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Peacefulness and serenity aren’t words often used when describing Rome. But in the middle of the chaotic and vibrant city lies a small, quiet enclave that serves as the final resting place for travelers, poets, scientists and artists who found the allure of the "Eternal City" too great — in life and in death — to return home.

The Non-Catholic Cemetery, also known as the Protestant Cemetery, was established in the 1730s, though the exact year isn’t clear. The earliest grave dates from 1738.

It was founded for those who weren’t allowed to be buried in Catholic grounds. Today it contains the remains of about 4,000 individuals of many faiths and philosophies, including Judaism, Buddhism, communism, Islam and Zoroastrianism. It is privately owned and maintained by a committee formed by 14 embassies in Rome that have citizens buried there.

Perhaps the most famous residents are English poets John Keats and Percy Shelley, whose markers lie in the older, less crowded, section of the cemetery.

"It might make one in love with death, to think that one should be buried in so sweet a place," Shelley wrote ominously of the cemetery. He drowned off the coast of Tuscany in 1822 and was laid to rest a few yards from Keats, who died a year earlier.

Other notable graves include those of Antonio Gramsci, a founding father of European communism; painter and sculptor Elihu Vedder, who designed his own tomb; and American sculptor William Story, who created the cemetery’s best-known tomb, a monument to his wife.

The main section of the cemetery contains many rows of ornate, carved stone burial markers. Unlike Père Lachaise in Paris or Highgate in London, this cemetery is densely packed but only slightly larger than a football stadium.

Though many of the grave markers are quite old, this is still considered an active cemetery. While there are no more burials except in existing family plots, there are still spots for funerary urns. It’s not uncommon to see a stonecutter adding the name of another family member to an existing grave marker.

The grounds are located on the back side of the Pyramid of Cestius, a small Egyptian pyramid built more than 2,000 years ago. The pyramid is now part of the remains of the ancient Roman Aurelian Walls that enclose the cemetery and keep it hidden from view to those outside the grounds.

The pyramid makes a good landmark, as it stands out against the classical architecture of the city, and is also, conveniently, a metro station.

There is a small visitors center and bookstore staffed by volunteer caretakers who provide handouts and information on the site.

Throughout the cemetery, visitors can’t miss the abundance of cats that wander through the grounds as if visiting old friends. There is a small donation box that collects money specifically for the cats, known as "guardians of the departed."

On the QT

DirectionsThe cemetery is at Via Caio Cestio 6. If driving, take Autostrada 1 toward Rome. Merge onto the A24, taking the exit toward San Giovanni. Merge onto Circonvallazione Tiburtina. At this point, start looking for metro stations; the closest one in this area is Tiburtina on line B (the blue line), which you can take to Piramide. In addition, several buses stop nearby: 3, 75, 23, 60, 280 30 and 175. For those who want to challenge Rome’s streets, there is metered parking on a side street near the cemetery as well as underground garages in the area.

TimesThe cemetery is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday (last entrance is at 4:30 p.m.) and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. (last entrance at 12:30 p.m.) Sundays and public holidays. The visitors center is open 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

CostsEntry is free, but there is a donation box for the upkeep of the grounds. There is also a donation box on the wall separating the old and newer grounds for the care of the many cats who frequent the site.

FoodThere are plenty of snack bars, cafes and restaurants nearby. The cemetery really is in the center of the city.

InformationThe cemetery’s Web site is www.protestantcemetery.it ; it has an English version. Group tours can be organized through the visitors center or by calling 06-574-1900.

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