Monumental Cemetery of Messina (Messina, Italy)

Monumental Cemetery of Messina (Messina, Italy)
The Monumental Cemetery of Messina is one of the most important monumental cemeteries in Italy and also one of the most artistic.

Basic data

The monumental Cemetery of Messina is owned and managed by the Municipality of Messina, Department Urban Environment cemetery services. It covers 220.000 m2. and the predominant nationalities at the cemetery are Italian and English. The main religion is Christian.

About the cemetery

On March 22, 1872 the transfer of the remains of Messinian patriot Giuseppe La Farina from Turin to Messina becomes a propitious occasion to inaugurate, although incomplete, the beautiful Monumental Cemetery of Messina, which was born in the wake of the new Napoleonic measures, and which carries the signature of the Massinian architect and professor Leone Savoja. The latter was inspired by an idea of space that was already in use in ancient building like theaters. He uses and exploits the slope of a hill located between the suburban Palmara and the area of S. Cosimo, sul modello di Mosella, for design a cemetery that was a place of rest and enjoyment for both the living and the dead.

The cemetery was a place of respect but also an enjoyment for the eye that starting at the courtyard at the entrance of the Monastery, could gradually turn to the strait. Or you could simply entertain yourself with lively debates on morality within the large and airy arcaded buildings. In the memorial chapel, the central element of this architectural design gives you plenty of space for the intellectual glories of the city with the beautiful cenotaphs of famous men like the one in the center, dedicated to Giuseppe La Farina, work of sculptor Gregorio Zappalà which represents an allegorical figure of crying Italy. 

Historical and artistic aspects

Messina is a city ravaged both from the calamity and from the carelessness of men. The Monumental Cemetery of Messina fully meets the spirit of time and finds strict affinity not only with the most important Italian monumental cemeteries but also with those in Europe, such as Perè Lachaise di Alexandre Thèodore Brongniart who startes to design it in 1803. The Cemetery of Messina is a garden of sculptures of memory in which sculptors, painters, plasterers and architects of the time could show their mastery. Everything seems to be inspired by a deep meaning and high aesthetic value – from low wrought iron gates for the delimitation of tombs to the most impressive monuments.

In the cemetery you can find expressive portraits and "talking" allegories related to life, death, but also to the profession of the deceased. Essentially eclectic architectural companions that bring together all the original ideas of the ancient and the contemporary aesthetic. Epigraphs that give us the tone of the literary sensibility. All in the beautiful setting of a historic garden of great rarity and beauty.

Significant aspects of the cemetery

  • Expression of European Romanticism Art and Culture
  • Witness of Italian Patriotism
  • Valuable Heritage building of Messina’s Romantic period
  • Valuable Heritage building of Messina’s Rationalism period
  • Wrought iron decoration
  • Existence of a flourishing trade English colony in Messina
  • Presence of Well-know characters
  • Open air Museum City

Main parts of the cemetery

The Atrium of public celebrations is located in the low part of the cemetery. It has a parterre and pond. On the top there is the basilica San Basilio degli Azzurri.

The Famedio is a memorial chapel that is crossed by an underground tunnel, resembling the catacombs, containing the remains of famous men of Messina. There you can find cenotaphs and burials of Giuseppe La Farina (work of art by Gregorio Zappalà), of Felice Bisazza (work of art by Gaetano Russo), of Giuseppe Natoli (work of art by Lio Gangeri) and others. The work was inaugurated on March 27 1872 and for the occasion the remains of Giuseppe Farina were transferred here from Torino. The Famedio is located in the middle part of the cemetery and consist a portico with ionic capitals, crowning columns and the remains of a basilica.

The Cenobio is an example of Art Gothic Revival that is located in the high part of the cemetery. The design of Cenobio Grand Cemetery of Messina, also known as Gothic chapel or convent, is currently attributed to architect Giacomo Fiore (1808-1893), as part of the realization of the cemetery complex. The level ground around the Cenobio contains valuable tombs, almost all made within the last decades of the nineteenth and early twentieth century. Until 1908, the Cenobio was in use, as well as the conduct of religious services at the residence of the Great Cemetery and accommodation of chaplain - director and his assistant.

