As this is the island cemetery for Venetians, it is only to be expected that some of the graves will hold gondoliers.
However, I was quite saddened to come across the tomb of a gondolier who was only a few years younger than me.
As You can see from my photos, the graves of these gondoliers were well tended, both had the gondola Ferro insignia (Please see my Venice Local customs (Gondola 3 ) for more info)
There are most likely other Gondoliers graves on San Michele, but these are the ones I came across
It is tradition, that the widows of Gondoliers who die, inherit their husbands Gondolier licence
This was the first area that I looked around on San Michele- row upon row of stone plaques, each with an inscription and a small vase, many of which contained flowers. Some had a glass framed photograph - most of these were black and white and were probably taken by a professional photographer in the days when most people didn't own a camera, but paid for a formal portrait picture.
Venetians buried on the island, usually are left in peace for around 10 - 12 years, before the body is exhumed, the bones are placed in metal boxes and placed in the ossiary for a fee.
If the deceased had wealthy descendants, they may pay for the body to remain in the grave, or if they can't afford these 2 options, or there aren't any relatives alive, the body is placed in a communal boneyard.
When I first saw the sign to the Ossiary, I was a bit uncertain as to what I'd find. I'd seen a TV programme a few months previously (I think it was Francesco Da Mostos Italy series), where decomposing bodies of priests were displayed in a crypt. I was fairly relieved not to be confronted by such an eerie sight.
It was quite interesting to see a bit of the history of Venice, through these photographs and descriptions etc.
Many visitors to the cemetery come to see this grave, either to pay their respects to the Russian born ballet impresario, who founded the Ballets Russe, with such world renowned dancers as Pavlova and Nijinsky(who was one of his lovers) or because it's one of the graves that's signposted!
Apparently his burial was interrupted by one of his fans leaping into the grave!
As You can see from the picture, his tomb is strewn with gifts, often ballets shoes are left. A tradition is to leave small stones as a sign of honour on the tombs.
Near to Diaghilevs tomb are those of his favourite composer Igor Stravinsky and Ivors wife Vera, who are buried side by side under identical stone slabs.
Stravinsky acually died in New York, but had requested to be buried here. Not only did he get his wish, but his funeral in San Giovanni e Paolo was equal to that of a doge!
Also in this Orthodox or Greci section are the tombs of Russian princesses, diplomats and other ex-pats.
I took a photo of this monument, noted that it was for victims of the civil war, then moved onto the next point of interest.
It wasn't until I got home and was looking at my photos, ready to download onto VT, that I suddenly thought - What Civil War? Was this in Italy and when? - scrambling into my memories of History classes at school didn't come up with any answers - so my friend - Google was the next step.
to be continued......
Many people visit this section to see the graves of Diaghilev and Stravinsky, 2 of San Micheles most famous occupants.
The entrance is guarded by 2 stone lions.
Many of the graves hold Russian princesses, who resided in Venice.
This section of the Cemetery was for those members of the Italian Navy, Army and Air force. Each grave was marked with a paper Italian flag - similar to the ones that as a child I placed on sand castles at the seaside!
The large catholic sections of the cemetery are well organised, regimented almost and well maintained. In contrast the Greek Orthodox and protestants graveyard sections are more overgrown with mosses and lichens on the tombs - more a forgotten, forlorn atmosphere here.
A word of warning if you go looking for the famous graves - this area was live with mosquitoes so spray plenty of repellent on first...or suffer the consequences. The section where the famous graves are located are well signposted, but once you get to that area then the signs disappear....happy hunting whilst you get bitten!
A small chapel 0 S Christofor - is also found amongst the cemetery graveyards. Worth a quick look in here to see the lovely frescoes and mosaics adorning the hexagonal chapel. Amongst the extensive cemetery are other small capella - it was a shame to see some in various states of disrepair with broken windows and broken gravestones inside - couldn't bring myself to photograph these - seemed almost disrespectful. The porticoes in between various bricked sections of the cemetery added to the overall charm of the serene place.
San Michele is mainly a catholic cemetery but there are also two mini-graveyards for other Christian sects: the Greci or Greek Orthodox cemetery, where Igor Stravisky and Sergei Diaghilev are buried; and the Protestant graveyard, whose most famous resident is Ezra Pound. (Jews have their own cemetery on the Lido, Venice's resort island.) In between the graveyards are the walled off sections with row upon row of metal boxes - where the ossary boxes are stored. The cemetery is extensively laid out and if you wish to locate a particular person ther then the web link provided below is really handy and contains interesting facts and a potted biography of the deceased. Plus in the pics is a plan of the cemetery layout to help you get your bearings.
The cemetry island is quite large - in 1837 San Michele and its neighbour San Cristoforo della Pace were formed into one - now a large rectangular unit enclosed by the brick walls. The dead were formerly buried in the churches' courtyards but due to hygiene and space reasons in the 14th century San Michele and the islands nearby were assigned to be cemeteries. Even with this extra space unless you are famous - like Stravinsky or Diaghilev who retain graves here, then bones are exhumed after 10 years and stored in compact concrete ossary boxes to make room for newcomers! The catholic cemetries are very well organised and maintained, many with beautiful decorative tombstones and memorials.
Entry to the cemetry is via the gothic portal on the right hand side of the church - look up first though to see a nice bas-relief of St Micael fighting with a dragon. The colonnaded monks cloister (see other pics) is a very serene place - they do ask for visitors to be dressed respectfully. I was glad I had a scarf to cover my bare shoulders, especilly as a funeral corrtege soon arrived - and I'm sure that must happen evey day.
San Michele is home to one of Venice 's first Renaissance buildings the church of San Michele built in 1469 by Codussi. It is built of Istrian stone whilst the bell tower is brick and is typical venetian gothic. The Emilioni chapel on the left has a huge white dome built at the beginning of the 16th century. Travelling back to Murano and seeing the late afternoon sun glowing on these building was always a favoutite view.
On the way to Murano you will see San Michele - the cemetry island of Venice. Now this is a really peaceful place to wander and worthy of a short visit - after all each time we were going to or from Murano the boat called here so it was about time for a visit.
If you are dead transport is free, if you are a local visiting a grave then transport is free - otherwise you need a ticket for the number 41 or 52 vaporetta calling here via Murano and Fondamenta Nuove on Venice.