Other than the famous monuments in Rome, this city has so many peculiar and special hidden spots. From hole-in-the wall restaurants and speak-easies, to hidden keyholes and historical hidey-holes, the Eternal City is full of secrets. In the trendy neighborhood of Testaccio, you can find plenty of these. The Non-Catholic Cemetery, also known as the Protestant Cemetery, is a great example of how past greviences and segregation have led to a beautiful refuge for current citizens. Its impeccably-landscaped grounds are the final resting place of many non-Catholic foreigners who spent their last days in Rome and were forced out of mainstream cemeteries for this one.
Nowadays, this area in Testaccio is a beautiful example of Renaissance sculptures, has hundreds of flower and plant species, and is a great option for a peaceful walk or relaxing in the adjacent park. The history and setup of the Non-Catholic Cemetery both contribute to its status as a hidden gem of Rome.
For years the Roman Catholic church discriminated against people of different religions. Being anything besides Catholic was a sure way to ostracize yourself from the community and draw a lot of attention. In fact, Protestants in Rome *audible gasp* were not allowed to be buried in the same cemeteries as Catholics. This became a problem for foreigners living in the country and when they died, they were put together with others from different denominations in the “Non-Catholic Cemetery” on the outskirts of Rome. Over time, the city has expanded and this resting place of shame has become a beautiful refuge from the city-center in the quieter neighborhood of Testaccio.
The cemetery is a 5-minute walk away from the Piramide metro stop and is very easy to find. After walking past the enormous Egyptian pyramid outside the metro (and wondering what city you’re actually in), you follow the wall until you reach the entrance.
Once inside, the cemetery sprawls out ahead of you, with tiny paths between the gravestones that wind throughout the space. You can spend your time here, reading very old English names on the stones and admiring the perfectly-maintained gardens, or check out the enclosed church that’s on the far right of the cemetery. Either way, the path eventually leads you to the opposite side, where you can duck out of the cemetery and into the small park they have surrounding the great pyramid.
The park gives you a nice view of the monument and as a bonus, you can entertain yourself by looking at the many stray cats from the cat shelter beneath the pyramid. For limited hours, the cat sanctuary is open to the public and you can spend time petting some of Rome’s famous stray cats. You can also choose to donate in the “for the cats” box that hangs outside of the shelter door.
Inside the smaller park, you’ll find The Non-Catholic cemetery’s most famous grave, John Keats. Keats, his companion and infant son, and well as Percy Shelley, are all buried in the cemetery. The beautiful gravestones also have bits of poetry inscribed on them in English, which definitely differentiates this cemetery from the many others in Rome.
After you’ve seen the park and garden areas, there are public restrooms available and a donation box on the way out. The cemetery foundation asks for small, voluntary donations from everyone who enters for upkeep of the beautiful cemetery. It wasn’t always in such great shape and only in the past couple decades have the gardens and park been looked after so well.
More information can be found at the cemetery website here. Its hours are Monday-Saturday, 9-5 and on Sunday they close early at 1 pm.
Via Caio Cestio, 6, 00153