The Non-Catholic Cemetery in Rome
The Non-Catholic Cemetery for Foreigners in Testaccio, Rome (to give it its full name) is also widely known as the Protestant Cemetery although it contains the graves of many Orthodox Christians, Jews, Muslims and other non-Christians. It is one of the oldest burial grounds in continuous use in Europe, having started to be used around 1716. In 2016 we celebrated 300 years of burials at the foot of the Pyramid.
The Cemetery population is rich in writers, painters, sculptors, historians, archaeologists, diplomats, scientists, architects and poets, many of international eminence. Tomb inscriptions are in more than 15 languages. It is hard to think of another urban site quite so glorious. Its towering cypress trees and abundant flowers and greenery shelter a heterogeneity of elaborate and eclectic graves and monuments, nestled on a slope in the shadows of the Pyramid of Cestius. Those who rest here have all been able to enjoy the happiness of living more or less long in the Eternal City, Rome.
Address & Opening Times
Mon-Sat 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)
Via Caio Cestio, 6, 00153, in the Testaccio district of Rome.
The Zona Antica ( A )
The visitor enters the Cemetery by the Zona Vecchia, but if we turn left, pass the Visitors Centre, and go through the wall arch we come to the Parte Antica. As the name suggests, this is the oldest part of the Cemetery and looks out over the beautiful ancient Roman Caius Cestius Pyramid. The garden here is flat and grassy the graves are scattered in a very informal fashion. This is where the first recorded burial – that of Dr Arthur from Edinburgh took place in 1716 though, sadly, the gravesite no longer exists. The majority of those buried here were Protestant members of the court of King James III of England and Ireland, in exile in Rome from 1718 or foreigners visiting Rome on the Grand Tour.
It is probable that many more people were buried here whose burial markers have not survived. Some of them might have been…
The Zona Vecchia ( V )
The ascent to the top of the Cemetery is very steep, the ground may be slippery or uneven due to tree roots. Please walk very carefully. In contrast to the Parte Antica, the tombs in this area which date mainly from the early 1800s are laid out in serried rows, and are often very close together. One of the earliest burials in this area is that of the English Romantic poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley friend of John Keats and husband of Mary Woolstonecraft, the authoress of Frankenstein. Near to Shelley’s grave we find the beautiful Angel of Grief, fashioned by the American sculptor William Wetmore Story for his wife, which was soon after to become his burial place too. The Story family were Protestants, Shelley, scandalously at the time, declared…
The Zona Prima ( I )
This is the largest zone of the Cemetery – the majority of the tombs here were erected in the mid 1800s after it was decided by the city authorities to extend the Cemetery. Perhaps the best known grave in this part is that of August von Goethe the son of the German writer Wolfgang Goethe. As travel became easier, more and more foreigners arrived in Rome and hospitality became important. Here we see the tombs of the great hotelier families, the Hassler, Nistelweck and the Wirth…
The large cyrpt-tomb of the Norwegian-American sculptor Hendrik Andersen and his family dominates the first part of this zone and further down can be seen the beautiful monument with the seated figure in white marble of the young Russian aristocrat Maria Obolensky…
If you choose to walk along the top of the Cemetery, parallel with the Aurelian wall, please be careful of the steps and keep a lookout for protruding tree roots. In this upper area, nestling in the wall, you will see the a tomb that reflects medieoval models with the recumbent figure of Elsbeth Wegener Passarge, the young German woman who died shortly after…
The Zona Seconda ( II )
In the ossuary at the top of this zone against the Aurelian wall we find the bones of a number of foreigners who fought with Garibaldi – Arthur Bennj, a Polish journalist, Bartolomeo Rozat from Switzerland and the Englishman John Scholey and nearby is the stately tomb of the Norwegian historian Peter Andreas Munch, uncle of the famous artist Edvard. As in the other zones, visitors should beware of tree roots and hold on to the bannisters provided when coming down from the top areas.
High up in this zone we find several examples of the lantana camara with white, pink and orange flowers. It has a reputation as an infestive plant, but it does not seem to get out of control in the Cemetery and provides colourful flowers from April to October. The zone becomes more woody towards the end and we can find the beautifully detailed sarcofagus of the German architect Gottfried Semper as well as the tombs of a number of Italian writers – Amelia Rosselli, Luce D’Eramo and Dario Bellezza. Numerous tombs in this area have jasmine plants and there are several individual rose bushes of note – some of them quite old.
The Zona Terza ( III )
In 1894 it was decided to extend the Cemetery for a second time and the Zona Terza was created. This is the last zone of the Cemetery and is divided into four parts, known as riquadri or quarters. The ground here is flatter and more shaded by trees. Note the large number of hortensia plants that thrive here and the four majestic umbrella pines that stand on the crossroads of the second and third zone. Butterflies are particularly fond of this shadier area, as are the cats. Perhaps the best-known tombs here are those of the Sicilian writer Andrea Camilleri and the Sardinian political philosopher Antonio Gramsci. In the third quadrant can be seen a number of tombs of directors of the German Bibliotheca Hertziana in Rome, now the world renowned Max Planch Institute for Art History, including that of the founder Henriette Hertz. On the bottom right we see the small cemetery chapel built in the 1890s which is still used for ceremonies and funerals today. The Cemetery offices are located above the chapel. Visitors will notice a large number of crosses…