Cimitero Monumentale

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A large cemetery in Milan, Italy, that is full of outstandingly grand, artistically flamboyant, and often even outrageously unusual tombs – it really is monumental in several senses of the word. One of the world's most impressive cemeteries for sure! Do not miss it when in Milan!  
More background info: Like in many other booming and growing cities (cf. Vienna and its Central Cemetery), Milan in the 19th century was faced with the problem that its older smaller cemeteries scattered all over town were increasingly becoming overcrowded and insufficient. 
So large plots of land further away from the city centre were set aside to provide “overflow” capacities – and it also provided a playground for the new rich to express their status in often bombastic designs of family tombs. 
The cemetery was opened in 1866 to a grand design of a main entrance with a central chapel, the “Famedio”, flanked by colonnaded buildings providing prime spots for especially prominent Milanese celebrities.   
Across the cemetery proper no holds were barred for fantastically individual tomb designs. Of course there are also many locally famous names amongst those buried here. But in contrast to some other well-known cemeteries such as Pere Lachaise, the main attraction for visitors here is not so much who is buried here but how – as  a showcase of OTT funeral culture and art. 
In that respect, Milan's Cimitero Monumentale easily beats its more famous counterpart in Paris. I wouldn't go as far as saying “forget Pere Lachaise” when comparing the two (like some reviewers on the Web have done). Their respective charms are just different. But Milan's monumental cemetery definitely boasts a larger number, a wider range and overall greater artistic expressiveness of remarkable tomb designs.   
What there is to see:  Loads and loads of super-impressive graves. But that's not all. Even as you approach the cemetery, the monumental scale of the main gate and chapel are already quite eye-popping. 
The Famedio (main chapel building) is also the final home of Alessandro Manzoni, whose sarcophagus-tomb stands in the middle of the central hall. He was a poet and novelist who is/was clearly more famous locally than my limited knowledge of Italian poetry and literature prepared me for. To me he was an unknown (am I showing too much ignorance here?). 
The hall and side wings can also house temporary exhibitions, but when I was there it had already closed so I wasn't able to inspect what was on at the time (a WWI-related exhibition).
Once you are through the gate as such, either left or right of the Famedio, look out for the modern structure in the middle of the circular square behind the Famedio. What looks a bit like a metal frame in the shape of a transparent Rubik's Cube that has lost all its colours, is in fact the cemetery's monument to the Italian dead who perished in Nazi concentration camps. You have to look at the plaques on the monument closely to get this significance. 
Even less immediately visible is a small bowl of ashes in a glass case placed inside the main cube structure. I couldn't make out any labels but I presume the ash or soil in this little bowl must have been brought here from such camps. The main cubic monument is also ringed by further memorial plaques. All in Italian. 
(By the way: many guidebooks and online sources claim the concentration-camp memorial is located right in the centre of the cemetery. It is not. So don't make the mistake I did and head straight for the middle, but first look just behind the main entrance gate!) 
Then you can head into the cemetery proper. You'll immediately be overwhelmed by the monumental scale of several tombs lining the central avenue on both sides. 
The very largest of them all is a spiral-tower-like structure standing roughly in the middle of the cemetery – it reminded me of the central tower of Vigeland Park in Oslo, except that this one is hollow in the middle. 
Another very large one was undergoing refurbishment at the time of my visit, which slightly affected the full impression of its bizarre scene of two bronze bulls or oxen dragging a plough while being watched over by an even more oversized red-granite woman at the top. 
Quite sizeable is also the sculpture group that echoes Leonardo da Vinci's “Last Supper” mural – which is probably the most famous work of art to be found in Milan
The largest and most famous examples of this cemetery's plethora of remarkable tombs are listed on information panels together with an orientation map that are scattered around the cemetery's grounds at some strategic positions. So that makes finding the top examples easy. 
But it really isn't just size and fame that matters here. Nor prominent names – most will be familiar only to those in the know (to me there was a pronounced dearth of recognizable names … but I'm not Milanese, of course).
But keep your eyes open and you can spot extraordinary tombs of less super-sized proportions or fame. Often it is the bronze or stone sculptures that are the most remarkable aspect. Women draped in mourning on graves, or sitting dejected-looking next to them are a common feature. Angels too, of course. 
