Italy – The Campo Santo, or Genoa’s palace of the dead

A visit to Genoa is not complete without a trip to this lovely cemetery, which is situated at Staglieno. We are now about one and a half miles beyond the city limits, from which this place is easily reached by means of electric cars. This cemetery is most beautifully located on the broad, gentle slope of the north bank of the Bisagno River. It was laid out by Resasco, in 1867, and the original cost was two hundred and fifty thousand dollars. It consists of a grand quadrangle surrounded by a cloister in which vaults are arranged ; and here also is a collection of the finest monuments to be found in any cemetery in the world. In the center of the quadrangle is a colossal statue twenty-seven feet high, by Santo Varni. We see the central rotunda or chapel, which is built of the choicest Carrara marble, standing at the summit of a grand marble staircase constructed in sections on account of the terraces. On the highest terrace are statues of two persons who, by their gifts, have made possible the artistic elegance of this city of the dead. The interior of this noble rotunda is furnished in a most elaborate manner, and contains a spacious gallery which is supported by six-teen Doric columns twenty-seven feet high and eleven feet in circumference, each one of a single block of black Como marble.

On either side of this rotunda we may see the marble cloister, with pilasters between the arches, beneath which, in many cases, monuments may be seen. Back of these monuments are the vaults in which the remains are interred. Large vaults cost seven thousand dollars and belong to the wealthy, while the middle classes occupy receptacles, the smallest of which, and the least desirable, are sold for one hundred dollars.

Have you overlooked the graves in front of the cloisters which you see this side of the rotunda? If you have not given them special attention I wish you would now. Do you see anything significant in their being dug out here in the ground, especially in view of the fact that each one has a neat, white headstone? A Genoese, notwithstanding the gleaming headstones and the broad, snowy background which the cloister with its matchless monuments affords, never passes these graves but with a feeling of pity in his heart. Only the poor are buried in the ground in Genoa, for, while marble is cheap and a headstone costs almost nothing, to lie out in the dirt, beneath the snow and the rain, is considered a sad consummation to one’s earthly existence ; and hence a grave may be bought for only a few dollars.

The tower on the hill beyond the opposite cloister belongs to the church which you see nestling so peacefully beneath the shadow of those old olive trees and which is just outside the Campo Santo. Part way up this slope are a number of hillside tombs. Back of the dome of the rotunda is the tomb of Giuseppe Mazzini, author, agitator, states-man, and one of the most remarkable Italians of his age, without whom the political regeneration of the country would have been impossible. He died in 1872, and was accorded a public funeral by the government. His tomb is a massive structure built of granite with bronze gates.

On the mountain top farthest to the right is seen a monastery which commands a glorious view of the surrounding country.

This Campo Santo is situated on historic ground, for, from its hilltop could be seen the vast army that embarked for the Crusades, and right past this place .marched the army of seven thousand children who entered the city clamoring for transport to take them to Palestine under the command of a boy of thirteen, whom they called their general.

We will now take a look into one of the cloisters of this remarkable cemetery.