We have set up a petition at
'That the Swiss-owned, so-called 'English' Cemetery in Florence be kept open, be restored and be declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site'
'Che il Cimitero 'degli Inglesi' a Firenze di proprietà Svizzera possa ancora essere visitabile, sia restaurato e sia dichiarato dall'UNESCO Patrimonio Mondiale dell'Umanità'
Louise Jury in The Independent and an anonymous writer in The Florentine are writing fine newspaper stories about the need to save the 'English' Cemetery in Florence from being shut down and abandoned.
Yesterday, thanks to Moira Macfarlane, British Consul General, and Sir Franco Zeffirelli, Senator, and their appeals to the Mayor of Florence, we were visited by seven members of Florence's municipalty. Emanuele Baldi, a reporter from La Nazione also came and I translate his account which was published this morning, 29 July 2005, in that newspaper:
Piazzale Donatello. The Municipality: 'We will save it'.
THE 'ENGLISH' CEMETERY IS FALLING APART
In common parlance it is the 'English' Cemetery, but the official name is the 'Protestant Cemetery'. The problem, nevertheless, is elsewhere: the beautiful complex which rises in Piazzale Donatello, in the midst of the city's traffic, lately has fallen on hard times.
The Cemetery's hill - constructed in 1827 by the Pinti Gate and owned by the Swiss Evangelical Reformed Church - is subject to continual landslides (see the newspaper's photograph), causing the foundations of the ancient tombs to be uprooted, and allowing the entry of water, further compromising the hill's stability. And the trees are suffering, weeds are sprouting and spreading everywhere, the tombs showing decades of neglect.
It is a shame, a crying shame. To save it will require a radical restoration and a sum of money that at the moment will be difficult to raise. But perhaps things are beginning to change. Yesterday, the Minister of Culture for the Municipality of Florence, Simone Siliani, together with experts from the Municipality, visited the monumental complex to see for themselves the problems that had so often been brought to their attention.
A quick tour and an idea: the place could be saved and the Comune, this time, could play a fundamental role. 'Even if', as Siliani immediately added, 'a private property were involved and, according to the law, the work of maintainance of such a heritage was the responsibility of the owner'.
Now, the lament of the Reformed Swiss Church is that it cannot afford such an investment. It is not about repairing two tombs, but of massive involvement to correct the problems of the structure's slippage (we recall the recent roof collapse of the church of San Procolo). And for such a great project we must bring together a consortium, Siliano went on to explain: "We must consider the possibility of a partnership, but it is fundamental that it must involve also private persons' - said the Minister of Culture . 'We can participate as the municipal administration, involving the Superintendent and the Technical Office of the 'Belle Arti', as well as those involved in the environment. In fact, the first thing to do is to shore up the hill. With a cooperative project uniting the skills of all we can achieve this restoration'. A restoration which would indeed be important for this city that seems never to have taken this nineteenth-century jewel seriously. The problems are many, to begin with, the logistics one meets getting there; there is no crosswalk and parking in the area is not abundant. 'Certainly, if we decide to intervene we should consider two objectives, the improving of its cultural tourism and the integration of the Cemetery's Library into the city's documentary system', concluded Siliani. Emanuele Baldi, La Nazione
Two days ago we had met with the Regione Toscana, the government of Tuscany, who explained that they cannot help a private commercial owner, unless he/she consents to work through a non-profit charitable cultural association such as we already are. Yesterday we initially met with the Swiss who own the Cemetery, asking that they allow this project on behalf of the English Cemetery in Florence Foundation and the Associazione Aureo Anello Biblioteca e Bottega Fioretta Mazzei e Amici del 'Cimitero degli Inglesi' to proceed.
If we can restore the 'English' Cemetery to the garden it once was we know that the Swiss will be able to sell grave plots for interring ashes. At present the Cemetery is too barren and desolate for people to want to do so, despite being so famous.
Susan and Joanna Horner, who had buried their mother here in 1862, described the Protestant Cemetery as it was in 1877:
Near this Piazza (Massimo D'Azeglio) lies the old Protestant Cemetery of Florence, once beyond the Porta Pinti, and under the shelter of the ivy-covered walls, both of which have been included in the recent demolitions. The greater number of the tall old cypresses which crowned the summit of the mound have been cut down, and the picturesque beauty, as well as seclusion of the spot, which were so congenial to the feelings of mourning friends, no longer exist. It is now protected by a neat iron railing, within which have been planted cypresses and various shrubs, which it is to be hoped will, in time, restore some of its former beauty. The mountains of Vallombrosa and Fiesole are not quite shut out by the row of houses rising on all sides, and the order and care bestowed by the municipality, into whose hands it has fallen by purchase, leave no room for complaints. The white marble monuments, to each of which is attached a little garden of roses or other flowers, give a peculiar loveliness to this cemetery, far removed from gloom, and in the spring-time, the remains of the departed seem to repose under a shower of sweet blossoms. Among the monuments raised to those whose names are known to the world, may be mentioned Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Arnold Savage Landor, Mrs. Trollope and her accomplished daughter-in-law, the poet Arthur Hugh Clough, and the American divine Theodore Parker'.
The following associations and individuals are on the Honour Committee of the Emergency Appeal for the restoration of the Swiss-owned 'Cimitero Porta a' Pinti', known as the 'English' Cemetery in Florence:
Sir James Ackroyd, England
Alliance of Literary Societies, England
Amici dei Musei Fiorentini, Firenze
Armstrong Browning Library, Baylor University, America
Anthony Astbury, The Greville Press, England
Association for Gravestone Studies, America
Jeffrey Begeal, America
Clive Britton, Florence
Brontë Society, England
Browning Society, England
Dame Fiona Caldicott, Principal, Somerville College, Oxford, England
Carolyn Carpenter, America
Timothy Chaplin and Diane Lutz Chaplin, Florence
Chiesa Evangelica Riformata Svizzera, Firenze
Amalia Ciardi Dupré, Firenze
Leonardo Domenici, Sindaco, Comune di Firenze
Dame Judi Dench, England
English-Speaking Union, America
Ente Cassa di Risparmio di Firenze, Firenze
Gabinetto Vieusseux ‘Centro Romantico’, Firenze
Horace W. Gibson, Florence
Philip Henderson, Lucca
Robert Heylmun, Florence
Historic Gardens Foundation, England
Julia Bolton Holloway, Florence
Gerardo Kraft, Firenze
Landor Society, England
Moira Macfarlane, British Consul General, Florence
Lapo Mazzei, Firenze
Michael Meredith, Eton College, England
Sir Derek Morris, Provost, Oriel College, England
Priscilla Morss Bayard, Florence
Andrew Motion, Poet Laureate, England
Pre-Raphaelite Society, England
Giannozzo Pucci, Firenze
Luigi di Quintana Bellini Trinchi Principe di Cagnano, Cavaliere di Malta, Roma
Regione Toscana, Firenze
Salvatore Siano, 'Nello Carrara', CNR
Simone Siliani, Assessore alla Cultura, Comune di Firenze, Firenze
Carlo Steinhauslin, Firenze
Sir Roy Strong, England
Mikhail Talalay, Russian Academy of Science, Naples
Aeronwy Thomas, England
Dylan Thomas Society of Great Britain
Trollope Society, England
UNESCO World Heritage Site
Victorian Society, England
Waterloo Committee, Patron, Duke of Wellington, England
Anthony and Diana Webb, England
Timothy Wilson, Ashmolean Museum, England
Sir Franco Zeffirelli, Italy
Mariella Zoppi, Assessore alla Cultura, Regione Toscana, Firenze