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Cimitero Monumentale

Monumental Cemetery of Catania

Source of the text: Site of the Municipality of Catania

The construction events of the Catania cemetery began in the early nineteenth century, when the need arose to align with the legislative provisions issued in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies (Royal Decree of 11/03/1817) in compliance with the previous Edict of San Cloud (1804).
In 1819, the Duke of Sammartino (intendant of the Val di Catania) in order to provide the nineteenth-century city with all the equipment it lacks, proposed to the provincial council the construction of a cemetery stating that "... decency, religion, public health require that the corpses be interred in public cemeteries, which are now placed in the open tombs next to our homes "[1]
The government provisions of 1817 are followed by the Royal Decree of 12 December 1828 which sets the deadline of 1 January 1831 for the completion of the campisanti in the Kingdom. The rules for the type of burial are also dictated and the congregations and families are allowed to purchase a portion of land from the Municipality (in perpetual concession) with the obligation to assume the expense of the chapel or other sepulchral monument that they want. erect.
In 1835 a piece of land was identified in the Plaja area of ​​Catania, the municipal engineer Sebastiano Ittar was commissioned to draw up an estimate of the costs for the construction of the Camposanto. The deaths due to the cholera epidemic of 1837 and the urgent need to bury the bodies lead to the decision to start construction work.
The Plaja site is not considered suitable for the construction of the cemetery as it does not comply with the requirements of the decrees and regulations in force. Others are taken into consideration (Asmundo, Curia, S. Chiara, Cappuccini Vecchi, Novalucello and Minoriti) but a definitive choice is not reached, so much so that in 1854, following a further epidemic of cholera, the corpses are still buried in the Plaja cemetery, although already abandoned.
In March 1856 the choice fell on a municipal ground (Fondo del Crocifisso) considered suitable both technically and economically. The project is entrusted to the municipal engineer Eligio Sciuto who receives precise design indications: to create a form "mixed with gardening and monumental" [2]. The Sciuto project was not completed due to the political events that followed one another from 1859 to 1860, the defeat of the Bourbon monarchy and the constitution of the Kingdom of Italy, which marked an important turning point.
In fact, following the enactment of the Siccardi Laws of 1866/67, which abolish religious corporations and confiscate their assets, the estate of Santa Chiara becomes available, a vineyard owned by the nuns of the same Order, which for the its characteristics, its position and its morphology had always been considered the most suitable for hosting the city cemetery. The land, almost triangular in shape with one of the sides in contact with an important road artery, the provincial road to Syracuse, is located in the Acquicella district south of the city, about a kilometer away from the town and in a favorable position with respect to to prevailing winds, thus satisfying the conditions of the public health law of March 20, 1865 and the subsequent regulation of June 8, 1865 [3].
While on the one hand the legislative requirements require the timely opening and commissioning of the plant (opened in 1866 by preparing a temporary wooden fence) as well as the drafting of the "artistic" project, entrusted to the municipal engineer Ignazio Landolinaon the other hand, the city wonders about the cemetery project, the solution to be adopted, the designer to call.
Landolina's project, despite having been sent to Florence to be submitted to the authoritative opinion of prof. Mariano Falcini and overhauled by him, is only partially built (surrounding walls, entrances (main and secondary), earthworks to build the burial camps) and, after a few years, definitively set aside.
The cemetery is considered a symbolic necessity for the city and the attention is turned to the most renowned specialists in the national field.
Among these the choice falls on Messina Leone Savoja (designer in those same years of the scenic Camposanto Monumentale di Messina) who, with the resolution of October 15, 1871, officially received the assignment of "specialist engineer for the arrangement of the Cemetery" [4].
The Savoja models the hill of Santa Chiara, flattening the top part destined to house the grandiose pantheon with a square plan on which the wings of the arcaded gallery and part of the burial fields are annexed.

Project of the arch. Leone Savoja for the Cemetery of Catania. Detail of the central square-plan temple (Pantheon) on which the wings of the portico are grafted.

Project of the arch. Leone Savoja for the Cemetery of Catania. (not realized)
Detail of the central square-plan temple (Pantheon) on which the wings of the portico are grafted.

It also provides for an area with grove trees where family burials, chapels, etc. will be built.
Despite the great expectations for a grandiose and important cemetery that would give "decoration and luster to the city" [5], the technical problems that have arisen due to the consistency of the seabed and economic (huge cost), discourage the municipal administration committed, at the same time, in the construction of other important public works. In 1879 the task was entrusted to the Municipal Technical Office, in the person of the engineer Filadelfo Fichera.

