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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
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

Recruitment Genius: Business Analyst - 12 Month FTC - Entry Level

£23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Analyst is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Chefs - All Levels

£16000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To succeed, you will need to ha...

Recruitment Genius: Maintenance Engineer

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join an award winni...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive & Customer Service - Call Centre Jobs!

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Day In a Page

Isis in Syria: Influential tribal leaders hold secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over possibility of mobilising against militants

Tribal gathering

Influential clans in Syria have held secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over the possibility of mobilising against Isis. But they are determined not to be pitted against each other
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians
Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously

Illnesses, car crashes and suicides

Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously
Srebrenica 20 years after the genocide: Why the survivors need closure

Bosnia's genocide, 20 years on

No-one is admitting where the bodies are buried - literally and metaphorically
How Comic-Con can make or break a movie: From Batman vs Superman to Star Wars: Episode VII

Power of the geek Gods

Each year at Comic-Con in San Diego, Hollywood bosses nervously present blockbusters to the hallowed crowd. It can make or break a movie
What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?

Perfect match

What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?
10 best trays

Get carried away with 10 best trays

Serve with ceremony on a tray chic carrier
Wimbledon 2015: Team Murray firing on all cylinders for SW19 title assault

Team Murray firing on all cylinders for title assault

Coaches Amélie Mauresmo and Jonas Bjorkman aiming to make Scot Wimbledon champion again
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!
Ashes 2015: Angus Fraser's top 10 moments from previous series'

Angus Fraser's top 10 Ashes moments

He played in five series against Australia and covered more as a newspaper correspondent. From Waugh to Warne and Hick to Headley, here are his highlights
Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high