Milan’s Monumental Cemetery [Cimitero Monumentale di Milano], designed by Carlo Maciachini (1818-1899), is one of a number of magnificent Italian burial sites that far outclass even the major British examples.
This vast valhalla extends to 250,000 square metres. The main section, predominantly Catholic as one would expect, was opened in 1866 and the Jewish section was added in 1872 and extended in 1913. Non-Catholic gentiles are buried in a third area.
Tripadvisor recommends giving an hour to a location that would be difficult to explore thoroughly in less than a day without a guide or guide-book. It’s an architectural and artistic buffet, and wandering is like going to Harrod’s food hall looking for a snack.
Facing the spacious entrance piazza, the Famedio (1887), a huge hall of fame in “Neo-Medieval” style, contains the remains of many of Milan’s most prominent citizens, and has sarcophagi commemorating the novelist Alessandro Manzoni (1785-1873), the philosopher Carlo Cattaneo (1801-1869) and the architect Luca Beltrami (1854-1933).
The tombs in the archways of the Famedio’s extensive arcades are loaded with statuary in great variety, and avenues radiate from the terrace crowded with a similar variety of fortissimo graves and monuments.
Mausolea in traditional styles – classical, Romanesque, Byzantine, – stand alongside modern structures of plate glass and steel. Only Gothic seems to be absent. Extravagance of design, materials, imagery, style and symbolism abound. Bronze, copper, masonry and occasionally brick and terracotta are indiscriminately used according to families’ preference.
Figures are draped across tombs in agonies of grief; Father Time’s scythe reaches up from the earth. Alongside symbol and allegory are obvious portraits, including some delightful matriarchs. There is a surprising number of nudes, the females entirely uncovered and very beautiful, the males strategically covered.
Milan came early to embrace cremation. Its Crematorium Temple, which also serves as a columbarium, was the first in the world, opened in 1876 and remained in use until 1992. The range of cremators remains behind iron doors, one of them visible to the public.
I couldn’t begin to catalogue the fine monuments I photographed.
(Google translations disconcertingly render Italian descriptions of these great monuments, edicola, as “news-stand”; the French equivalent is Kiosque. It’s derived from the Latin aedicula, which among other things means “shrine”.)
One exceptional example, the tomb of the textile manufacturer Antonio Bernocchi (1859-1930), is an inventive reiteration of Trajan’s Column in Rome, designed by the architect Alessandro Minali (1888-1960) and the sculptor Giannino Castiglioni (1884-1971): Bernocchi Newsstand | Monumental Cemetery Milan (comune.milano.it).
The tomb of the Campari family, beverage manufacturers whose famous aperitif bears their name, is an elaborate life-sized representation of the Last Supper by Giannino Castiglioni (1884-1971) – Campari Newsstand | Monumental Cemetery Milan (comune.milano.it) – and the monument to the family of Francesco Podreider (1830-1894), by Domenico Ghidoni (1857-1920), is a dramatic portrayal of Christ Cleansing the Temple: Gospel Iconography | Monumental Cemetery Milan (comune.milano.it).
The composer Arturo Toscanini (1867-1957) lies in a mausoleum decorated with carvings by Leonardo Bistolfi (1859-1933), along with his wife Carla Finzi (d1951), his four children and his son-in-law, the pianist Vladimir Horowitz (1903-1989) and his daughter-in-law, the classical dancer Lucia Fornaroli (1888-1954): Toscanini Newsstand | Monumental Cemetery Milan (comune.milano.it)
In contrast to these lively expressions of grief, the dour monument designed by Mario Palanti (1885-1978) for his parents and family, consists of truncated Doric columns supporting a vast sarcophagus. It was built in the years 1928-30, and its crypt was used as an air-raid shelter in the Second World War. It now serves as the Civic Mausoleum [Civico Mausoleo] honouring Milanese celebrities such as Herbert Einstein (1847-1902), father of the physicist Albert.
The Monumental Cemetery is overwhelming. It certainly deserves more than an hour of anyone’s time.