Heading out of Scicli, our visit over, we turned back on ourselves as I carefully navigated a hairpin bend on a steep hill. There, over in the distance, MI spotted a cemetery. And what a cemetery. It seemed to go on forever. I had to go back.
Italians really honour their dead. I’ve yet to visit an Italian cemetery that wasn’t impeccably maintained and beautifully cared for. This Cimitero Comunale was no exception. Yes, some of the gravestones are crumbling and have seen better days, but even in their old age, there’s a beauty about them that you don’t get in more modern stones.
The Cimitero Comunale sits on a hill. Steep sets of steps fall away from the entrance gate. I wonder how the elderly, those who have difficulty walking, can get tend to the graves of those who’ve gone before them. And built as it is on a height, much of what you see is hard to get to. The paths traverse the hill, weaving in and out of various sections that seem to have a pattern of their own. Not knowing anything of the place (and finding little online afterward) it is hard to tell if these sections have any significance. It’s also hard to tell whether new burials are burials or cremations. The cemetery walls house the ashes of the dead while the bones are laid to rest on the flatter surfaces.
The mausoleums vary in style, from Baroque to modern, from steel and glass to ornate stone. Sadly, I lost most of my photos, so I can’t show you. The mix of styles is unusual, with modern slotted between old, as if some of the old had been demolished and room made. Hard to know. Difficult to tell. Stunning place.
One section had curious headstones – small white markers that shared dates, the same name – Ignoto, and another word: Sampieri. I thought perhaps it was an epidemic of some sort but 2005 seemed too recent. I finally found a blog post by János Chialá that explained it for me.
Back in 2005, off the beach at Sampieri, 25 migrants lost their lives. They’d crossed the Mediterranean from North Africa in search of better lives, fleeing war and famine and the Lord only knows what. They’re buried in the cemetery, their markers bearing numbers instead of names. Ignoto is Italian for unknown.
Eight years later, 13 more would lose their lives in sight of the same beach.
The 13 migrants died as they tried to reach the beach after the small fishing boat they had crossed the Mediterranean on run aground in sight of the beach. Rescuers saw the boat’s crew members violently order the migrants to jump into the water, and beat those who refused. The people who manage the human trade in the Mediterranean are often described as “pirates”, and have often shown no regard for the lives of the migrants who turn to them in their quest for a way to reach Europe.
Four days later, some 92 more would die in another boating tragedy. All those dreams ending in tragedy and a grave in another land.
I noticed when in Milan, that much of the statuary involves mourning women. It was in short supply in Scicli but what there was favoured the female.
When in Sicily, the mafia always seems present, be that presence real or imaginary. For Garofalo Vincenzo, their presence was all too real. On protection detail for five magistrates interviewing subjects with mafia connections, Garofalo and his partner were mowed down. Massacred.
Porteremo a spalla altri due servitori silenti dello Stato e ci rimane il solo conforto di saperli caduti per un’Italia migliore, uccisi da qualcuno che vuole in ogni modo e con ogni mezzo impedire che l’Italia diventi migliore.
He spoke about how they had fallen for a better Italy, killed by those who wanted to prevent Italy from becoming better. It was 1994. That’s my lifetime. That’s so hard to imagine. It wouldn’t be the last time we’d come across the reality that is the mafia.
I’ve made a note to myself to watch Kim Longinotto’s Shooting the Mafia, produced by Irish filmmaker Niamh Fagan. It chronicles the life of Italian photographer Letizia Battaglia, now in her 80s, and her work committing the work of the Mafia to celluloid. I also want to see Sicilian Ghost Story by Fabio Grassadonia and Antonio Piazza, ‘a fictional rendering of real-life mafia kidnapping and murder of Giuseppe di Matteo, the son of a mafia informant’.
Cemeteries are truly wonderful places, repositories of life stories and histories and a wealth of signposts to other worlds.
For more, see this video clip by @IvyCottageIndustries