Monumentale: when art dissipates death with beauty

The Cimitero Monumentale is the most important graveyard of Milan, Italy, where renowned citizens are buried.

The Famedio is the main building of Cimitero Monumentale

Memory is crucial to remember great people who have passed away and keep them alive in our hearts: their examples and their lives inspire us to follow our passions and achieve amazing things. Art is often used for this goal, by creating impressive works which encompass history, time, loss and human emotions. Indeed, the Cimitero Monumentale is one of these special places where art, nature and funerary tradition are well combined.

The Tomba Morgagni, made by sculptor Enzo Bifoli, combine oriental spirituality with neoclassical aesthetics

But there’s more, because this museum “en plein air”, dedicated to Milanese history, is a monument to all kind of cultures, arts and ethnicities. The main building, the Famedio, is a typical example of XIX century eclecticism, combining Gothic, Byzantine and Romanesque art. In the park, there are sculptures and artworks inspired by ancient civilizations, such as pyramids, Greek temples and paleo-Christian carvings, or by more modern artistic trends, for instance expressionism or neoclassicism. The Monumentale is a funerary symbol built for the sake of memory and humanhood.

The ceiling of the Famedio seems more the one of mosque than one of a crypt

Designed by architect Carlo Maciachini, the graveyard was established in 1866. From that moment on, notable people were buried there, such as writer Alessandro Manzoni, philosopher Carlo Cattaneo, painter Francesco Hayez, poets Salvatore Quasimodo and Alda Merini, sculptor Medardo Rosso and many more. There are even sections dedicated to Jews, Armenians, Non-Catholics and Atheists.

The small graves of dead Jewish children

Exoteric symbols are scattered all around the place. My guide, Vittorio Castracane, showed me the most emblematic ones, such as the Templar Cross, the phoenix and the winged hourglass. Symbols like these, alongside the Acacia leaf and the Square and Compasses, can be found in freemasons’ graves and Freemasonry artwork. Indeed, the Crematory Temple, the place in which the bodies are burnt down, was built by Alberto Keller, a Milanese freemason and a rich entrepreneur.

The Square and Compasses and the Eye of Providence are typical symbols of Freemasonry

Great Italian architects built the most amazing funerary structures. For instance, Antonio Bernocchi’s tomb, made by Giannino Castiglioni, represents an impressive Babel Tower with sceneries about human history. Even sculptors have a central role in giving to each grave a unique touch. Adolfo Wildt made expressionist and eclectic bronze sculptures, by putting on them a specific mixture of urine and bat guano to create a glowing green color. Giacomo Manzù and Giò Pomodoro established more modern artworks, focusing on their intimate research of life and existence.

The Babel Tower created by Giannino Castiglioni

What’s striking about the place is that you quickly forget it’s a graveyard, since its eclectic art and ambiance make it seems more to a museum. Death becomes a mean to express the inner beauty of people and of the world through art. Even in sadness and loss, hope and life are still present.

An amazing sculpture about Nature made by Adolfo Wildt

More importantly, the whole set of artistic styles displayed in the Monumentale help us understand that nobody is different when facing death: colors, sex, social status, religion, occupation and wealth fade away. So, why not using the art from all around the world to win death with beauty?

Not an angel, but a beautiful woman with butterfly wings! A typical element of the Liberty artistic style

The only thing people can do to remember their dead is to create art for the sake of memory, feelings, virtues and good deeds, as it was highlighted by Italian poet Ugo Foscolo (and others such as John Keats) in his wonderful poem ” Dei Sepolcri “.

I’d like to give my special thanks to Vittorio Castracane, a great friend and a good guide, that showed me some hidden wonders and explained them to me.


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