An Island of the Dead

fallen cross

A fallen cross in the Orthodox cemetery

If Venice is named the Floating City, then Cimitero San Michele should be named the Floating Dead.  Yes, it sounds eerie, but cemeteries can also be quite beautiful and moving to visit.  The Cimitero di San Michele has no shortage of moving stories and images.  The only way to get to it is via boat.  It’s a very quick trip out to the cemetery island and you can use your normal water bus pass to get there on the No. 41 or 42 vaporetto at the Fondamenta Nuove platform.

The island houses 3 different cemeteries; Catholic, Protestant, and Greek Orthodox sections vary greatly.  The Catholic section is well kept and groomed.  However, the Protestant and Orthodox sections are in disrepair.  I actually prefer the less coiffed cemeteries as it makes me stop and reflect more about the graves I’m looking at.  The toppled over crosses and gravestones leave many questions in my head; why did no one fix it, did no one care, is anyone in their family left, and the list goes on.

The bodies are of course transported by boat to the island in either a boat hearse, or a  funeral gondola.   Since the island has a finite amount of space, real estate is an issue.  The bodies are allowed to decompose for twelve years, at which point they’re dug up. The families can then pay to ‘extend their lease’ or the remains are moved.  Even when you have passed you are still moving around I guess.

The island is beautiful to photograph – go see for yourself!


The Catholic cemetery is stacked high


Rasaries are draped on a statue

watering can

Watering cans hung for flower maintenance


The Protestant cemetery


Graves in the Catholic section

cemetery island

The view of Cimitero from Venice

ballet grave

The grave of Sergei Diaghilev, the head of the Ballet Russe

cemetery visitor

A woman walks through the Catholic cemetery

cemetery ladder

Ladders are placed around the cemetery to reach the top grave-sites

grieving statue

Grieving statue


Flowers placed on a tomb

I’m not the only one who finds cemeteries beautiful – check out this website solely dedicated to Cemetery Travel!

Disclosure: Go with Oh hosted my apartment lodging in Venice. However, all of the opinions expressed here are my own – as you know how I love to speak my mind!

Your Comments

10 Comments so far

  1. Barbara says:

    Wow! This is indeed extremely moving. And what a wonderful “find” in Venice. I could help but go to the Cemetery Travel website thereafter.

    It’s interesting to note that much of what remains in history are cemeteries (Egyptian tombs, Etruscan tombs), even though today we visit them so infrequently.

    Wonderful pictures too. I felt transported.

  2. Loren Rhoads says:

    Wow! Thanks for the link from your beautiful blog. That’s San Michele exactly as I remember it, except that I didn’t see anyone else on the island the day I went — which was really creepy in itself. Your photos really do the place justice.

  3. Angela says:

    I love to visit cemetaries too.

    Sherry, these photos are stunning, every one of them.

  4. Don Faust says:

    Great photos Sherry – I love old cemeteries. The Catholics definitely make better use of their real estate :)

  5. I LOVE visiting cemeteries. This one … amazing.

  6. JoAnna says:

    I adore visiting cemeteries. The photo with the ballet slippers is particularly gorgeous.

  7. Jack says:

    This just triggered memories of reading Aurelio Zen (although I can’t remember if Didbin’s detective ever set foot in Cimitero San Michele).

    What a fascinating place; you’ve captured it beautifully.

  8. Jo says:

    I agree, beautiful photos, but when I visited there were signs asking that no photographs be taken. Are these images therefore not disrespectful?

    • Sherry says:

      I honestly didn’t see any sign there anywhere – Else I wouldn’t have taken the photos. I walked throughout the cemetery with my camera and never saw anything posted, nor did anyone working there stop me. There were many other people there doing the same too.

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