Monday, February 13, 2006

On Romance

'Twas the night before Valentine's day and news was breaking about the state of the English Cemetery in Rome, final resting place of Keats, Shelley and Gramsci.

In a sectarian sort of way it's officially named the Non-Catholic Cemetery. It has just been put on an endangered Site list by the World Monuments Fund.
In addition to the graves of Shelley and Keats, both of whom died in Italy, it contains those of hundreds of 19th-century foreign residents and exiles, as well as that of Antonio Gramsci, the founding father of Italian Marxism.

Founded in 1734, it is the oldest burial ground in continuous use in Europe. It was established on land donated by the Papal State and was for centuries the only place in Rome where non-Catholics could be buried. Its cramped grounds contain nearly 4,000 graves, many of them extravagant Victorian monuments dominated by carved angels. “It might make one in love with death, to think that one should be buried in so sweet a place”, Shelley wrote when Keats died.
Having done Highgate, in London, Montparnasse, in Paris, and Arlington in Virginia, it sounds like a good place to visit and reflect on mortality. Better hurry while it still stands.

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