But there are also highly unusual discoveries to be made – like that happily grinning bloke sitting on a grave, as if unashamedly showing his happiness about a fat inheritance or something.   
Others are rather suggestive, possibly not in the way intended, like the group of statues involving an old woman being pushed forward as if to say “shove off, granny!” (I am over-interpreting, I know). Others appear to carry erotic implications even (again, maybe that's just me – but I do enjoy finding alternative meanings in grave designs … I think it's fun!). 
Yet others are totally bizarre and undecipherable in their symbolic meaning – like that naked pilot figure trying to wrestle away the propeller he's carrying from the grip of the snakes of a Medusa head by his feet. Fascinating piece of art – but I am at a loss as to how to interpret this scene. 
Pictures are worth more than words here, so for a fuller impression of what fascinating tombs can be found here, go to the photo gallery below!
In addition to the outdoor tombs there are also a couple of columbariums that are part of this cemetery. Mostly the urn-burial niches down here are less remarkable in design, by their very nature. But even here you can spot some intriguing pieces of art and statuary. 
Near the entrance to the cemetery there is supposed to be an exhibition about the cemetery and funeral culture topics. But unfortunately I wasn't able to check this out either, since the cemetery was closing earlier than normal on the day when I visited (1 May). And the cemetery as such was already so fascinating that I had simply run out of time. (By the way, as closing time was drawing nearer, some rather spooky sounding sirens went off to alert visitors to that fact, which added a pretty weird extra to the whole atmosphere.)
Let this also be a hint: you can lose yourself in this cemetery and spend hours wandering around and looking for yet more interesting bits and pieces. So come with plenty of time and preferably not on one of those early-closing days ...
Location: to the north of central Milan, a bit under 2 miles (3 km) from the Duomo, a mile (1.5 km ) north of Parco Sempione, and just to the west of Porta Garibaldi train station.   
Co-ordinates and Google maps locator (entrance):  
45°29'06.1"N 9°10'44.5"E
Access and costs: a bit out of the city centre but not difficult to get to; free. 
Details: Getting to the cemetery is about to be made even easier than before when its own metro station on the new M5 line opens (which connects to the M1, 2 and 3 at nearby stations already operating). 
Until then, or if you want to avoid going underground, tram lines 2, 4, 12 and 14 as well as bus 37 provide good access. 
Opening times: normally the cemetery is open daily except Mondays (unless it is a public holiday) from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., entry is permitted up to 30 minutes before closing (which would be rather pointless as you need far longer than half an hour to do this place justice!). On certain days it closes earlier, at 1 p.m., namely on New Year's Day, Easter Sunday and Monday, 1 May, 2 June, 15 August and during the whole period between 8 December and Christmas (up to and including Boxing Day). 
Admission free.   
A sign admonishes visitors “to behave and dress in an appropriate and proper manner”. I guess that means no skimpy summer wear and no eating, drinking or being noisy and obnoxious in any way. 
Time required: more than you might think. I only had about an hour and a half to two hours (because the cemetery closed earlier than normal that day), and I thought I could probably have spent at least twice as long here and enjoyed going at a slower pace.   
Combinations with other dark destinations: Not too far from the cemetery, to its east and just beyond Garibaldi Station, is the Porta Nuova modernist development area, which borders on the Isola district. Sitting on the edge between these is the new Casa della Memoria – see under Milan
The No.2 metro line from nearby Garibaldi Station can also take you swiftly to the Central Station where the Shoah Memorial is located and onwards to Piazzale Loreto (the place where Mussolini was hung upside down).  
Combinations with non-dark destinations: See under Milan in general. 
If modern architecture is your thing too, you should walk the short distance east past Garibaldi Station to the new Porta Nuova district where lots of new highrises have been built and still are being built. Possibly the most remarkable of all these is the Bosco Verticale.  
Otherwise it's back to the city centre.
