Romantic cemeteries, from Georgia to Rome

Non-Catholic Cemetery, RomeIf you don't embrace your gothic side, it may seem like an unusual way to spend a vacation day, but a cemetery tour can be a profoundly moving experience.  Two of the world's most beautiful resting places, Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah, Georgia, and the Protestant Cemetery in Rome, Italy, may at first seem to have little in common, but both were favorite haunts of Oscar Wilde.  As bewitching Wilde is no mean feat, both places merit an afternoon of exploration.

Wilde visited Savannah in the 1870s and performed at The Savannah Theater. Not much is known about his visit to the Bonaventure, other than that he dubbed it "incomparable," impressed by the beauty of the statuary and the sunflowers. The graveyard also gained fame through the novel (and subsequent film) "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil."  As this work is referenced in most tours of Savannah, it is a recommended read prior to your visit.

Images of the statues can be found here on the cemetery's website.  Daily free guided tours are offered detailing the history of the grounds and the famous visitors and permanent residents, such as composer Johnny Mercer, or you may choose to wander the grounds on your own, either on foot or by car. The grounds themselves are much-lauded for their Southern beauty, typically lush and fragrant with blooming flowers during the spring and summer. Located so close to Atlanta, the Bonaventure offers a little something different for your weekend getaway to Savannah.

A bit further afield, the Protestant Cemetery in Rome, Italy is located footsteps away from the Pyramide subway stop, named for the massive Cestius Pyramid contained within the cemetery walls. Wilde visited this cemetery after an audience with the Pope in 1877 and is said to have proclaimed it "the holiest place in Rome." The main attractions of the grounds, both today and for Wilde, are the graves of English Romantic poets John Keats and Percy Shelley. Shelley himself, after visiting the grave of Keats, noted that "It might make one in love with death, to be buried in so beautiful a place."

Keats and his friend, painter Joseph Severn, and Severn's young son, are buried in the older part of the cemetery, near the pyramid. William Shelley, the young son of Percy and Mary Shelley, is also buried in this section of the cemetery. Shelley's memorial is located directly up the hill opposite the main entrance to the grounds, in the newer portion of the cemetery. If you find yourself lost among the hypnotically beautiful statues that populate the place, it is likely that one or more of the resident cats will amble along in front of you and direct you toward Shelley.

Whether in Savannah or Rome, do yourself a favor and treat yourself to a Wilde afternoon at one of the world's most entrancing, mystical graveyards.

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