San Michele Venice is an island that has served as the official cemetery for the city since the 1800s. Before this island was ever designated as Isola di San Michele, the neighboring San Cristoforo della Pace was built up. Mauro Codussi’s fifteenth-century church was on this island, along with the first Renaissance church in the city. While Venice was under French occupation led by Napoleon, the city was ordered to begin burying all of their dead outside of the city limits. The decision was made to make San Cristoforo della Pace a cemetery in 1807, but more space was required. The canal that separated San Cristoforo della Pace and what is present-day Isola di San Michele was filled in 1836, and the larger of the two islands was given the name San Michele, for Saint Michael who is said to hold the scales on judgment day. This Venice cemetery not only looms large in the history of the city, but has become a popular, modern-day attraction as well.
For a good while, San Michele Venice doubled as a prison, but by the turn of the twentieth century was operating completely as the main Venice cemetery. As it became the norm to carry the newly dead over the canals to Isola di San Michele, new traditions took hold involving ceremonial gondola trips to the cemetery. Nowadays, even as gondola travel is largely been reduced to tourist use, they still play a prominent role in traditional ceremonies in the city. For instance, it is still very common for a couple who is getting married or celebrating an anniversary to employ the use of the traditional gondola. It is something that is uniquely Venetian and that has been a part of the culture for centuries.
Famous individuals who took the gondola trip across the canal, and whose graves people now pay money to visit include Ezra Pound, Igor Stravinsky, and Jospeh Brodsky. If you happen to be visiting Venice during a particularly busy time of the year, a trip to the Venice cemetery to witness the stunning thousands of graves ensconced by sprawling gardens and massive cypress trees may provide the perfect getaway. This is not a morbid tourist trap. Just as people visit Pere Lachaise in Paris to visit the crypts of famous people, tourists do the same at the popular and historic Venice cemetery.
It is only about five minutes by vaporetto to San Michele Venice. For a just a few Euro you can hop on a boat and spend as much time as you want leisurely perusing the serene island. You may be surprised at first at just how packed in the graves are at this particular cemetery. Although the graves are densely laid out, they are very well organized and there are foot paths that you can walk through to reach various parts of the island. If you are looking to spend a couple of hours doing something a little different while vacationing in Venice, pay a visit to Isola di San Michele. It is a beautiful island that is full of history from centuries gone by in Venice.