Tourist Guide Venice

Cemetery Island of San Michele

Cemetery Island of San Michele
Source:        Photographer: Claudia Guth

Even if a trip to Venice signifies bustle and brimming with life, here as everywhere else people also die. For its dead, the lagoon city has reserved its own island – the Cemetery Island of San Michele. It has its own special appeal and every year attracts tens of thousands of tourists.

One can reach San Michele by- how could it be otherwise- boat. The liner that later stops at the lagoon islands of Murano, Burano and Torcello first stops at the pier of San Michele. It is not unusual to see a coffin appear at the smaller neighbouring pier. The last journey in Venice is always taken on the water – usually on a motorboat; sometimes coffins will also arrive on a gondola.

The cemetery of San Michele is in the form of a Greek cross. For travellers in addition to the monastery, the old part of the cemetery next to the graveyard is of particular interest. Not only is there a peaceful, friendly atmosphere but also many famous people have found their final resting places here. However those who wish to see the graves for example of Igor Strawinsky, Ezra Pound or Helenio Hererra have to have a lot of patience and be prepared to search for them. In contrast to other cemeteries the graves of prominent deceased are not marked. Also because ‘fans’ rarely come to San Michele just to visit a single grave, the resting places are not immediately identifiable through excessive decorations.

It is interesting that during earlier days, the dead were separately buried according to their religious denomination. It is particularly clear to see this in the protestant part of the cemetery. Here there are very few locals as Italians are predominantly Catholic; instead one will find the resting places of ambassadors and their families from Nordic countries.

The way back to the pier is the way back to the living. In the impressive cloister of the old monastery from the 13th Century, one can relax and sun oneself. Here one will also meet people who, don’t live on San Michele but who work here – like the gardeners. Neither the renaissance church ‘San Michele in Isola’ nor the hexagonal chapel ‘Cappella Emiliani’, are accessible to the public. With a little luck however one can sometimes catch a glimpse of the inside.

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