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Alone with the dead in the cemetery of San Miniato

A visit to a cemetery is probably not at the top of your wish list when touring a city, but there is particular cemetery in Florence that is certainly worthy of your time. The magnificent church of San Miniato al Monte is located on a hill overlooking the city. Behind it lies il Cimitero delle Porte Sante, the cemetery of the Holy Doors.

This monumental cemetery was opened in 1847 and is the final resting place of many famous Florentines such as politician Giovanni Spadolini, Giovanni Meyer (founder of the Florentine children’s hospital), Mario Cecchi Gori (film producer and president of football club Fiorentina) and Carlo Collodi (the spiritual father of Pinocchio).

I visited the cemetery on a cloudy Sunday morning, it was busy at the church, and many tourists had taken the short walk from Piazzale Michelangelo to San Miniato and posed smiling for the beautiful panorama of the city.

Once you enter the cemetery on the left side of the church, you get the feeling you are leaving the rest of the world behind. This is the domain of the dead and should be entered respectfully. It’s overwhelming to go inside the cemetery and behold the many tombs, crosses, statues and flowers.

Most graves are old and not always well maintained, but there are also several newer tombs and family graves where recently coffins have been added. This cemetery is not a “museum”, but is still in use.


There is a special lot close to the entrance with children’s graves, most date from the first half of the 20th century and the old photographs that adorn the gravestones make the sight of it even more touching. When I strolled among the graves the sun broke through the clouds for the first time that day and it wasn’t until then that I realized how quiet it was, I only heard the birds singing. I was the only visitor and that enhanced the already mystical feeling that I always get on old cemeteries. It startled me when the church bells stroke one o’clock and a couple of profanities spontaneously escaped me, but no one seemed to take offense.

Suddenly I heard someone calling to me. It was the manager who made it clear to me in broken English that the cemetery was closed. He immediately became friendlier when I answered him in fluent Italian. If I would be so kind to leave the cemetery and close the gate behind me. No wonder it had been so quiet, I had been walking around on a closed cemetery. Unfortunately I couldn’t complete my walk around the entire cemetery, but being alone with the dead was quite the experience.



Click on the photos for a larger view.

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