You meet the nicest people in a cemetery

Looking for art in unlikely places

Steve Soper
June 15, 2006

So youre asking, why write about cemeteries, let alone visit them? I mean, thats pretty morbid, isnt it? Well, I suppose in some parts of the world anything connected with death must be avoided at all costs; but in Italy there is not only great respect for the dead, but there is also a concrete link between the living and those who have passed on. This is evident, for example, in the sheer number of flowers, fresh and otherwise, that constantly adorn Italian cemeteries. There seems to be a keen desire to share the memories of those who passed away, either through the use of photographs or, even more fascinating, through the use of sculpture to help the passer-by understand that this was a person of some fame, or a person who died young, or a person who was in love, or a person who died for the glory of his country.There is also a link with the past in yet another way, between the spirit of the living and the dead. In fact, there are Italian cemeteries such as Porte Sante, adjacent to the Basilica of San Miniato, and Trespiano, some four miles northwest of the city, associated with the famous Etruscan necropoli. Built more than 2500 years ago those Etruscan cities of the dead housed not just the remains of their dead but also the spirit, the very essence of their culture, their world. And another thing that makes many Italian cemeteries like Porte Sante and Trespiano worth a stroll on a beautiful spring afternoon: each piece of artwork comes with a very real human-interest story. There are the war heroes, the artists, the rich and the very rich, the one-time great noble families, the teachers, the visitorsthey are all here and many wanted to leave a bit of themselves behind so that you, a passing stranger will know at least a small part of their story. Take for example the Cappella Lorenzini. Named after his village, Collodi, Carlo Lorenzini is best known by children and parents around the world as the creator of that little wooden puppet, Pinocchio. His little chapel is still filled with fresh flowers. And theres the small bust of Pellegrino Artusi, the father of Italian cookbooks. Then there are Mario and Maria Mazzone. The life-size statues of these two young people who died so very long ago make even the most cas-ual observer stop and look for details of this love story. One sees a young man in an airmans uniform with a broad smile, looking squarely at the young woman whose gaze is turned slightly aside and downward, with just a hint of a smile on her face, their hands just about to touch. One looks closely and reads in the inscription that Mario, born in 1919, was killed in Hamm, Germany on 22 April 1944; Maria, born in 1922, died some 11 months later, in May of 1945. No other Mazzones are buried there, nor are there any clues as to who these people were. Were they lovers? Husband and wife? In fact, according to Graziella Cirri, who has done an exhaustive analysis of the sculpture in several Florentine cemeteries, Maria and Mario were in fact brother and sister and the statue was commissioned in 1947 by their mother. There are 17 cemeteries operated by the city of Florence, not including those burial grounds which are generally closed to the public, or are privately owned and maintained, for example the Jewish cemetery on Viale Ariosto, the Misercordia cemetery on Via degli Artisti and of course the English cemetery on Piazzale Donatello, the final resting place of Elizabeth Barrett Browning. And of course these dont include the most famous Florentine burials in the churches of Santa Croce and San Lorenzo.As the first city cemetery, Trespiano was created in 1784 as a result of a new law prohibiting the burial of anyone inside the city walls it was deemed too unhealthy. But according to one source, only the poor received burial in Trespiano, while the wealthy continued to use the old cemeteries. Trespiano eventually became the citys primary burial ground, and remains so to the present day. (It is an enormous cemetery and, although lacking the monumental flair of Porte Sante, it does have a large burial ground for the Garibaldini as well as a huge Potters field and a large military section.) In 1854 the cemetery of Porte Sante was created on the grounds adjacent to the Basilica of San Miniato and quickly became the burial location for the wealthy and well-known Florentines with monuments that reflect both. Hours for Porte Sante and Trespiano as well as the other cemeteries operated by the Municipality of Florence are:  8 am to 5 pm  Oct. 1 March 31 8 am to 6 pm April 1 Sept. 30 8 am to 1 pm Sundays & holiday

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