Cemeteries Worth a Visit (this month, Switzerland, Germany & Italy)

This item appears on page 38 of the December 2015 issue.

(Part 3 in a series)

The best cemetery I have visited is one I went to in summer 2014 in Zermatt, SWITZERLAND: the Mountaineers’ Cemetery (Englischer Viertel 8, 3920 Zermatt; phone +41 27 967 23 14, www.zermatt.ch/en/Media/Attractions/Mountaineers-cemetery)

The Matterhorn was first successfully climbed in July 1865, but on the descent there was a fall, and four of the seven members of the climbing party died. That day, simultaneously successful and tragic, brought the Matterhorn to worldwide attention. 

Grave of Giggio Finocchiaro, “Victim of air raid, March 26, 1942” — Cimitero Monumentale di Messina, Sicily. Photo by Wallace Schroeder

Three of the climbers’ bodies were recovered and, of those three, the Swiss guide is buried in the Mountaineers’ Cemetery.* Many other climbers who died from falls on the mountains around Zermatt have also been buried in this cemetery, the Matterhorn having claimed about half of them. 

What is interesting are the gravestones, inscribed in many languages. There are religious messages or messages such as “Born To Climb.” Impressions of climbing gear have been carved into the tombstones. On other stones there are pictures. 

Some graves hold women. In a few graves, two or three people are buried together, victims of the same accident. In other cases, those buried were professional mountaineers guiding clients. 

These gravestones span the 150 years since 1865. 

There is a tie-in to the museum in Zermatt, because the museum has mementos of climbing expeditions, including some of those fatal climbs.

A 5-minute walk from the cemetery takes you to the edge of the village of Zermatt, where (clouds permitting) you can get a nice view of the Matterhorn, itself.

[The Mountaineers’ Cemetery is always open. — Editor]

Bob Sanner, Palo Alto, CA

*Two of the surviving members of the climbing party, a father and son both named Peter Taugwalder, were also buried in the Mountaineers’ Cemetery after their deaths (by natural causes). The two other fallen members of the expedition whose bodies were recovered were buried at St. Peter’s Zermatt (aka The English Church) [Haus Bodmen, 3920 Zermatt; phone +41 27 967 55 66]; The English Church is always open.


When visiting the resting places of the famous, travelers can come away with feelings of admiration. In Zermatt as well as in Chamonix, two cemeteries attend to those who attempted life-threatening risks of the most dangerous peaks.

The Matterhorn was conquered in 1865, but on the descent, four of the Alpine heroes plunged to their deaths. One slip had catastrophic consequences. Only three of the four men could be buried, and one of them is in the Mountaineers’ Cemetery in Zermatt, SWITZERLAND; the fourth body could never be retrieved. 

That story is renowned, but, in reviewing gravestones there, I wondered about the Polish noblemen brothers, about the man who left wife and children and about all of the others whose lives were cut short by taking one chance too many. Gravestones mark some of the Alpine tragedies. Cenotaphs memorialize those who remain where they fell.

I found it interesting that stones often mentioned the mountain on which a climber perished.

To see the monuments in the Mountaineers’ Cemetery, turn right from the train station and walk to the church square and look behind the church. 

In Chamonix, the Cimetière du Biolay (Chemin du Biolay, 74400 Chamonix-Mont-Blanc, FRANCE) is across the street from the Chamonix-Mont-Blanc train station.

I have been to both towns a few times, most recently in 2010. 

On my hikes in the Alps, I played it safe. I am here to recall those trips and dream about others. 

Jon Lafleur, Kent, CT


I am a retired Air Force officer and have visited many cemeteries during my military career, in which I spent 15-plus years living overseas with my family. 

From 1984 until August 1990 we were stationed in West Berlin, and we were there when the Berlin Wall fell. There are three cemeteries in Berlin that I would like to mention. We visited them frequently, often taking visiting business associates or family members. When I returned to Germany in November 2014 for the celebrations of the 25th anniversary of the falling of the Wall, I visited them again.