The latter, one of the leading experts in the national field in the field of hygiene and public health, as well as a very active designer in nineteenth-century Catania, while maintaining what has already been achieved by the Savoja project (part of the summit esplanade) rejects the mixed solution (monumental and garden) as not in keeping with the natural conformation of the land and the morphology of the hill, saying vice versa that "... the hill of Santa Chiara must be transformed as little as possible to make it a cemetery .." [6], and it is on this pivotal point that he develops the project.
The Fichera, in fact, offers a "garden" arrangement with a system of tree-lined avenues that from the existing entrances (main and secondary), following the orography of the land, skirt the hill converging on the flat esplanade where the services are located (observatory necropsy, church and presbytery) and the adult burial field, divided into quadrangular fields by a regular mesh of orthogonal paths.
The children's burial camp, on the other hand, is planned on the northern slope of the hill and is "all arranged in shelves both longitudinally and transversally, given the steep slopes of the ground [...] and all the differences in height are connected with steps" [7].
Taken together, "the straight lines and right angles of the burial field amidst forms of irregular gardening serve to give a certain elegant variety to the whole of the plant and to denote the flat ground and the mountainous soil" [8].

The burials of noble families planned in funeral chapels that represent the "most important monuments of the cemetery" [9], placed along the large avenues that winding around the entire external area of ​​the hill, in their succession, determine the framework of the land defined by the almost quadrangular shape of the buildings, the volumes assembled in harmony, the small fences and sculptural decorations placed at the 'around and by the rows of cypresses that dot the path.

The cemetery is still accessed today from the two original entrances: the main one, consisting of a neoclassical building with three arches closed by gates (by definition now defined by the people of Catania as "the three gates"), and the secondary one (less monumental) which gives direct access to the Avenue of the Confraternities. A third entrance along Via Acquicella, south of the main one, was built in the 60s following the extension of the cemetery.


The Gentilizie Chapels built between the end of the 800th century and the beginning of the 900th century


The main entrance of the three gates

After passing the main entrance, despite the denounced symmetry determined by the axial position of the staircase and confirmed by the two rather similar chapels of the Sapienza and Strano Families, placed on either side, just enter one of the avenues that branch off from here to realize the " apparent "randomness of the paths.

In fact, there is no axis of symmetry at the base of the composition, but a hierarchical system of paths consisting of the avenues (S. Agata, San Giuseppe, San Michele, SS Angeli, etc.) immersed in the luxuriant Mediterranean vegetation and rhythmic by the theory of micro-architectures that represent the cultural demands of the late nineteenth century and develop in the era of the bourgeois rise of the entrepreneurial society of Catania.

As the engineer Ercole Fischetti reports in a 1933 writing, "... luxurious aedicules and private chapels in which the architects of Catania show off all the architectural styles from the Chaldean-Assyrian, to the Gothic, from the Greek-Roman to the Norman, from the Egyptian to the Flamboyant , and soon the cemetery is populated with domes, cusps, spiers, and in the flowerbeds the countless marble graves, shaded by willows and cypresses, shine white "[10]. Funerary architectures, miniature images not of the real city but of the one longed for and dreamed of by a people of the south who see in the place of the "last residence" the symbol of the ultimate redemption, the ideal place for new desires and which expenses in order to celebrate himself, calling the most fashionable designer of the moment.

An emblematic figure is that of the Milanese architect Carlo Sada (1849-1924), one of the most active designers in Catania since the end of the nineteenth century who, conforming to the requests of the varied clientele, knows how to juggle with fervent creative ability, realizing from time to time “individual” and “personalized” funerary monuments.

Typical example is the funeral shrine for Baron Sisto-Alessi, a refined neoclassical hypogeum temple of considerable aesthetic value whose harmony and elegance of the architectural form is a tangible expression of the noble status of the family. To it in contrasting opposition the Tomaselli chapel, imposing and majestic mausoleum expression of the power and prestige acquired by the owner, university professor, or the chapel of the Spampinato family, a singular and original self-celebrating architectural pastiches which once again testifies to the design 'versatility' of Sada in being able to face every request.

