The Napoleonic Cemetery of Fontechiari is a historic cemetery located in the municipality of Fontechiari, in the province of Frosinone, Lazio, Italy.
Cemetery construction and strategic location during World War II
The Napoleonic Cemetery, located along the provincial road from Fontechiari to Casalvieri, is easily recognisable due to its circular construction. During the Second World War, the Germans used it as a military post because of its strategic position. This cemetery is the only example in Italy of the application of the Napoleonic edict of Saint Cloud, which established the burial of the dead outside urban centres. Prior to this law, people used to bury their dead inside urban centres, often under churches.
Despite facing many prejudices and bureaucratic procedures, the 138 ducats needed for the construction work on the cemetery were eventually secured. Construction work began on 20 February 1838, and the cemetery went into operation on 12 May 1844. The building is constructed of high-quality brick and consists of two floors: one above ground and one basement.
The visible level of the Napoleonic cemetery in Fontechiari showcases an inner courtyard with four trapdoors, one of which was specifically reserved for the burial of deceased children. Low-ranking individuals were lowered into a mass grave through these trapdoors with the help of ropes. Surrounding the inner courtyard are eight aristocratic chapels that belong to the most prominent families of the town, positioned between two concentric wall circles. The central chapel was reserved for the burial of clergymen. Although new walls were planned to be built in concentric circles to house other aristocratic chapels, they were never constructed.
The building is characterized by good construction engineering that provided for a direct connection of the basement floor with the karstic caves below. This allowed for the constant ventilation of the room and facilitated the rapid dispersion of putrefaction gases and the mummification of corpses.
The cemetery was in use until the early 1900s, when it was replaced by the new municipal cemetery located nearby.
Napoleonic edict of Saint Cloud and its application in Italy
The Napoleonic cemetery of Fontechiari is the only known example in Italy where the Napoleonic edict of Saint Cloud of 12 June 1804 was applied, which was later extended to Italy on 5 September 1806. This law established the location and construction methods for cemeteries outside of urban centers, inspired by similar projects in the outskirts of Paris or in the province of Verona, which have since been lost due to subsequent remodeling.
As is well-known, the decree mandated that all tombs be identical and contain only the name and surname of the deceased.
This inspired Ugo Foscolo to write the poem ‘Dei Sepolcri’. In it, he poetically criticized the injustice of treating equally those who had brought prestige to their country and those who had not.
For the common people, mass graves were provided, although they were forbidden by decree. Families of rank were allowed to build a chapel at their own expense.
The Napoleonic cemetery in Fontechiari is a testament to the history and culture of the area, and attracts visitors interested in the military history and culture of the Napoleonic period.