TRIESTE CEMETERIES: DAY OF THE DEAD

With All Saints Day coming upon us, I could have easily recycled one of the articles on the famous Fave Triestine, the tri-colored “Day of the Dead” cookies that are ubiquitous in shop windows this time of year, but instead I want to tell you about where you can actually visit the dead here in Trieste…  👻

Trieste has seven main cemeteries, that are located on Via della Pace, (also referred to in Trieste as Via delle Memorie or Memory Lane) in the neighborhood of Valmaura.  Each cemetery houses a different denomination. Here you will find an expanse of tombstones bearing foreign surnames, belonging to the many storied families and scions of Trieste, as well as those of ordinary citizens, many coming from different corners of the world. Trieste was then, as it is today,  a true melting pot of nationalities and languages, of traditions and beliefs that have contributed to the cosmopolitan city we know today.

Trieste’s population boom came about as the city became the main port of the Habsburg Empire in the 19th Century and an important hub for trade.  The city grew rapidly from the 30,000 inhabitants in 1800, to 235,000 inhabitants by 1914 — the population has remained more or less the same since (except for the periods immediately following the two world wars).

Thanks to the flourishing activity of the Port, many foreigners moved to Trieste bringing with them different religions and soon established their own burial rituals and sites very early on.  Until the early 1800s, the dead were buried within the city. Some in their churches crypts, others in small cemeteries near the Cathedral of San Giusto.  

The Sant’Anna cemetery grew out of the necessity to create a burial space outside the city for the booming (and expiring) population. The city’s officials sought to eliminate all burials from within the city limits and so a new location was identified south of the city, on the hill of Sant’Anna — an area that was still largely unpopulated.  The first burial in the Catholic cemetery of Sant’Anna was carried out on August 1, 1825 and it was in this period that the two cemeteries of the hill of San Giusto were definitively abandoned: the larger one is used today as the Orto Lapidario, and the smaller one is now a churchyard.  The city then incentivized the other religious leaders to establish burial sites adjacent to Sant’Anna, among them; the Jewish cemetery, the Serbian-Orthodox, the Greek Orthodox, the Protestant-Lutheran, the Swiss-Anglican and a Muslim cemetery — they are still in operation today, managed by their respective religious communities.  What they all have in common are very dramatic and ornate sculptural tributes to their dead.

The Sant’Anna Catholic cemetery of Trieste is a very interesting place especially for the urban and architectural aspects. The land once belonged to the Burlo family, a patrician family of Trieste (the famed pediatric hospital is named for them).  The first project of the cemetery was to fence in the land, which measured just under 68,500 square meters, and erect a wall 1.83 meters high. It was appointed with a Vitruvian-style entrance composed of a pediment and four Doric columns. Today this has become the secondary entrance. The beautiful cemetery is the work of the neoclassical architect Matteo Persch (1769-1834).  

Due to the population boom, its surface had to be doubled bringing numerous improvements to the cemetery.  Today the main entrance is decorated with three sculptures by Marcello Mascherini depicting the two Angels and a Resurrection of Lazarus. The tombs under the portico are by famous sculptors, among them: Giuseppe Capolino, Giovanni Meyer, Pietro Canonica, Pietro Magni, plus a vast sample of local artists of the IXI and the XX century.

The Greek Orthodox, the Serbian Orthodox and the Jewish cemeteries are also considered important as they are home to some of the most beautiful tombstones and sculptures belonging to some of the wealthiest and most prominent families of Trieste. 

Initially the Greek-Illyrian nation buried its dead within the old church of San Spiridione without any funeral rites. In 1772 Empress Maria Teresa of Austria gave permission for them to establish their own cemetery.  In 1785 the Serbs separated from the Greeks and built their own cemetery and the chapel on the ground in the area of ​​the neighborhood of Barriera Vecchia. However, a century later, due to the urban development of the city, the Greek and Serbian communities were also required to move their cemeteries.  All the remains were exhumed and moved from the old cemeteries in the city to the new ones on the hillside near Sant’Anna.

