European Times: Maenza, Southern italy - Italy's cities of the dead become overcrowded

THE WELL-DRESSED families laying bunches of chrysanthemums on their loved ones' tombs in Maenza over the bank holiday weekend were, to say the least, perplexed.

As families up and down Italy marked the feast of All Saints by paying their respects to their dead relatives, the mayor of Maenza, a town to the south of Rome, announced a measure that would dramatically transform the face of its one graveyard.

He dusted down an edict, dating back 200 years to the Napoleonic period, under which all burial plots must be the same size, with a plain white marble tombstone and a cross measuring little more than two feet in height. No more flashy multicoloured marble or ornate vaults with angels, just a nice symmetrical row of white crosses.

The original law was designed as part of a drive to remove graves from crypts on hygiene and health grounds. But its resurrection in Maenza caused consternation.

Italy, like many other Catholic countries, takes its funerals and its cemeteries very seriously. Millions of Italians visited graveyards yesterday, spending vast sums on flowers - five billion lira (pounds 1.7m) in the Milan area alone - and causing traffic jams around the cemeteries.

A consumers' group even issued a set of guidelines for the occasion; check the price of flowers thoroughly and choose ones that will last, visit graveyards during off-peak hours, watch your bag and lock your car, and bring your children - cemeteries needn't be sad places. But with one of the most top-heavy populations in Europe, the problem for most Italian cities is not so much whether funerals run on time but where to put the newly deceased.

Unlike British or American graveyards, where most people are buried underground, most Italians are laid to rest either in family vaults or in loculi, slightly- larger-than-coffin sized slots in immense funereal buildings. The tombs can cost up to pounds 5,000 to construct and in the south of Italy in particular it is commonplace to spend such sums on smart send-offs for loved ones.

But the inconvenience and danger of building ever upward are clear. On Friday a 72-year-old woman died in a fall from a ladder in Frosinone while trying to place flowers on the tomb of her husband, three metres above the ground. Unlike underground coffins, where extra space can be regained within a decade, remains in a loculi cannot be reduced until after 40 years.

With an average of 560,000 people dying each year, the situation is reaching crisis point, and efforts to encourage cremation have been singularly unsuccessful. A campaign several years ago by Rome's city council produced only a minimal increase and only 4.4 per cent of Italians take the ashes and urn route, compared with the European average of 32 per cent. "Cremation is still perceived as a poor man's option," said Daniele Fogli of the Italian funeral directors' association, "and denies people the chance to put on a grand show for their dearly departed."

One possible solution has originated in Naples, where treating your dead well has always been important. The website Requiescat.Org, complete with flashing purple cyber coffins, offers a virtual funeral, tombstone, flower candle and epitaph for just L60,000 (pounds 20) and for another L15,000 you can display a photo of your loved one. Friends, families or fans can send an e-mail message rather than a bunch of expensive chrysanthemums to mark All Saints Day. Among those who have already wound up, perhaps against their will, in Italy's first virtual cemetery are the Italian heroes Gianni Versace, Padre Pio, Enrico Caruso, Giovanni Agnelli Jnr and Frank Sinatra.

Sport
Club legend Paul Scholes is scared United could disappear into 'the wilderness'
football
News
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
science
News
Dawkins: 'There’s a very interesting reason why a prince could not turn into a frog – it's statistically too improbable'
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Travel
Dinosaurs Unleashed at the Eden Project
travel
Arts and Entertainment
music
Sport
football
Life and Style
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the first online sale
techDespite a host of other online auction sites and fierce competition from Amazon, eBay is still the most popular e-commerce site in the UK
News
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, Graduate, SQL, VBA)

£45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, ...

Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Perl, Bash, SQL)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Per...

C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB6, WinForms)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB...

C# Developer (Genetic Algorithms, .NET 4.5, TDD, SQL, AI)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home