La Certosa – Bologna’s Fascinating Monumental Cemetery.

A few hours wandering around Bologna’s monumental cemetery ironically brings to life the world of 19th century Bologna.

In 1334 the Carthusians founded an abbey or Certosa outside the walls of Bologna. It flourished until 1796 when Napoleon Bonaparte’s army arrived, a republic was established and all monasteries were abolished.

Being at some distance from the city, the monastery lay empty until 1801 when the city decided to establish a new cemetery, known as “La Certosa” using the monastery buildings. Since then it’s expanded steadily to its current extensive size.

The ex- refectory which became part of the cemetery along with other parts of the monastery.

The monastery church of St Jerome remained untouched.

St Jerome’s church

Like many monastery churches it has a wooden choir decorated with inlay.

Certosa Bologna
A panel from the choir

The choir was rebuilt in 1538 as the original was destroyed by mutinous Landsknecht troops of Charles V on their way to sack Rome.

Unusually for the time, the church includes a painting from the 17th century by a female artist, Elisabetta Sirani whose father also has works in the church. She was quite famous as an artist but died in mysterious circumstances at just 27 years of age (see my post  On the trail of Elisabetta Sirani – A Bolognese Prodigy ).

‘The Baptism of Christ’ Elisabetta Sirani 1658

In 1869, work in the cemetery uncovered an Etruscan necropolis from around the 6th century BC comprising some 417 tombs.

The finds, including the so called ‘Situla della Certosa’ are now housed in the Bologna Archeological Museum. A situla is a bucket shaped vessel. For more on the Etruscans, see a previous post The Etruscans and Bologna .  It’s intriguing that the location chosen for a cemetery was used for that same purpose some 2,400 years earlier.

The Situla della Certosa (Wikimedia)

The Certosa became quite well known in the 19th century and was often part of the Grand Tour of Europe. Dickens, Byron, Stendhal and others wrote about their visit to the Certosa.

Certosa Bologna

Following is a selection of what you’ll see wandering around the grounds.

Many of the early tombs were decorated with paintings. Egyptian themes became fashionable after Napoleon’s conquest of that country in 1798.

Certosa cemetery bologna
A painted tomb by Petronio Rizza from around 1805 – Chiostro III

The Trionfi Pepoli tomb from 1823 was originally built to commemorate Geltrude Trionfi who died at aged 30. It was designed by Giovanni Putti.

Pepoli Tomb , Sala del Colombario

This is the 1864 tomb of Letizia Pepoli, known as the ‘Queen of Bologna’ . She wanted it to be a monument to her father, Joachim Murat, at one time King of Naples. Her mother was Carolina Bonaparte, a younger sister of Napoleon. Murat was buried in a mass grave after being executed by firing squad following Napoleon’s defeat and his attempt to continue fighting. It’s the work of Vincenzo Vela.

Monument to Murat, Sala del Columbario

Dating from 1868, this is an early example of ‘bourgeois realism’ by Carlo Monari and is the tomb of an 18 year old.

Cocchi tomb, Galleria Tre Navate

This work by Enrico Barberi from 1891 was commissioned by Erminia Borghi Mamo, an internationally famous singer. She is shown kneeling by the body her husband, Raffaele Bisteghi.

The Borghi Mamo tomb in the Galleria degli Angeli is considered one of the finest works in the Certosa

Also from 1891 this large stone tomb, the work of Attilio Muggia and Diego Sarti, features a small winged Mercury oblivious to the grieving figure below.

This stone sarcophagus is located in Chiostro VII.

Carlo Rizzoli designed this art nouveau work in 1906 for the Magnani family.

Certosa cemetery Bologna
This bronze representation of an angel accompanying the deceased to heaven is located in the gallery next to Chiostro VI.

A 1950 memorial to Fabio Frassetto, an anthropology professor who passed away in 1933, also remembers his son Flavio who was killed in 1945 on military service.

A work by Farpi Vignoli in Campo Carducci

Bologna mayor Ennio Gnudi’s resting place is marked by this 1951 marble sarcophagus carried by six workers representing his life as a union official.

The Gnudi sarcophagus in Campo Carducci

Around 1960, the artist Enzo Pasqualini produced this angel flying above the Veronesi family tomb.

Bologna Certosa
Campi Carducci – a work by Enzo Pasqualino

Probably the easiest way to get to the Certosa is to walk down Via San Felice almost to its end, past the historic pharmacy (  Farmacia Toschi – an Ancient Bolognese Pharmacy ) Turn left to follow Via della Grada to the point where the Reno Canal enters the city, next to the church which contains Saint Valentine’s body, as described in another post The Walls of Bologna

After crossing the main road follow Via Sabatina going slightly left at the lights and following the bike path. This will bring you to the point where the canal reappears and a little later to the back entrance of the Certosa . It’s about a 3km walk.

If you prefer public transport, the number 26 bus leaves from the railway station and has its terminus at the Certosa. There’s a bus about every 20 minutes through the day.

The Reno Canal

The colonnade in the image above eventually joins the one going up to San Luca.

A child’s grave

The Certosa Office near the main entrance has free maps of the cemetery which is very useful as it’s easy to get lost.

Certosa Bologna
Another poignant tomb

14 thoughts on “La Certosa – Bologna’s Fascinating Monumental Cemetery.

Add yours

      1. Amazing blog, can’t stop reading. If everything goes as planned, I’ll be in Bologna for a week around Christmas, and your blog will definitely be my main guide to walk the city. Thank you.



  1. I attended school at the University of Bologna in the 1970’s . I’ve been back many times since. Your photos and history are fantastic and bring back so many memories.
    Please continue your work many people have no idea of the beauty of Bologna.
    Viva Bologna la grassa !!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your comment. Bologna is getting a lot more tourists now . It’s good for the economy but hard for students looking for accommodation and a lot of the traditional shops are disappearing.


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