Unlike many Italian monumental cemeteries, which were built from scratch, the Bologna cemetery was created by reutilizing the structures of the pre-existent monastery of San Girolamo di Casara, founded in 1334.
Even though nowadays it appears fully integrated into the urban fabric, it was chosen in 1801, as it became usual for the other European cemeteries, rightly because of its distance from the residential area and for the opportunity to adapt it by way of very few works. Starting from 1797, year of its suppression, the monastic building underwent many transformations, demolitions and extensions, so that the original structure is only partially visible.
Already in 1801, the fence to the north of the cemetery was built and decorated with terracotta sculptures by Giovanni Putti, where a new monumental entrance was opened.
The first works were readjustments of the monastery spaces, whilst from 1833 the building programme was the result of a more complex structure, with exedrae, biaxial elements, symmetries aimed at a greater monumental ambition.
Between 1816 and 1834 the main rooms of the Certosa were built: in 1816 the Hall of the Graves, in 1833, the Arcade of the Graves and, immediately after, the Gemina Hall and the Columbario Hall, an impressive building with three naves inspired by the Roman thermal architecture.
The building of the Elliptical Hall, a small body to connect the nineteenth and twentieth-century group, dates back to 1834, while in 1860 the previous Chapel of the Suffrages was turned into the Angels Gallery. Soon after this last one, the Three-Aisled Gallery was built, connecting the structures built until then.
A different interpretation of the spaces started at the beginning of the twentieth century, according to a more monumental and rhetorical viewpoint: significant examples of this period are the Sixth Cloister with the World War I Memorial, the Eighth and the Ninth Cloister, with the annexed galleries. In 1924, the new entrance was built, at the end of the colonnade, near the Reno canal.
Along these spaces of the cemetery, visitors can admire an impressive repertory of monuments, unique in Europe. The most ancient works are showed on the walls of the Third Cloister and are mainly frescoes belonging to the most important and distinguished Bolognese families. Only later, the graves started to be decorated with sculptures and different decoration bodies that, until the mid of the nineteenth century, were composed by ‘poor’ materials, such as plaster, stucco, scagliola or terracotta and only afterwards, marble.
Over a period of two centuries architects, painters, sculptors worked there, contributing to its unique charm praised to the skies by all its foreign visitors, among whom we may mention Lord Byron and Charles Dickens, Jules Janin, Giacomo Leopardi, Giosue Carducci and many others.
In the cemetery are buried many important people for Italian and Bolognese history, including the statesman Marco Minghetti, the painters Giorgio Morandi and Bruno Saetti, the poet Giosue Carducci and the writer Riccardo Bacchelli, the composer Ottorino Respighi, the Polish officer Giuseppe Grabinski, the entrepreneurs Alfieri Maserati and Edoardo Weber.
The Certosa, together with the Church of San Girolamo, the only building of the ancient monastery that was preserved integrally, represent therefore a journey through the history of Bologna and the lives of some of its most illustrious citizens, but also through Italian and European history and literature: it has been a source of inspiration for poets, men of letters or “simply” cultivated visitors, who would not turn down the possibility to stroll through its cloisters and walks and to take their guests to visit the place, the Certosa has been the subject of a noteworthy production of printed works, if not true tourist guides destined to become in some cases, best-sellers sold in Italy and abroad.
Certosa, Bologna monumental cemetery
Via della Certosa, 18
Tel: +39 051 225583 (Museum of the Risorgimento)