There’s an interesting place in Florence that was, when it was founded in 1828, an extremely bucolic locale.
Today, it stands isolated as an island (Piazzale Donatello) in a ring road system, which is really too bad. Nevertheless, knowing how land development works all over the world, it is a comfort that the place still survives.
The cemetery was founded to provide a solution to a very real problem. Before 1827, non-Catholics who died in Florence had to be buried in Livorno. The cemetery acquired the name ‘English’ because Protestants, most of whom were English, had to be buried outside the medieval city walls.
The English Cemetery was officially closed in 1877, when the medieval walls of Florence came down, making burials within the city boundary illegal, and for a century and a quarter the mini-necropolis remained locked and neglected.
Fortunately, Julia Bolton Holloway, a literary scholar specialising in the works of Elizabeth Barrett Browning – whose Penguin Classic Anthology she co-edited – took on responsibility for the cemetery. It was reopened to the public in 2003 for the reception of ashes but not bodies, and Holloway is actively raising restoration funds.
Ted Jones, wrote the following in his book, Florence and Tuscany: A Literary Guide for Travellers:
When I called, she [Julia Bolton Holloway] was re-lettering a gravestone, and she has set up a number of charitable institutions to ensure its future maintenance. Today, with the gardens replanted and well-maintained and the memorials inscribed and re-erected, it is a pleasure to visit, and well worth the slalom through the traffic – safe in the knowledge that if you don’t make it to the cemetery, there is a hospital next door.
Back onboard the Burchiello, my cruise continued toward Venice from Stra. First we had to sail through the Dolo Locks.
Soon we were passing many amazing ville, visible on the left and right banks of the canal. This area is around Mira, and has a high percentage of villas per square mile! We also passed very beautiful sections of the canals, with willow trees skimming the water and many fisherman catching their Sunday lunch.
It was smooth sailing and I had one of the best seats on the boat.
Next we passed through the Mira Locks.
We stopped at Villa Widmann, said to be a typical 18th century residence (that is if you were a part of the aristocracy!). It houses luscious frescoes and has lovely gardens.
To be continued.