• Waldfriedhof Dahlem (Hüttenweg, 14195 Berlin, GERMANY) is located a few blocks from the Oskar-Helen-Heim U-Bahnhof. Right near the previous US military family housing areas, this cemetery is in a beautiful, peaceful, thick forest of evergreen trees. 

As you stroll up the path from the entrance toward the chapel, you will see along the path 20 or so very small markers on the ground. These mark US military families’ infant children who were born and died in Berlin. The dates range from 1946 to 1959. 

The Army would not ship these infants home, so if the family could not afford to ship them, they were buried here. There are a number of other cemeteries throughout Germany that have American infants like this. The largest is near Wiesbaden and Frankfurt.

[Waldfriedhof Dahlem is open daily, 9 a.m. to sundown.] 

• Jüdischer Friedhof Berlin-Weissensee (Herbert-Baum-Strasse 45, 13088 Berlin; phone +49 30 92 53 33 0, www.jewish-cemetery-weissensee.
org [in German only])
is the largest Jewish cemetery in Berlin. Many important Jewish Germans lie here. It is stunning — the architecture, the sculpture, the trees — all of it. 

During WWII the battle for Berlin raged through this area, causing extensive damage. During the Communist era the cemetery was left neglected, but it has been restored to its former beauty. 

“The Last Supper” — Campari family tomb, Cimitero Monumentale di Milano. Photo by Frances Symons

 [The Jüdischer Friedhof Berlin-Weissensee is open 7:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 7:30-2:30 Friday and 8-5 Sunday, April 1-Sept. 30… and 7:30-4 Monday-Thursday, 7:30-2:30 Friday and 8-4 Sunday, Oct.1-March 31.]

• Many who go to Berlin want to see the remnants of the Wall. The Berlin Wall Memorial is located on Bernauerstrasse, near the subway station of the same name. This is a good place to start your walk along the Berlin Wall Trail, which follows the path of the former Wall through the center of the city. This urban trail twists and turns, then goes alongside a large canal. It’s a lovely walk. 

If you walk the trail, after about 30 minutes you’ll pass through Invalidenfriedhof, or Invalids’ Cemetery (Sharnhorststraße 33, D-10115 Berlin-Mitte,; phone +49 30 36 46 16 09), a cemetery that was established in 1748. From that time up until the end of WWII, it was used primarily as a military cemetery. Many of the memorials bear names of German and Prussian generals who will be recognizable to readers of European military history. 

The bodies of many civilians killed during bombing raids and during the battle for Berlin are also buried here, in mass graves.

When the Wall went up, half of the cemetery was plowed up as part of the No-Man’s Land along the Wall’s fortifications. Since it was inside the border security zone, it was closed to the public except on certain days. 

One cold, snowy Totensonntag (the last Sunday in November, when, customarily, many Germans visit the graves of their ancestors), I took my son to visit Invalidenfriedhof. We were looking for the grave of Manfred von Richthofen, the Red Baron. We didn’t know that Richthofen’s family had moved his remains to Südfriedhof in Wiesbaden in West Germany many years earlier. 

Nevertheless, it was a memorable visit for both of us, and today the cemetery remains a beautiful place along the river, well worth a visit.

The nearest U-Bahn to Invalidenfriedhof is line 6 Sharnhorst, a few blocks away, and bus line 120 from the Hauptbahnhof stops right in front.

[Invalidenfriedhof is open daily 7 a.m.-9:30 p.m., March 16-Sept. 30, and 7-6:30, Oct. 1-March 15.]

Maj. Kim Doxey, USAF (Ret) Tallahassee, FL


I have visited so many beautiful and interesting cemeteries as I’ve traveled the globe. In my opinion, all are worth at least short visits and some, longer visits. There are two that I would like to share because they were sights that I will long remember.

Two friends and I visited Venice, ITALY, in August 2012. On the Venetian island of San Michele — which is the location of San Michele in Isola, a Roman Catholic church — is the city cemetery, Cimitero di San Michele (phone +39 041 522 4119). On the No. 41 vaporetto [water bus], the island is a stop on the way to Murano. 

