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Exploring the English Cemetery. The Florence you don't expect

A fascinating walk

As we have already said , cemeteries are among the most fascinating places. rich in history and serenity.

In Florence you will find the English Cemetery, a semi-hidden corner, located in the picturesque Piazzale Donatello: inaugurated in 1828 by the Swiss Reformed community, this international and ecumenical cemetery has hosted non-Catholics and non-Jews, collecting 1409 graves of personalities from 16 different nations, mainly English.

Do you feel like you can hear the whisper of the stories of these souls who have chosen Florence as their final resting place? Among them are famous names such as Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Walter Savage Landor.

Now close your eyes and imagine that you are there: the sun gently filters through the trees and the ancient tombs outline a path of beauty and immortal memory. Your tour begins with this article, which will guide you to discover the history and architecture of this fascinating cemetery, an oval jewel in the middle of the avenue that is a real theater of the funerary art of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Restoration projects now aim to restore the cemetery to its Victorian splendour, while the site, being part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site and the Council of Europe Cultural Route, enjoys special protection.

The history of the English Cemetery

  • History and origins: The birth of the English cemetery is closely linked to the Protestant community of Florence. Founded in 1827 by the Swiss Evangelical Reformed Church, the cemetery was a response to the need for a dignified burial place for non-Catholics in the city, a need that arose as a result of the Catholic Church's ban on burying Protestants within the city walls. Grand Duke Leopold II granted them this small plot of land outside the walls, where the cemetery was built and became a point of reference for the Protestant community.
  • Redesign and inspiration: Over the course of its existence, the cemetery has seen a significant intervention by Giuseppe Poggi, who redesigned its current form during the creation of Piazza Donatello. Its unique location, surrounded by intense city traffic, even inspired Arnold Böcklin's most famous work, "The Isle of the Dead". Today, the English Cemetery is a place open to the public, where you can immerse yourself in the history, art and culture that have marked Florence and the world.

Not only does it offer a window into the past, but it continues to be a meeting point for those fascinated by history and art, keeping alive the connection between the present and the generations of Brits and internationals who have found rest among its graves.


Buried well-known figures and architecture

In the quiet shadows of the English Cemetery in Florence, rest figures who have left an indelible mark on history and culture. As you stroll through the tombs, you'll come across names that resonate with poetry, art, and courage:

  • Elizabeth Barrett Browning: The famous British poet, who chose Florence as her adopted home, rests here. His presence is a reminder of the passion and beauty of English literature, and his home, Casa Guidi, is still a destination for poetry lovers.
  • American Personalities: Theodore Parker, a fervent abolitionist, and Hiram Powers, a sculptor known for "The Greek Slave," share this space of peace. Their legacy is a reminder of Florence's deep connection to the struggle for freedom and American art.
  • Egyptian Symbolism: You can't help but notice  the widespread use of Egyptian symbols in tomb decorations. Obelisks, pyramids, and solar symbols such as the winged beetle reflect the ancient belief in the afterlife, bringing a touch of mystery and eternity.

The architecture of the English Cemetery is a stage where different cultures meet, with representatives of 16 different nations resting within its walls. Here are some curiosities you might discover during your visit:

  • Caretaker of the Cemetery: Since 2000, the caretaker of the English Cemetery is a nun, Julia Bolton Holloway, who reopened the cemetery in the 90s for the burial of cinerary urns and boxes of remains, demonstrating how this place continues to be alive and part of the community.
  • Accessibility: Despite the beauty and serenity it offers, the cemetery is not wheelchair accessible due to stairs at the entrance, a steep, gravelled interior path, and an uneven outdoor sidewalk.
  • Visiting hours: The English Cemetery welcomes you from Monday to Friday, with specific hours depending on the season, while on weekends and public holidays it remains closed, preserving its atmosphere of quiet and reflection.


Remember, as you venture among the graves of the English Cemetery, that you are walking in a place where art, history and personal stories intertwine, giving you a unique experience.



Image Sources: Wikipedia