If you happen to be around Northern Italy, there’s a place you cannot miss. Silently resting in the area between Bergamo and Milan is an old industrial village with a quite peculiar graveyard.
The village, Crespi d’Adda, dates back to the end of the 19th century. It was founded by Cristoforo Benigno Crespi, a textile manufacturer, and is an exceptionally well-preserved example of a “model village” built for factory workers during the 19th and 20th centuries. The Crespi family was forced to sell the village in the late 1920s due to the onset of the Great Depression and hostile fascist policies. For industrial archeology lovers, the whole little town is worth a visit.
Just into the village, you’ll notice a long, gloomy boulevard, at the end of which a ziggurat-like building can be spotted. It’s there where you’ll find the graveyard with the mausoleum of the Crespi family, designed by architect Gaetano Moretti.
The big ziggurat is actually where the tombs of the Crespi family lie. The massive mausoleum even contains a small chapel inside. High walls flank both sides of the building, curving around the graveyard as if offering a paternalistic embrace; a hug from the Italian industrialist to all of his employees beyond death. It is in fact told that Crespi used to satisfy the needs of his employees like a caring father.
The eclectic style chosen by the architect combines elements from different areas and ages, giving the building its peculiar pre-Columbian look. On the heavy bronze doors of the mausoleum, a quote from Victimae paschali laudes reads: “Mors et vita duello conflixere mirando: mors mortua est” (which loosely translates to “Death and life contended in a spectacular battle: death was defeated”).
Most of the gravestones date back to 19th century, and sadly many of them belong to young children. Infant mortality was high at that time, and many kids got pulmonary illnesses from working hard in the local weaving factory. Crespi provided the headstones for free to the people who lived within his village.
The graveyard area is rather evocative at nightfall. According to locals, many of whom are the descendents of the original factory workers, the cemetery is periodically affected by the Will-o’-the-wisp (ghost light) phenomenon, especially during hot, August nights.