Keats, Shelley and the Prettiest Cemetery in Rome

Part of why I love Rome is that it’s full of ruins. And graves. Scores of popes, religious martrys, Renaissance artists and more are buried under Rome, not to mention the miles and miles of underground catacombs (more on this later this week).

It’s fascinating stuff, but being a huge literary nerd, I was far more impressed by this shady cemetery we almost accidentally stumbled into by the Pyramid metro station.

The Protestant Cemetery

Also called the Non-Catholic Cemetery, so you can pretty much guess who was buried here. It’s also known as the Foreigner’s Cemetery, as many non-Italians living in Rome were laid to rest here. In the 1700’s and 1800’s lots of young english men were taking their Grand Tours and hanging around Rome, some of them must have agreed with me that it would be a great place to call home, and some of them died here in this foreign land. Among them:

John Keats

One of the greatest Romantic poets, John Keats died in Rome at just 25 years old (if you’re looking for a real tearfest, watch Bright Star about Keats and his romance with Fannie Brawne). His grave is notable in that his name is not written anywhere on it. Believing he was dying unknown and forgotten he instead requested it say “Here lies One Whose Name was writ in Water.”

Next to Keats is the grave of his close friend Joseph Severn who died 50 years later.

Percy Bysshe Shelley

Keats close friend Shelley is buried a ways away near one of the old walls. Shelley outlived Keats but still ended up drowning at just 29 years old (guess dying young is part of what made them so romantic) His ashes are buried here with a line from Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

All the Rest

There are plenty of other famous people buried here including parts of the Bulgari Family, Antonio Gramsci, August von Goethe and a whole slew of poets, artists and novelists. Along one wall is the Pyramid of Cestius (currently under restoration), which is an empty tomb from 12 BC. Many of the graves are artistic and beautiful and it was interesting just to wander around.

The cemetery is also popular among local Roman felines. Over 80 cats call the park home, they are cared for by the cemetery caretakers who play vaccinated them, neuter them and play them classical music each night. The “pyramid cats” are even available for adoption.

17 thoughts on “Keats, Shelley and the Prettiest Cemetery in Rome”

  1. “Rid of the world’s injustice and its pain,
    He rests at last beneath God’s veil of blue;
    Taken from life while life and love were new
    The youngest of the martyrs here is lain,
    Fair as Sebastian and as foully slain.
    No cypress shades his grave, nor funeral yew,
    But red-lipped daisies, violets drenched with dew,
    And sleepy poppies, catch the evening rain.
    O proudest heart that broke for misery!
    O saddest poet that the world hath seen!
    O sweetest singer of the English land!
    Thy name was writ in water on the sand,
    But our tears shall keep thy memory green,
    And make it flourish like a Basil-tree…”

  2. We visited just yesterday and found the cemetery quite by accident. It is beautiful! Lovely atmosphere, a very special place. Didn’t realise the Pyramid was actually ancient, with the old city walls built abutting it. Yes, we saw several cats, being cats. Good loos too, and nice staff. Restful, shady seats next to Keats’ headstones. Thank you for this site.

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