Mussolini’s chicken rests in the animal cemetery in Rome

In a pet cemetery in Italy
This is where Mussolini’s chicken rests

Luigi Molone runs the oldest animal cemetery in Italy. His father buried the fascist dictator’s poultry. Later, state presidents and Hollywood bigwigs also mourned the loss of their most loyal companions here.

You ring the bell, the garden gate is open. Luigi Molone hails from the balcony of the apartment building inside the property and says he’ll be right down. Supported by a crutch, the 73-year-old shuffles down. “I got out of the hospital two weeks ago, with a heart attack,” he says grimly. Then he starts talking about this amazing piece of land in the southeast of the Italian capital.

It all started around 1922 with Mussolini’s chicken. Then, the caretaker of the Molon Animal Cemetery takes you on a tour of recent Italian history and the inner lives of animals and humans. If you ask questions about the time when Mollon himself was not alive and about which he cannot give first-hand information, he will always ask the opposite question: “Was I there?” he was preoccupied not only with politics but also with very personal matters when he came to power.

Mussolini’s children had won three chicks at a fair, two of which died immediately. So the dictator’s children especially loved the third chicken. When he died, Mussolini personally arranged for the burial and sought out Antonio Molone, Luigi’s father, on the outskirts of the city. Molon was a veterinarian, ran a kennel he named after his wife Rosa, and also looked after the dictator’s mastiffs. The dictator asked if he could not bury this chicken, which was so dear to his children. Molon agreed. Word is getting around about the dictator’s chicken. And so, over the years, Casa Rosa became a pet Roman cemetery and a mecca for the upper classes, show business and politics.

Lest you get the wrong idea, Luigi Molone, settled in his office among yellowed newspaper articles hanging on the wall and piled horse saddles, now wants to record that his father buried Mussolini’s chicken and took care. his dogs. But he did not do this as a convinced supporter, but allegedly only out of love for animals. “I emphasize that Mussolini went to see my father and not the other way around,” Molon says. Antonio was from Vicenza and had to leave because he didn’t want to join the fascist party. This is the family narrative.

Since then, everyone has buried their pets in that hidden corner of the Portuense district: the Royal House of Savoy, for example, its dogs and cats, Presidents Sandro Pertini, Giovanni Leone and Giuseppe Saragat their dogs. Actress Anna Magnani had cats buried here and director Federico Fellini is said to have buried a pet here. Brigitte Bardot’s dach Michel found its final resting place at Casa Rosa – the actress filmed in the town in 1950. Over 1000 animals have been buried over the years, their carcasses resting on the ground inside a 500 square meter wall meters. Pines, cypresses and palm trees grow here.

At the entrance to the cemetery, a dog statue stands guard “for all animals without a master.” In addition to dogs and cats, there are canaries, pigeons, rabbits, hamsters, ducks, turtles, fish, chimpanzees, a boa constrictor, a tiger named Sade and the lion Greta, who died in 1988. Simple inscriptions, but also wooden structures with photo or even massive headstones remind of Pluto, Sissy, Rufus, Peggy or Trudy. In addition to flowers, candles or animal toys adorn the graves and one dog owner even left his leash. Colorful wheels spin in the wind, crickets chirp. “I will always miss your loving companionship,” the owners of the cat Marys, who died in 1980, wrote on the tombstone.

Luigi Molone, who by his own account was a former polo player on the Italian national team, a diver at the 1972 Munich Olympics and later a cowboy in Capalbio in Maremma, Tuscany, can switch from the profane to the profound. matter of seconds. Perhaps he is not entirely wrong to claim that love of animals reflects a people’s level of civilization, but that even animal lovers are not immune to pitfalls.

He believes it is, to put it mildly, borderline that some guardians say goodbye to their beloved companions as “Mama” or “Papa” at the graves. Once he, a veterinarian like his father, was called to the San Lorenzo area because someone was keeping a horse on the roof. Molon must stun the animal. The fire department then hauled the sick horse off the roof with a crane. Fellini could not have directed the scene better. Sometimes love for animals is just selfishness. But Molon also knows what it’s like to lose a beloved pet. When his mare Genziana died in 1989, which also found its final resting place at Casa Rosa, he was ill for a week.

“Some people would rather talk to their dog than their neighbor because the dog won’t talk back,” Molon says. He then adds that it would probably be better this way: “How many ‘vaffanculos’ (German: ‘Leck mich!’, editor’s note) would throw the animals at their masters if they could!” Sometimes pet owners call out in desperation at 3 a.m. because Mimmo or Johnny just died. “What should I do right now?” Molon says indignantly. “I’ll tell them to come back in the morning.”

Then the little yellow excavator, operated by an employee, is ready. The hole is dug, the animal is buried. If the owners want a wooden cross or a pinwheel, Molon will take care of it. Tombstones, sometimes for thousands of euros, must be ordered from the stonemason. Graves are leased for five years, after which they must be renewed or the grave will be free for a new animal. It seems that more and more people are looking for a final resting place for their animals and they don’t want a “carcass dump” but a dignified place. So far, Casa Rosa is the only licensed Roman animal cemetery. The Lazio region now wants to allow new animal cemeteries.

About five to ten visitors come a day, over the years there have been fewer. A couple just visited their dead dog. Right next to Greta’s lion tombstone, a large olive tree grew from a grave. The Dalmatian dog Maia has been buried here since 2004. Her elderly lover is there, tidying the grave and engaging in a conversation with the dog who was hit by a car and died. The headstone is emblazoned with a photograph of Maia and a ten-line farewell poem, below relatives referred to as “your family”. At one point the owner of the dog interrupts her monologue. She scratches the mosquito bites on her leg and then crosses herself. Before leaving, he says quietly: “Ciao, Maia, be careful!”.

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