  • Monumentale 01 - big gate and FamedioMonumentale 01 - big gate and Famedio
  • Monumentale 02 - inside the FamedioMonumentale 02 - inside the Famedio
  • Monumentale 03 - through the gateMonumentale 03 - through the gate
  • Monumentale 04 - into the cemeteryMonumentale 04 - into the cemetery
  • Monumentale 05 - concentration camp memorialMonumentale 05 - concentration camp memorial
  • Monumentale 06 - right behind the FamedioMonumentale 06 - right behind the Famedio
  • Monumentale 07 - bowl of ashesMonumentale 07 - bowl of ashes
  • Monumentale 08 - grand cemeteryMonumentale 08 - grand cemetery
  • Monumentale 09 - planMonumentale 09 - plan
  • Monumentale 10 - big stone tombMonumentale 10 - big stone tomb
  • Monumentale 11 - pyramidMonumentale 11 - pyramid
  • Monumentale 12 - cluster of crossesMonumentale 12 - cluster of crosses
  • Monumentale 13 - contemplating deathMonumentale 13 - contemplating death
  • Monumentale 14 - drapedMonumentale 14 - draped
  • Monumentale 15 - kiss that graveMonumentale 15 - kiss that grave
  • Monumentale 16 - spanking a lambMonumentale 16 - spanking a lamb
  • Monumentale 17 - laid flatMonumentale 17 - laid flat
  • Monumentale 18 - boredMonumentale 18 - bored
  • Monumentale 19 - not talkingMonumentale 19 - not talking
  • Monumentale 20 - wishful thinking of parentsMonumentale 20 - wishful thinking of parents
  • Monumentale 21 - come on granny, move onMonumentale 21 - come on granny, move on
  • Monumentale 22 - shiftedMonumentale 22 - shifted
  • Monumentale 23 - big bovine tomb undergoing refurbishmentMonumentale 23 - big bovine tomb undergoing refurbishment
  • Monumentale 24 - hippie shepherdMonumentale 24 - hippie shepherd
  • Monumentale 25 - big spiral tower tombMonumentale 25 - big spiral tower tomb
  • Monumentale 26 - inside the towerMonumentale 26 - inside the tower
  • Monumentale 27 - very little headroomMonumentale 27 - very little headroom
  • Monumentale 28 - shady spot under the treesMonumentale 28 - shady spot under the trees
  • Monumentale 29 - Art Nouveau treeMonumentale 29 - Art Nouveau tree
  • Monumentale 30 - glass etchingsMonumentale 30 - glass etchings
  • Monumentale 31 - facial expressionsMonumentale 31 - facial expressions
  • Monumentale 32 - quietly prayingMonumentale 32 - quietly praying
  • Monumentale 33 - carrying life and deathMonumentale 33 - carrying life and death
  • Monumentale 34 - tiltMonumentale 34 - tilt
  • Monumentale 35 - blank lookMonumentale 35 - blank look
  • Monumentale 36 - probably a happy heirMonumentale 36 - probably a happy heir
  • Monumentale 37 - pondering modernityMonumentale 37 - pondering modernity
  • Monumentale 38 - also quite modernMonumentale 38 - also quite modern
  • Monumentale 39 - propeller-wrestling and Medusa-headMonumentale 39 - propeller-wrestling and Medusa-head
  • Monumentale 40 - a bit of nudity thrown inMonumentale 40 - a bit of nudity thrown in
  • Monumentale 41 - having a fumble with an angelMonumentale 41 - having a fumble with an angel
  • Monumentale 42 - post-death threesomeMonumentale 42 - post-death threesome
  • Monumentale 43 - do not lookMonumentale 43 - do not look
  • Monumentale 44 - risking a peepMonumentale 44 - risking a peep
  • Monumentale 45 - raised index fingerMonumentale 45 - raised index finger
  • Monumentale 46 - looking for enlightenmentMonumentale 46 - looking for enlightenment
  • Monumentale 47 - a little gold flameMonumentale 47 - a little gold flame
  • Monumentale 48 - last supperMonumentale 48 - last supper
  • Monumentale 49 - columbariumMonumentale 49 - columbarium
  • Monumentale 50 - columbariumMonumentale 50 - columbarium
  • Monumentale 51 - gloomyMonumentale 51 - gloomy
  • Monumentale 52 - beautyMonumentale 52 - beauty
  • Monumentale 53 - no way outMonumentale 53 - no way out

©, Peter Hohenhaus 2010-2019

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