Important graves and monuments 

  • The tomb of Pierce Chapel (1921, by Vincenzo Vinci) - Funerary Chapel of Giorgio Pierce and his family. High example of Eclectic neo - Romanesque style in the shape of a small temple with portico entrance, covered by an unusual "pagoda". The same motive is repeated in the elaborate cornice crowning and battlements of the high spire terminal. The tomb consist of wrought-iron, frescos, gold wood, mosaic decorations.
  • Monument to the Financiers, victims of the earthquake of 1908 (1921, by V. Pardo Roma)
  • Monument of Letterio d’Andrea (1912, by G. Scarfì)
  • Cenotaph and Burial of Giuseppe La Farina (1872, by G. Zappalà) - Personification of Italy like a lady that cries for the famous patriot. On the top of the urn there is the bust of La Farina.
  • Cenotaph and Burial of intellectual and poet Felice Bisazza (1872, by G. Russo) - Personification of Literature like Apollo and two angels. There is also a portrait of the poet in front of Cenotaph.

Educational aspects

For schools, to visit it, can become a source of total immersion in the ancient and multiple insights for further teaching of local and European history.

Think of the cemetery as a place of cultural discovery and as a tourist circuit, but still with respect to the sacred places. Is an effort of the imagination that once made becomes highly natural and can trigger important phenomena of aggregation. From this perspective is also linked to the promotion and protection of the existing. Elsewhere the inclusion of places like this in the tourist-museum circuit has become a reality - the Perrè Lachaise in Paris is one of the most visited places of the French capital.

The very encouraging response received from the city and then by schools during a project named “Messina Christmas of the Angels and the Garden of Sculptures of Memory” between 2010 and 2011 was confirmed by hundred of visitors who participated in guided tours at the cemetery. This is a good sign for the future of this idea - offering guided cultural tours to discover the cultural richness of this urban space.

As highlighted in a recent conference held on 22 October 2014 in the town Hall of Messina with the title “Gran Cemetery Museum of Art and Culture in the park of Memory”, there are two acres of memory of the city to protect and promote.

Written works about the cemetery

  • Amato Antonino. 1988. Il Famedio di Leona Savoja: dalle necropoli di età preistorica al Gran Camposanto di Messina. Messina: Edas edizioni.
  • Amato Antonino. 1991. Il Cenobio del Gran Camposanto di Messina, studi e rilievi 2 vol. Messina: Edas edizioni Attard.
  • Vincenzo Giorgio. 1995. Il Cimitero degli inglesi Appunti- Epigrafi- Elenchi. Messina: Perna.
  • Azzolina Pippo and Molonia Giovanni. 2000. Un libro aperto sulla città Il Gran Camposanto di Messina. Messina: La Grafica editoriale.
  • Caminiti M. Anna. 2013. Recinti sacri. I complessi cimiteriali come elemento di costruzione del paesaggio. Messina: Magika collana odierna.
  • Carbone Gaetano. Il Gran Camposanto di Messina (GBM).
  • De Pasquale Dario. 2010. Mille volti un’anima. Dal gran camposanto di Messina all'Unità d'Italia. Un percorso iconografico alla ricerca dell'identità perduta. Barcelona (Me): Sikelia.
  • Finocchio Giuseppe. 2010. Marmi alati, Messina il Natale degli Angeli/ il Giardino scultoreo della memoria Messina (Brochure).
  • Spina Luigi. 2013. Monumentale. Un viaggio fotografico all'interno del gran camposanto di Messina. Milano: Electa Mondadori.

Cemetery address

Dipartimento Cimiteri
Via Catania, n.118
98124 Messina

Cemetery contacts

Tel.: 0902923548 (contact center)
Fax: 090694542

Other contacts

Daniele Ialacqua (Assessor)

Giuseppe Finocchio (professional Cultural Heritage- Organising Cultural Events)

Teresa Altamore (Historical - architectural consultant)