If you have a thing for quirky places, you will want to visit Bonaria Cemetery (also known as Bonaria Monumental Cemetery or Cimitero Monumentale di Bonaria) in Cagliari. Much more than a burial ground, this cemetery is an open air art gallery, showcasing the works of some of the most prominent local artists of the 19th and 20th century.
Bonaria Cemetery was the place where the nobles, the bourgeoisie and the most important public figures were buried until a few decades ago. It is a large cemetery, structured in squared areas – like most cemeteries – and, although some parts have been neglected and are a bit in ruins, it hosts a great number of remarkable artworks, especially statues, and some private chapels.
This is a truly pleasant place for a walk on a sunny day, and visiting you can actually learn a lot about the history and culture of Cagliari – especially if you decide to go on a guided tour.
Curious to find out more? Continue reading to discover the history of the Cemetery of Bonaria, and it’s most important landmarks.
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The History Of Bonaria Cemetery
Up until quite recently (beginning of the 19th century) many cities used to bury their loved ones nearby the churches, in the city center. This practice led to many issues for the cities and, because of the poor hygienic conditions, to several epidemics. Cagliari was no different: due to a cholera outbreak in the early 1800s, and following some new laws issued by Napoleon, the city deemed it necessary to build a new cemetery in what (back then) were the outskirts of Cagliari.
The area chosen for the new cemetery was already a burial ground, since ancient times. Both the Punics and the Romans had used the hill to bury their dead, and there are numerous findings to prove the area was a huge necropolis.
Bonaria cemetery was in use since 1829 and was originally expected to only take the space at Bonaria’s Hill’s feet, but as time progressed, it was decided to expand it more and more until the tombs reached the top of the hill.
In 1968, burial rites were moved to San Michele Cemetery and Bonaria became a place of memories, and the open-air museum it is nowadays. However, at the time of writing several chapels have been put on sale again, probably in an attempt to restore the original beauty of the place (not that it lacks any!).
The Most Remarkable Artworks At The Cimitero Monumentale Di Bonaria
Scattered across Bonaria Monumental Cemetery are statues by prominent local artists, often competing for fame against each other. The most famous ones are by Giuseppe Sartorio, often referred to as the “Michelangelo of the Deads.” Sartorio was actually from Northern Italy but found fame and wealth in Sardinia, where he moved in 1885 after having won a call for tender to create a statue of Quintino Sella (a mining magnate) in the town of Iglesias.
Several important people are buried in the cemetery, and many of their tombs and chapels are decorated with beautiful statues. The cemetery structure itself has been planned by excellent architects of the time: one of the best examples would be Gaetano Cima’s staircase that goes from the hill’s feet to its top, optimizing the steep space to put as many tombs as possible.
Let’s finally check out the most important pieces in the cemetery.
The statue is part of the Devoto family chapel and was sculpted by Giuseppe Sartorio, in his typical hyper-realistic style. It represents a small kid, Efisino, seated on a small chair with a toy in his hands, apparently asleep. In reality, the statue was likely sculpted after the baby’s death, and the kid was probably put on the chair to pose for an after-death picture.
Another great work from Giuseppe Sartorio, this group of statues represents the young Francesca Warzee, wife of a rich Belgian businessman, on her deathbed, and her son, who is covering her with a blanket, and giving her one last kiss – which incidentally is the artwork’s name: the Last Kiss. The main function of this statue is to bring the focus on who is left to mourn a loss instead of focusing on the dead person.
Giuseppe Todde and Luigia Oppo
Giuseppe Todde was one of the most important Italian economists of the late 1800s and commissioned his funerary statue when still alive – he lived three years more after the work’s completion.
The statues, sculpted once again by Giuseppe Sartorio – he was one of the main funerary artists of the times – represent Luigia Oppo, his widow (who lived 30 years longer than her husband and therefore had the singular experience to visit a tomb with her statue for quite a long time!) in an incredibly realistic style, with care to all details, from the facial expressions down to the clothes’ fabric.
The man’s statue is, on the contrary, simpler, as to put more emphasis on the widow’s pain rather than on her deceased husband.
Carlo Sanna was a World War I hero, chief of the Brigata Sassari, the most important military troops in Sardinia. His tomb, despite not being particularly “artistic”, is huge and monumental nonetheless, while at the same time extremely simple. It was designed by Filippo Figari and consists of a red granite tomb with a laurel wreath on top of it and a long epigraph to remember his feats.
Giovanni Spano (often referred to as the Canonico Spano) is an essential figure in Sardinia’s modern history and culture. He was a churchman, an avid reader, scholar and archeologist, dean of Cagliari’s University. He did many services in different areas of expertise and was respected by everyone.
For his merits, he was gifted with a free lot of land in Bonaria Cemetery, which basically meant he could choose where and how to build his tomb. He chose to be buried in an ancient Roman sarcophagus he had found earlier, with a simple epigraph; a more complex epigraph was added after his death, to remember the man he was and the services he did for the city.
Other important people buried in Bonaria Cemetery are Ottone Baccaredda, famous Cagliari major who brought a lot of changes to the city, and Gaetano Cima, one of the biggest influences and helps in Cagliari’s urban development.
Practical Information For Visiting Bonaria Cemetery
Bonaria Cemetery opening hours
The Cimitero Monumentale di Bonaria is open from 8:00 am to 1:00 pm, Tuesday to Sunday, and on Thursdays, either from 2:30 pm to 5:30 pm (November to March) or from 3:30 pm to 6:30 pm (April to October). There is no admission fee.
Guided tours of the Cemetery of Bonaria
You can visit Bonaria Monumental Cemetery on your own or join a guided tour. Arasolé, a local tour company, runs group tours on a regular basis for a €8 fee per person. You can get in touch with them at [email protected] to enquire about dates and availability. Alternatively, you can ask them to organize a private tour for a reasonable fee.
How to get there
If you are staying in the center of Cagliari (Stampace, Villanova or La Marina) you can actually walk to Bonaria Cemetery: it’s roughly a 15 minute walk from Via Roma, along Viale Diaz. If you’d rather take the bus, you can hop on Buses 5 or PF that run regularly from Piazza Matteotti and along via Roma.
Looking for more places to visit in Cagliari? Make sure to read these posts:
- The Best Things To Do In Cagliari
- The Nicest Churches In Cagliari
- Where To Go For A Walk In Cagliari
- A Short Guide To Castello
- A Quick Guide To Stampace
- A Curated Guide To Villanova
- A Local Guide To La Marina
- The Best Beaches In Cagliari
- A Guide To Poetto Beach
- A Guide To Visiting Molentargius Nature Park
- The Nicest Parks In Cagliari