Its official name is the non-catholic cemetery of Rome, but locals prefer to call it ‘the protestant cemetery’ or ‘The English cemetery’ in honor of its first and most prestigious inhabitants. Differences in nomenclature aside, however, Romans seem to agree that this little resting place that sits in the shade of Rome’s pyramid is one of the most peaceful, calming and romantic corners of the whole city.
The non-catholic cemetery of Rome: why you should visit
The protestant cemetery is one of those rare corners in the centre of Rome where you are more likely to meet residents than tourists. It is a favourite reading corner for many Romans and maybe because if its history, it tends to attract many expats who have made Rome they new hometown.
If you sit under one of its many cherry and plum trees, you are likely to soon find yourself in the company of another reader, an occurrence that makes the place, truly unique.
Visiting the cemetery: practical info
The protestant cemetery is in Rome city centre, not far from the Colosseum (15- 20 minutes walk).Its address is Via Caio Cestio 6 and you can reach it on foot, by metro B (closest station: Piramide) or bus. From the busy road, especially if coming by metro, the cemetery is invisible, but you know you are in the right place thanks to a pretty peculiar landmark: Rome’s pyramid! The pyramid sits in the centre of the piazza and the cemetery is just behind it.
If you are at the Colosseum and feel like walking, the most scenic way to reach the cemetery is from the Aventine Hill: from Circo Massimo, climb up the road along the municipal rose garden and follow its tortuous meandering up the hill. Stop at the Istituto dei Cavalieri di Malta (have a look here, point 7, to see why) and walk down the hill on the other side: you will find the cemetery right in front of you
Opening hours and entry: Monday-Saturday from 9.00 am to 5.00 pm (last entrance:4.30 pm)
Sundays and public holidays 9.00 am to 1.00 pm (last entrance:12.30 pm)
There is no entry fee as such but visitors can leave a contribution in the donation box near the entrance.
The protestant cemetery of Rome: a bit of history
The protestant cemetery of Rome dates back to the XVIII century and came into existence thanks to Pope Clement XI.
At the time, the law prohibited the burial of protestants on consecrated grounds, and while some port cities such as Livorno and Venice did have dedicated areas, no such provisions existed in Rome. In 1716 everything changed: documents from that year testify that under the request of English King James III of Stuart, the Pope granted permission for the first protestant burial in Rome, in the land beside the pyramid of Cesius. After that first permission, many more followed and slowly the cemetery became the resting place not just of protestant supporters of the English throne, but also of the sons of the wealthy who happened to meet their fate in Rome.
What is Rome’s protestant cemetery known for: illustrious guests
The non-catholic cemetery of Rome has some illustrious guests: the most visited graves are the ones of poets Keats and Shelley, who both died in Rome at a young age, but you might recognise many more well-known names: Antonio Gramsci, Carlo Emilion Gadda, August von Goethe (son of the writer) and William Wetmot Story, American sculptor author of one of the most beautiful and impressive tombstones in the whole cemetery.
How to visit Rome’s protestant cemetery
The visit to the cemetery doesn’t take long and can be done unguided or joining one of the volunteer-run guided tours. The cemetery is divided into two parts: on entering, you find the main burial ground, where tombstones and perennial greens intertwine, forming and emerald forest of stone and leaves.
On your left, beyond the original external wall, there is a lawn with additional flat tombstones overlooked by tall cypress and cherry trees. This part of the cemetery offers beautiful views over the back of the pyramid and is where usually passers-by and locals come to sit and read: the beautiful grounds and the presence of the souls of poets have a strong pull on local intellectuals and students and rather than a grieving place, the cemetery feels more like a romantic hideout for book lovers and cultural travellers.
I personally find it one of the most beautiful sights in Rome and one you should visit if you feel like heaving a break from the most touristy parts of town. When you do, make sure you bring a book to fit in with your surroundings!
A note for families interested in visiting the non-catholic cemetery of Rome with kids. The area is surprisingly family friendly: most of the areas are accessible by strollers and the lawn in front of the pyramid is a good spot for kids to run around and unwind. In front of the cemetery, on the main Ostiense square, there is a small but well-equipped playground.
Do you visit monumental and historical cemeteries when travelling? Do you know special ones you find unusually beautiful?