Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Protestant Cemetery

One of the highlights of John and my visit to the Testaccio neighbourhood of Rome was a visit to the Protestant Cemetery just off of Via Marmorata and the busy Piazzale Ostiense.
It's a peaceful, green haven from the busy streets of Testaccio and led the British Romantic poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley to say that it was "the most beautiful and solemn cemetery I ever beheld." We would have to agree. 
Situated at the eastern wall is the Pyramid of Caius Cestius (12 BC), a Roman general who had spent time in Egypt and chosen to reflect that time in his tomb. I'm sure it added a romantic touch that pleased the Romantic poets.
One of the most famous and frequently visited graves here is that of the young, Romantic poet, Keats, who wished that his gravestone be engraved with these words, " Here Lies One / Whose Name was writ on Water". 
Shelley so loved the cemetery that his wife had his ashes buried here as well. Likewise, the Beat poet, Gregory Corso, a great fan of Shelley's poetry, asked to be buried here near his hero when he died in 2001. His tombstone is engraved with the poem, "Spirit / is life / it flows thru / the death of me endlessly /like a river / unafraid / of becoming / the sea." Nice.
And so our visit to the cemetery and its inhabitants was a serene and contemplative time in a charming setting.
If during a visit to Rome, you visit this vital, working-class neighbourhood we highly recommend adding the Protestant Cemetery to your itinerary.
I don't think you'll be disappointed.

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