Off the Beaten Path: The Protestant Cemetery (Cimitero Acattolico)

Following up on our previous post on Testaccio is this post on the Non-Catholic Cemetery (Cimitero Acattolico), better known as the Protestant Cemetery, located on Via Caio Cestio, just off of Via Marmorata in Testaccio.  

Officially established in 1738, the Protestant Cemetery continues to be an active cemetery that is completely run by volunteers of different nationalities, and is the oldest active burial ground in Europe–its earliest burial was in 1716.  The establishment of the Cemetery was due to the Catholic Church’s ecclesiastical laws that forbade the burial of non-Catholics in Catholic churches or in consecrated ground.

As such only certain people could and can be buried on its grounds, i.e. citizens of Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Greece, Netherlands, Norway, Russia, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom and United States of America; and cannot be of the Roman Catholic faith, and must be a resident of Italy.  There are some exceptions made for other nationalities, including Italians (as in the case of Antonio Gramsci).

Where: Via Caio Cestio, 6 (Metro B, Piramide Stop); Hours:  Mon – Sat 9AM-5PM; Sunday 9AM – 1PM; Cost: Free (Suggested Donation 3€) 

The site is well-known for its garden-like natural landscape with its magnificent cypress, pomegranate, orange, and many other trees.  Flowers such calla lilies and roses as well as a host of other species are not unusual to find.  The Cemetery is also home to a cat sanctuary, and there are many dozens of cats that can be spotted amidst the graves.

Beyond the charm of its atmosphere, the Cemetery is most notable for its many famous graves, including those of English poets John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley, artist Joseph Severn and Hendrik Christian Andersen, August von Goethe (son of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe), and Italian philosopher and leader of the Italian Communist Party Antonio Gramsci (whose wife was Russian and so he was able to be buried with her), and many other writers, artists, architects, scientists, archaeologists, and diplomats.

So, the next time you are in Testaccio make sure to stop by for a visit.

It is a great place to learn more about the history of the city (especially from the viewpoint of a foreigner), pay your respects to masters of the arts, and enjoy nature.

Guided tours are offered for a suggested donation of 4€ per person (3€ for students).

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  -Article & Photographs by  Diedré Blake

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