Overview of Cimitero Monumentale di Milano. Photo by Frances Symons

The cemetery is very ornate and well kept, with several famous people interred there: Ezra Pound, Igor Stravinsky and Serge Diaghilev (founder of Ballets Russes), to name a few. It was worth a visit to admire the well-tended graves and park-like setting. 

The cemetery is open 7:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Admission is free.

In Milan, the Cimitero Monumentale di Milano (Piazzale Cimitero
Monumentale, Milan; phone +39 2 884 65600)
is about 150 years old and is filled with artistic tombs and monuments. From the same 2012 trip, the one tomb that I remember most vividly had a life-size bronze of “The Last Supper,” belonging to the Campari family. 

There were many very large family tombs that were designed like chapels, castles and other buildings. The artwork was amazing. I spent several hours there walking through the grounds and the mausoleum, and I could have stayed much longer.

It is open 8 a.m.-6 p.m., Tuesday-Sunday. Admission is free. We took city bus No. 14 from the Duomo Square and told the driver we wanted to be let off near the cemetery.

Frances Symons, San Diego, CA


The most gorgeous statues I’ve seen anywhere were at the Cimitero Monumentale di Staglieno (Piazzale Resasco, Genoa) in Genoa, ITALY. I visited in July 1973 and could not get over that place. 

My recollections are of the perfection of the figures. 

An angel, almost life-size — you could almost see the feathers move. 

There was a statue of a little lady wearing a shawl. I had to touch it to make sure it was marble. You could count the threads. 

That’s the way it was throughout the entire cemetery.

[The Cimitero Monumentale di Staglieno is open daily, 7:30 a.m.-5 p.m.]

Gus Teipelke
Kennett Square, PA


Two cemeteries in Italy set the gold standard, for me: Cimitero Monumentale di Milano in Milan and Cimitero Monumentale di Staglieno in Genoa. No others have come close, though Pére-Lachaise in Paris and Highgate in London are probably better known. 

Obscure, but equally deserving, is Cimitero Monumentale di Messina (Via Catania, 118 - 98124 Messina; phone +39 902923548, www.cimiterimessina.it [Italian only]) in Messina, Sicily, which I visited on a trip to ITALY in fall 2013. 

While the entrance is on flat terrain, the cemetery spreads up a verdant landscaped hill on ever-more-elaborate terraces. Some lower sections are a sea of marble busts — whiskered businessmen, ribboned generals and severe matrons with their hair in the latest 19th-century styles. The numbers of Neoclassical mausoleums and other impressive monuments increase as you ascend the hill.

Life and art frequently blend in the monuments. On one, a handful of Italian soldiers from World War I strain to shore up a battlement. At another, a 16-year-old javelin thrower is frozen in a final competition. At the grave of a “victim of an air raid” in 1942, a large, winged marble wolf sinks its teeth into the neck of a nearly nude man. 

Near the entrance, at the grave of Franco Salvani, a large, 3-dimensional relief depicts the 1936 massacre of Italian quarry workers by Ethiopians. One Italian, perhaps Salvani, defiantly faces out to the observer and fires his revolver as two colleagues fight with picks and shovels. 

Elsewhere, another sculptor has illustrated the Battle of Punta Stilo (Battle of Calabria), which claimed a young sailor’s life in 1940. Battleships fire at enemy planes buzzing overhead, and above the mayhem is a cameo of the son whose parents splurged on this memorial.

Higher up, in the cemetery’s modern section, the fashion of tributes in white marble has been superseded by portrait etchings on black marble. The realism is astounding and, often, moving. 

Monument depicting the Battle of Punta Stilo, in which Giuseppe Mangano (represented) was killed — Cimitero Monumentale di Messina. Photo by Wallace Schroeder

For example, just who was Domenico Cavo, this handsome 30-year-old posed in a tuxedo with a cigarette in his right hand? And what about the unidentified frumpy signora who looks to be auditioning for the Shirley Booth role in “Come Back, Little Sheba”?