The funerary chapels designed by the architect Carlo Sada. From left to right: Sisto Alessi Chapel (1884), Tomaselli Chapel (1905), Spampinato Chapel (1900)

The funeral chapels designed by the architect Carlo Sada. From left to right: Sisto Alessi Chapel (1884), Tomaselli Chapel (1905), Spampinato Chapel (1900)

Funeral chapels from the early 900s. From left to right: Fortuna Chapel (1927, architect Br. Fichera), Patanè Chapel (1918, arch. Br. Fichera), Fichera Chapel (1915)

Funerary chapels from the early 900s. From left to right: Fortuna Chapel (1927, architect Br. Fichera), Patanè Chapel (1918, arch. Br. Fichera), Fichera Chapel (1915)

At the end of the XNUMXth century and in the early years of the XNUMXth century, the style of eclecticism was replaced by the language of Modernism, the expression of a new feeling, of a renewed progressive and industrial society. The most cultured designers from Catania and among them Francesco Fichera (1881-1950), acknowledging the evolution of the architectural culture of the times, tackle the theme of the funerary chapel as a search for the essentiality of architectural form, using pure, square volumes, full of symbol and evocative power; the suggestions of Christian pietas are emphasized by the softness of the decorative lines of floral liberty combined with the expressive delicacy of sculpture; and in the 20's / 30's by the geometric abstraction of the deco style.
Del Fichera the chapels of the Patanè family and  Fortuna family, exponents of the thriving industrial class of Catania at the beginning of the century who, although interspersed with other graves and funeral buildings of lesser "rigor and beauty", together determine significant pieces of quality local modern architecture, worthy of attention for shape, figuration and decoration sculptural.

The Fortuna chapel it stands out for its pure forms, typical of the refined and abstract rationality of the deco style, which in their essentiality interpret in a simple, solemn and austere way the religious meanings that a funerary monument is brought to express.

The Patanè chapel looks like an imposing mausoleum whose sky-line, an echo of formal archetypes of the sacred buildings of pagan religions revisited in a deco key, clearly standing out against the blue of the sky and full of symbolic meanings

Significant is also the chapel of the Fichera family in which the volume made by geometric assemblies, a forerunner of the deco style, is contrasted by the grandiloquence of the decorative apparatus, given by the "out of scale" of the sculpture of the two angels made by Salvatore Juvara.

Embedded in the orography like small art objects whose material becomes a symbol, wealth, beauty, the noble chapels connote the sacred place with a constitutive identity, with a specificity of belonging, memory and roots, giving environmental value to the landscape. By scanning the space and time spent traveling along the avenues, they evoke feelings of peace, serenity and emotion, according to the "ways of feeling”Inherent in the culture of Catania towards the cult of those who are no longer alive.


[1] Report on the state of the administration of the Catania valley, Catania, From the Typography of the university of studies, 1819 p.36
[2] E. SCIUTO, Historical-artistic outline of the cemeteries and illustration of a project of the cemetery of the city of Catania, Catania, Typography of G. Pastore, 1881
[3] "Letter from the Mayor of Catania dated 22 July 1868" ..
[4] "City Council Resolution of 15 October 1871".
[5] "Resolution of the City Council of 10 May 1871".
[6] F. FICHERA, “Report on the Garden Cemetery Project for the City of Catania”, 1879. pag 6
[7] F. FICHERA, “Report on the Project… cit, 1879. pag 7
[8] F. FICHERA, “Report on the Project… cit, 1879. pag 8
[9] "Literary, scientific, artistic, administrative and commercial guide of Catania", Giannotta Ed., Catania, 1883 pag 186
[10] E. FISCHETTI, “Catania's nineteenth century: building and urban planning”, in “Catania, Rivista del comune”, n. July 4 - August 1933.

The Author: biographical notes

Cettina Santagati, graduated in Building Engineering in 1997 at the University of Catania, has been collaborating since 1999 in research activities in the field of Survey and Representation of the architectural and environmental heritage at the Chair of Design of the Faculty of Engineering, holder prof. F. Restuccia, and at the Laboratory of Architectural Photogrammetry and Survey of the SAD, responsible prof. L. Andreozzi, with the application of the most innovative instrumental and photogrammetric survey technologies. In 2003 he obtained the title of PhD in "Design and Relief of the Building Heritage" (XV cycle) at the University of Rome "La Sapienza".
He is adjunct professor at the University of Catania of the courses of Automatic Design (Degree course in Building and Environmental Recovery Engineering) and Representation Laboratory (Degree course in Technologies Applied to Restoration and Conservation of BBCCs).
He actively participates in various research projects by presenting numerous memoirs at national and international conferences and publishing articles relating to the subjects of the disciplinary area of ​​Design and Relief.

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