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Certosa di Bologna - Historic Monumental Cemetery

Etruscan necropolis, Carthusian monastery, cemetery: more than two thousand years of history and art tell the story of the city.

Photo Bisteghi by Mauro Daviddi

Certosa di Bologna - Monumental cemetery

Certosa di Bologna - Monumental cemetery

The cemetery was established in 1801 using the former buildings of the Carthusian monastery, which was built starting from 1334 and closed by Napoleon in 1796. The Chiesa di S. Girolamo testifies to the lost wealth of the monastery. At the Archaeological Museum it is possible to admire a large portion of grave goods from Etruscan tombs, discovered between 1869 and 1873, including the famous Situla della Certosa vase, a masterpiece from the VI century BC. Several historically important local and national figures have been laid to rest in the cemetery; they include statesman Marco Minghetti; artists Giorgio Morandi and Bruno Saetti; winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature Giosue Carducci and writer Riccardo Bacchelli; opera singer Carlo Broschi, known as Farinelli, composer Ottorino Respighi and singer Lucio Dalla  as well as the founders of the companies Maserati and Ducati, and the publishing house Zanichelli.

The nineteenth century nucleus: from Napoleon to the Unity of Italy
Immagine Percorso

The cloisters and covered areas provide an understanding of the development of Italian art and history, from Neoclassic to the Realism of the late century. Without a doubt the painted and stucco tombs located under the arches of the Third Cloister  are unique in Europe. One can also admire the famous Desolation by Vincenzo Vela, a marble piece that weds beauty with the political values of the Risorgimento. Many sculptural masterpieces by Giacomo De Maria, Giovanni Putti and Cincinnato Baruzzi adorn these environments, where there is also a grand marble piece portraying the King of Naples, Gioacchino Murat, and the equally impressive group by Lorenzo Bartolini depicting Napoleon’s sister - Elisa Bonaparte – positioned to adorn the Malvezzi Angelelli monument. Carlo Monari, Salvino Salvini, Enrico Barberi and Diego Sarti offer, in their marbles located in the Galleria degli Angeli, or Angel Gallery, and the Seventh Cloister works of opulent realist representation, influenced by the perturbation of the late XIX century decadent movement. The architectures were completed thanks to the intervention of several architects from Bologna and the rest of Italy, allowing the visitor to always walk under cover, just like in the old town centre.

The Twentieth Century
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At the end of the XIX century in Certosa there is a change in the orientation of its architectural and urban design: the cloisters and rooms that revolve around the grand Sixth Cloister assume an appearance of even greater wealth and luxury compared to the older area. These spaces house works and chapels with sculptures in marble and bronze, adorned with mosaic and wrought iron decorations and framed by petty bourgeoisie plaques and sculptures. On walking through it is possible to admire the change in taste, from Realism to Liberty, through to the renewed classicist fervour of the years of the Fascist period. The Albertoni cell by Giuseppe Romagnoli and Magnani Cell by Pasquale Rizzoli are amongst the finest examples of Italian Liberty style. The Gancia, Cillario and Talon chapels are, however, emblematic of the historicist taste and the recovery of the craft techniques of the Middle Ages and Italian Renaissance. The works of Alfonso Borghesani are, on the other hand, a catalogue of material richness, often influenced by Deco taste.

Photo M. Daviddi

Cemeteries within the cemetery
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In the north-west area of the Certosa there are several cloisters and fields that the Council, over time, has allocated for the burial of people with different religious or burial beliefs. Overlooking the access road stands the small Evangelical Cloister, where people belonging to the Anglican or Protestant Church can be laid to rest; while a little further on is the first Crematorium Altar building, located next to the Cinerary Cloister and Chamber. The three fields set aside for Jews since 1869, are Bologna’s visible testimony of the small but very important local Jewish community. In addition to the simple memories that reflect religious dictates, there are also monuments of greater monumental undertaking, sometimes adorned with portraits, symptom of the desire to indicate, after having achieved the civil and religious rights of the eighteen hundreds, their belonging to Italian society.

The collective monuments
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Compared to other Italian cemeteries, the Certosa has a greater presence of monuments that commemorate both local and national historical events. This is due to the will of the cemetery’s founders, in the Jacobean era, to make it a place where the contribution of citizens with regard to dynastic and family glories could be emphasised, in order to offer posterity an example to be followed. This is the direction taken by the construction of the Pantheon of illustrious citizens of Bologna in 1828, a space now used as the Sala del Commiato, or Hall of Farewell or for other religious functions, integrated in 2008 with the staging of the artist Flavio Favelli. We should mention the huge roaring lion by Carlo Monari for the Monument to the Martyrs of the Independence which acts as a spectacular closure to the Hall of Tombs.  The magnificent Monuments to the martyrs of Fascism and the Great War have a very different visual impact, inaugurated between 1932 and the following year, at the centre of the Sixth Cloister, with a clear intention of political propaganda underlined by the transfer to this area of the remains of Barnabite priest Ugo Bassi – martyr of the Italian Risorgimento – and of Giosue Carducci, 'poet of the Unity of Italy'. At the centre of the Campo degli Ospedali, or Hospital Field stands one of the finest examples of architectural Rationalism of the mid nineteen hundreds: the Ossuary of the fallen Partisans. Designed by Milan’s Piero Bottoni, who also created one of the sculptural groups, sees its ideal completion in its placement in front of the tomb of Giuseppe Dozza, the Mayor of the Liberation.