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The Cemetery of the Third  Millennium Will Be a Park.

Where Trees will replace the Headstones

A Contemporary Sacred Forest where the ashes of those who have passed can be buried in biodegradable urns which will become nourishment for poplars and cypresses.

It is the All-Italian project "Arborvitae", which proposes to create "a place for memory and sociality,

where religious cults and laic spiritualities may coexist"

A place for the dead made by the living: this is the solution according to Arborvitae, the Master Plan for the Cemetery of the Third Millennium. A simple yet radical proposal conceived by an Italian team entirely composed of women, the Roman landscape architects of A3Paesaggio, Consuelo Fabriani, Livia Ducoli and Cloe Berni, experts committed to the promotion of biodiversity and environmental sustainability, and by Maria Cristina Leonardi, botanist.

Trees instead of headstones in expansive urban parks to provide fresh air to the metropolis, the ashes of the deceased buried in biodegradable urns (100% wood fiber) becoming nourishment for poplars, cypresses, oaks, citrus trees. Space destined for pets will be included as well, as they may also be cremated and placed next to their owners.


Utopia? Not exactly. This modern sacred forest is receiving support and a general interest in it is growing. In Rome, Milan, Chile, and the United States. A collaboration with the ‘Memories’ Foundation has been launched in the Bovisa district of Milan for the creation of the ‘Garden of Memory,’ a project bringing together urban green areas, art and funerary architecture, and it looks like the time for the Roman proposal is also close at hand:

a 30-hectare area has been located in Chiaravalle, a town in the Marche region, well known for its famous cistercian abbey, birthplace of Maria Montessori.


The first true application of the idea, however, could be in Chile.

We need to work with the private sector, because public institutions in Italy are still firm on the Napoleonic conception of cemetery’, as Fabriani states, ‘They don’t realize that in those deserted, abandoned places the cult of the dead doesn’t exist anymore, where there isn’t any bench to sit on and where the demand for space makes the burial of the bodies necessary after 10 or 20 years, thus perpetuating the pain of the loved ones'. The dream of Consuelo, Livia, Cloe and Maria Cristina is to create the first cemetery-wood in the south-American Country, where the connection with the environment is very strong and where the government plants a new tree for every birth. Maybe in Isla Negra, on the Pacific coast, where one can still feel the spirit of the great poet Pablo Neruda, who lived, is now buried, there with his wife.


All the details. What is Arborvitae going to be like? ‘A place for memory and sociality’ where religious cults and laic spiritualities will coexist, in respect for and in communion with the memory of those who have passed’ as Consuelo Fabriani explains. A project which embraces the feeling of the World, which is now asking, in unanimous voice, to make peace with nature and to go back to a close relationship with the landscape and with the vegetation even in the places where anthropization is the strongest. The holiness of these living beings, the most longevous of all species, is recognized by all peoples and by every culture: some pines in Nevada and in California are over 5000 years old, a cypress in Iran and the Llangernyw’s yew tree in Wales are 4000 years old already, thousand-year-old olive trees are also present in Italy (in Salento and in Gallura) not to mention the Patagonian cypresses in Argentina. We could go on talking about Japan, Australia, Russia. If trees can live more than Matuzalem,  then the idea of connecting them to the ashes of the deceased cannot be that far-fetched.


Paraphrasing a famous slogan we could say ‘a tree is forever’. The funerary park is therefore the place where death meets life (and the other way around), reuniting the alpha and the omega of human existence, at present inexorably divided, at least in the European western world. An opportunity that Arborvitae is offering is that of getting children and teenagers in touch with the memory of their ancestors and, at the same time, of leading them to the discovery of true identity of the previously anonymous trees: a disk made of weathering steel with the name of the deceased and the botanic name of the tree engraved on it will be placed at the base of the tree trunk.


All the advantages of the project. The proposal includes features that embrace all the aspects of the environment: it improves the quality of the air and promotes the management rain water; ecologic aspects, guaranteeing a natural return to the earth; it involves city planning, as it fights soil consumption; social life, as it proposes to tear down ethnic and religious differences. It embraces three different pathways: a cultural one, which includes memory and knowledge; a spiritual one, as it links the landscape to the innate feeling of immortality; and an ethical one, as it proposes to teach the feeling of respect towards nature as a common good.


Paths, designed by the three landscape architects, lead to the holy area through resting points and natural filters that lead up to the wood: Rows of vines or arbors wrapped by climbing plants. Resting points and ponds of water are also present, exalting a feeling of wellness and livability. Great attention is paid to the flora chosen: the use of native and xerophile plants is suggested, as is the employment of landscape engineering techniques for the draining and the filtering of rainwater. A low-carbon-footprint park which utilizes highly energy-efficient systems, such as smart solar panels for night lighting.


Maybe Arborvitae could help us to accept the idea of death in a world that has always relegated it to the margins, that medicalized it trying to distance it in space and time. A quote from Consuelo perfectly summarizes its philosophy: ‘We want to create a place of beauty and comfort, a place liveable for the living that gives continuity between life and death (which is part of life)’.



Marco Angelillo 30/10/2015





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