaudo tomb, Staglieno cemetery ( Aramisse / flickr )
By Wu Mingren
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Available at: http://www.staglieno.comune.genova.it/en/node/199
The realism and stunning artistry of these classic sculptures never fails to move me.