In addition to its wealth of tombstones, mausoleums and monuments, Cimitero Monumentale di Messina, which opened in 1872, has an impressive Gothic-style chapel and a grandiose colonnaded memorial chapel. All in all, the cemetery will reward visitors who simply wander, but at the same time it punishes them in that the visiting hours are so limited and there is so much to see.

Visiting hours are 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. daily and additionally 2-5 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays. 

[Tuesday and Thursday times are for the central gate only.]

• Other great cemeteries I’ve visited are Kerepesi Cemetery in Budapest, HUNGARY; Cementerio Central in Montevideo, URUGUAY; La Recoleta in Buenos Aires, ARGENTINA; Cementerio de Cristóbal Colón in Havana, CUBA, and the Zentralfriedhof in Vienna, AUSTRIA. 

All of these have superb statuary and famous “residents” and warrant spots on the must-visit list for any cemetery aficionado.

Wallace Schroeder
Weehawken, NJ


During a trip to POLAND in June of 2001, my husband, Sy, and I visited the Okopowa Street Jewish Cemetery (49/51 Okopowa St., 10-043 Warsaw; phone +48 22 838 26 22, http://beisolam.jewish.org.pl [in Polish only]).

One of the largest Jewish cemeteries in Europe, it was established in the early 1800s and contains over 200,000 marked graves as well as a mass grave of Jewish Ghetto victims of the Nazi occupation of Warsaw. 

[Closed Saturdays and Jewish holidays, the Okopowa Street Jewish Cemetery is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Friday and 11-4 Sunday.] 

• While on a Grand Circle Travel tour of ITALY in May 2008, our group stopped at the Florence American Cemetery (Via Cassia S.N. 50023 Tavarnuzze [Firenze], ITALY; phone +39 055 202 0020)

Located about eight miles south of Florence, this is the resting place of 4,402 Americans from the Fifth Army who died in the fighting that followed the capture of Rome in June 1944. There is a wall listing the names of those MIA.

[Closed Dec. 25 and Jan. 1, the Florence American Cemetery is open daily, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Along with other US military cemeteries around the world, this cemetery is maintained by the American Battle Monuments Commission (www.abmc.gov).]

Marcia Weinick
Boynton Beach, FL


A cemetery definitely worth a visit, one that I found simply beautiful and touching, is the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery & Memorial (Piazzale Kennedy, 1, 00048 Nettuno, Italy; phone +39 069 88 0284) in Nettuno, near Anzio, central ITALY. Soldiers who were killed in battles in Anzio, Salerno and Sicily are interred there. 

Monument at grave of Domenico Cavo (1958-88) — Cimitero Monumentale di Messina. Photo by Wallace Schroeder

Easily accessible by train from Rome’s Stazione Termine, as I learned in summer 2012, the cemetery is enclosed by a wall, with iron gates at the entrance. In the front is a dedication marking the visit by President John F. Kennedy, and, looking in from the entrance, one can see the American flag flying proudly. 

The grounds are absolutely beautiful and well kept. Row upon row of white marble crosses and Stars of David seem to stand at attention for visitors. Each lists the soldier’s name and rank, the state he was from and the date on which he died.

A path leads from the entrance to a magnificent white marble pavilion in the center of the grounds. Inside the pavilion, the names of the fallen are engraved on the upper walls. Maps showing the areas and details of the battles fought in Anzio and Sicily give an in-depth history lesson. These details delineate the harshness of war.

I stood in awe and admiration of these brave soldiers who left home to give their lives. I could not help but think how many had never left home for a European vacation yet lay buried there. These brave souls deserve our respect and thanks as well as a visit.

[Closed Dec. 25 and Jan. 1, the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery is open daily, 9 a.m.-6 p.m., March 1-Oct. 31, and 9-5, Nov. 1-Feb. 28. It is maintained by the American Battle Monuments Commission (www.abmc.gov).]

Maria C. Ciancio, Ossining, NY 

Next month, cemeteries to see in the Czech Republic, Romania and Russia.