In these cemeteries the descendants of eminent Triestine families have been buried and their richly decorated tombs are testament to their prestige and economic standing. Many of these tombs are decorated with marble reliefs, while others boast busts of the deceased. The decorations and even the gravestones themselves are executed in the  classic style.  The themes used in the decorations belong to classic inspiration: the sadness and pain for the loss of the deceased.

Particular to the Serbian cemetery is that among the many stone crosses, one can also see that many tombs also carry an image of an anchor, revealing the maritime affiliation of the Slavic people who arrived in Trieste: captains and shipowners were laid to rest here even in the following century. Tombs of the nineteenth century mix with the more recent ones, the result of an important and continuous immigration from that region. The most famous comedian Trieste has ever known, Angelo Cecchelin, is also buried here.

The Jewish cemetery of Trieste is located adjacent to the Catholic cemetery of Sant’Anna.  The Jewish community accepted the Municipality’s offer to provide for the expenses for the installation of the New Jewish Cemetery, with an agreement of 1842, closing once and for all the Jewish cemetery in Via del Monte. 

The New Jewish cemetery goes by several names; Beth Olam, home of eternity or Beth Hakevarot, the house of tombs, or with a euphemism Beth Hahaim, the house of life or, in the Yiddish culture, Gut Ort, the good place.

It is filled with monumental tombstones and sculptures with inscriptions in Latin, Czech, Russian, German, English, and even one with a biblical verse in the Samaritan alphabet it is a testament to the cosmopolitan and multi-ethnic history of the city. It is a place of contrasts where the nineteenth-century splendor of the ancient family tombs are surrounded by an untamed tangle of dense vegetation.

The nearby Ex military cemetery holds the remains of some 200 soldiers, including inhabitants of Trieste who died during the First World War fighting for the Austro-Hungarian empire, as well as 33 British soldiers, 12 Soviet soldiers and several from Kazakistan who fought against for liberation against the Nazis.

Cappella musulmana

And finally, there the Muslim cemetery. It is located in via Costalunga 101, just past the Jewish and Orthodox cemeteries. It was built in 1856 and borders the vast Catholic cemetery of Sant’Anna. It holds the bodies of many soldiers of the First World War and some Turkish merchants, very active in Trieste at the time of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
The construction of the Ottoman cemetery dates back to that time, and is unmistakable with its copper spire and the crescent on the top. It’s amazing to see crosses and the Crescent standing out together against the sky. There is a garden with a well from which to draw water for the washing of the deceased and the axis of the chapel faces towards Mecca. I’m told that this is the only Muslim burial place in Italy where the burial of the body according to Islamic tradition is permitted.

If you go for a visit, here are some of the more illustrious “residents” of the Triestine cemeteries to look out for, among them famous authors, scientists, playwrights, and politicians:

The hours of operations are:

January, February: from 7.30 am to 5 pm
March: from 7am to 6pm (7pm with daylight saving time)
April: from 7 am to 7 pm
May, June, July and August: from 7 am to 8 pm
September: from 7 am to 7 pm
October: from 7.30 am to 5 pm (6 pm with daylight saving time)
November and December: from 7.30 am to 5 pm

On Sundays and public holidays the cemetery closes half an hour later.

With the exception of Sant’Anna, all the cemeteries are equipped with programmed automatic opening and closing gates.

There are an additional 9 neighborhood cemeteries in Trieste;

Cimitero di Servola /  Cimitero di Cattinara / Cimitero di Basovizza / Cimitero di Trebiciano /  Cimitero di Opicina  / Cimitero di Prosecco (*)  / Cimitero di Contovello / Cimitero di S. Croce / Cimitero di Barcola

Austro-hungarian military cemetery of Prosecco

Austro-hungarian military cemetery of Prosecco(*)

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