Ischia’s creative graves

Art, construction and redemption

Post and pictures by our guestblogger Mario Trani

The island of Ischia, pearl of the Neapolitan Gulf, holds a secret.
It’s a sort of exaltation, a deviant behavior caused by the very limited living space or maybe by an instinctive desire of marking the territory: it’s the plague of frauca — the unauthorized construction, in infringement of all local building regulations.

The Ischian resident, in order to be (or to think of himself as) respected, has to build, construct, erect.
It might be just a screed, a dry stone wall, a second floor or a small living quarter for his son who’s about to get married. All rigorously unauthorized, these supplements to the house are built in disregard of those strict and suffocating rules he feels are killing his creativity; and which often force him to demolish what he so patiently constructed.

No family is without an expert in this field, and often more than one member is mastro fraucatore or mezza cucchiara (nicknames for a master builder).
But the free zone, the real no man’s land where all the islanders’ construction dreams come true is the graveyard.

To walk through the avenues of the Ischia Municipal Cemetery means to discover surprising tombs the relatives of the deceased decorated with materials found around the island: lava stones from the volcanic Mount Epomeo, polished rocks from the many beaches, sea shells and scallops; stones from the Olmitello creek or pizzi bianchi of carsic origin.

conchiglie della mandra

tronco d'albero tagliato nella sua sede originale come verticale della croce

pietre levigate del bagnasciuga

pietre bianche dei pizzi bianchi

conchiglie e pietre levigate del bagnasciuga

pietra lavica del monte epomeo2

pietre levigate del torrente olmitello

Other tombs incorporate remainings and leftovers from unauthorized constructions, such as unused bricks or decorated floor tiles.

materiali vari-- (1)

materiali vari-

spezzoni di piastrelle

porfido da giardino

materiali vari


mosaici da piastrelle


No grave is similar to another, in this array of different materials and colors. But there is a specific niche of funeral art, reserved to those who worked as fishermen.
To honor the deceased who, during their lifetime, bravely defied the sea for the catch of the day, granting the survival and well-being of their family, a peculiar grave is built in the shape of a gozzo, the typical Ischian fishing boat.






This is a touching way of saying a last goodbye, and looking at these hand-crafted graves one cannot help but appreciate the genuine creativity of these artisans. But the tombs seem to be the ultimate, ironic redemption of the heirs of Typhon: a payback for that building urge, that longing for cement and concrete which was constantly repressed during their lifetime.

modernismo (1)

3 comments to Ischia’s creative graves

  1. Manu says:

    Articolo scritto molto bene, ma argomento poco interessante.

  2. Alice says:

    Io questo argomento l’ho trovato MOLTO interessante!
    E’ stato bello curiosare -leggendo il post- in questo pittoresco cimitero. Peraltro le tombe qua sopra, costruite dai parenti, sono economiche, fatte con materiali di recupero e di facile manutenzione (sempreverdi e succulente piantate a terra, vedo).

    Fin da quando ero piccola ho detestato i loculi a parete, nei cimiteri: sono tristissimi, brutti, brutti, mi sembra che i morti siano stipati in un condominio/alveare o qualcosa del genere.

    Una volta qualcuno mi ha fatto notare che nei piccoli centri spesso i cimiteri sorgono nella zona più bella del paese: ho fatto caso che è spesso vero, per esempio nel paesino di montagna di dove è originario mio marito, in Trentino, il cimitero ha la posizione più panoramica, con una vista bellissima.

    A me non dispiacerebbe leggere qui altri articoli su cimiteri interessanti, con belle fotografie.

    In molti paesi stranieri i cimiteri sono anche un luogo dove passeggiare è normale, da noi invece per molti suona strano.
    Un saluto

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