The San Michele cemetery, named after the archangel who defeated the dragon and took its immortality, is located on Island of Memory, in the waters that surround Venice.
Like most cemeteries that are found within a large city this one, from the second half of the ‘800, features many tombs, dedicated to important people, which are in the shadow of the church and also a monastery built between 1496 and 1533. Among the most famous “guests” lies the Russian theatre entrepreneur Sergej Djagilev, the piano player and writer Igor Stravinsky, the American Poet Ezra Pound, the Russian poet Joseph Brodsky, the football player and trainer Helenio Herrera, the composer Luigi Nono, the psychiatrist Franco Basaglia and the painter Emilio Vedova.
The Island is also called “Island of memory”. Walter Veltroni wrote in his book “Senza Patricio” that, “memory is not idle, it is active, produces meanings, builds discoveries”. Building a future through the memory of the past is essential as a society without history is ephemeral and doomed to the end.
San Michele actually became a cemetery in 1837, when the water channel that ran through the two small islands San Michele and San Cristoforo was split up. Earlier on the burials happened in the forecourt or in Churches and once space was all occupied the remainders were moved to the Islands in the lagoon.
The Cemetery is divided into different areas according to religion or confession: Jewish, catholic, ortodox or evangelic. This Island before becoming a cemetery was called “Cavana de Muran”, where people who lived in Murano Island were docking their boats.
The recent intervention of Chipperfield architecture is the construction of the lot completed in 2007, called “Court of Four Evengelists”, of a surface of 2000 square meters, divided in 4 different proportions and characteristics, but unified by their material, basalt, that covers the walls and the floors, with the text of the 4 angels carved in and columns in concrete.
The space is aimed to recreate the typical spaces of a city; the field, the court, the streets and the gardens, which counter against the minimalism of the walled niches that contain coffins or cinerary urns. The second lot, for which the completion is estimated for 2013, will provide the construction of a new island, parallel to the existing one, linking to it via a channel. In contrast with the perimetral walls of the existing island, the new one will present an open location, visible from the lagoon, where new burial buildings will be built as simple blocks surrounded by garden on water level.
And there you have it. A day out under the cooling sun and an exploration of another Venetian treasure.