In Milan there is the Cimitero Monumentale, the central cemetery of Milan, which you should definitely visit. Here you will find artistically designed tombs and if you look closely, you might also discover a “celebrity tomb”.
Milan Central Cemetery – History
Around 1750, there were five cemeteries in Milan. Although it was forbidden by decree, many people were not buried there, however, because their relatives did not have the opportunity to bury them there. These people were often buried in anonymous graves near their homes.
When the ordinance came into force in 1838 that cemeteries should be at least 200 metres away from residential buildings and parishes, the municipality of Milan announced a competition. The competition was to produce a new cemetery for the city.
A design by Carlo Maciachini, in the medieval Pisan style, won and in 1860 construction work began on Milan’s new central cemetery.
What is special about this design is that the entrance hall fulfils not only representative but also practical purposes. The building is divided in such a way that one has to cross a courtyard of honour to reach the cemetery portals. The cemetery was laid out symmetrically. The longitudinal axis from the Famedio in a north-westerly direction to the Tempio Crematorio forms the mirror axis. Visually separated, there are areas to the east and west where people of the Jewish faith and non-Catholics are buried. These areas can be entered via a separate entrance.
The monumental cemetery today covers an area of 250,000 m2.
Discoveries at the Central Cemetery
The main entrance to the cemetery is at Piazzale del Cimitero Monumentale. We are standing in a large empty square, the Court of Honour, directly in front of the imposing main building made of red brick and white marble. A wide staircase leads up to the entrance building.
Two gallery arms lead off to the right and left, and large stone sculptures can be seen from the outside. It almost looks like a gallery. People stroll past them and discover Milanese cemetery art. Two small gates under the galleries lead to the cemetery grounds behind them.
We decide to walk through the cemetery first and explore the building later.
Already the passage under the gallery turns out to be something special. Everywhere on the pillars are old slabs of urn graves. A look into the open corridors reveals countless urn graves set into the walls of the entrance building.
When I arrived at the cemetery, I was surprised. I still had the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris in mind, which, with its small houses that sometimes looked very dilapidated, was more reminiscent of a film set. Milan’s central cemetery is something completely different. There are gravestones here that remind me of statues/works of art from museums. Artists have given free rein to their creativity here and literally created a monument to the deceased.
If you walk along the main paths, you will discover some similarities to the Parisian cemetery. Here, too, families have placed monumental buildings on their graves and use them as family burial grounds.
Often, between very old-looking gravesites, there is suddenly a more modern building that did not fit there visually at all.
We are not familiar with Italian artists and the old and new Italian celebrities, but for sure we walked past some interesting graves.
I was really amazed at everything we could discover here. We walked around the grounds for almost an hour and discovered only a very small part by far.
Back at the entrance building, we first enter one of the side building sections. Here there are high walls in which urn graves are embedded. Some of the grave plaques are very old and weathered. Other plaques look newer. There are large ladders on wheels in the corridors. With them, relatives or visitors can reach the graves above and place flowers or lights.
Through a door we enter the hall of honour. Here stands the coffin of Alessandro Manzoni. It was moved here in 1883, ten years after Manzoni’s death. What impresses me most in the Hall of Honour is the blue dome. It arches over the coffin like a sky.
We walk along the gallery and marvel at the tombs on display there. From here you can have a little look over the cemetery and I have to say that I was really impressed by Milan’s central cemetery.
Piazzale Cimitero Monumentale,
Tuesday – Sunday: 8 – 18 h