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Cimitero Delle Fontanelle

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Attractions Details

📌 Address

Via Fontanelle, 80, 80136 Napoli NA, Italy

Opening Hours

8:00 AM - 5:00 PM

💸 Entrance Fee

Free

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Ambra
Local tour guide
"Visit the Cimitero delle Fontanelle in Naples during the quieter morning hours to fully absorb its eerie beauty without the crowds. Also, don't miss the chance to adopt a skull, an ancient local tradition of caring for an anonymous soul, which will give you a deeper connection to the city's unique history."

What is Cimitero delle Fontanelle?

Nestled in the heart of Naples' Sanità district lies an enchanting yet somber place known as the Cimitero delle Fontanelle – or the Fontanelle Cemetery. This isn't your typical cemetery; it's an ancient charnel house, a vast underground space that holds the remains of unidentified victims of great plagues and natural disasters from centuries past. The atmosphere here is both haunting and reverential, an accidental catacomb of Neapolitan history where the bones of the forgotten have been placed with great care and respect.

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These sprawling caverns have been carved out of the soft tuff the city is built upon, and when you walk through the silent corridors lined with neatly arranged skulls and bones, you can't help but feel immersed in a different realm of reflection and memory. It's a place that tells a tale not just of death, but of life and community in Naples, especially pertaining to the unique ritual known as the 'pezzentelle soul' where locals would 'adopt' a skull, caring for it in exchange for protection or favors.

History of Cimitero delle Fontanelle

The history of Cimitero delle Fontanelle is as captivating as it is melancholic. The site dates back to the 16th century when major plague epidemics ravaged Naples, leaving a surplus of corpses that could not be accommodated by the existing church graveyards. This necessitated the creation of additional space to inter the dead, which led to the utilization of the tuff quarries outside the city as makeshift burial grounds.

As time passed, these quarry pits eventually morphed into ossuaries that housed the remains of victims from subsequent calamities, such as the cholera epidemic in the 19th century. It wasn't until the 17th century that the cemetery was systematically organized; monks took on the great task of cataloging and respectfully arranging the bones into the patterns that you see today.

The fascinating practice of 'adoption' of the skulls came about during the 19th century when worshippers began to care for the remains, often attributing miracles to the souls they tended. While this practice was discouraged and eventually banned by the Church in the 20th century, it's an unmistakable part of the cemetery's singular story.

Why is Cimitero delle Fontanelle Important?

The significance of Cimitero delle Fontanelle stretches beyond its literal role as a resting place for the departed. It's important as a poignant physical and cultural marker of Naples' history, speaking volumes about the city's past plagues, poverty, and its ever-evolving attitudes toward death and the afterlife.

Culturally, the cemetery embodies the local tradition and the deep-seated spiritual belief in the afterlife that pervades Neapolitan society. The peculiar custom of caring for the skulls reflects a broader practice of ‘cult of the dead’ which is deeply woven into Naples' fabric. The site challenges visitors to consider the connection between the living and the dead, and the ways in which the departed are remembered and honored.

Moreover, it's a testament to the resilience of a community that has faced the brute force of epidemics and societal upheaval, yet continues to thrive. In honoring the memory of the unnamed dead, the Cimitero delle Fontanelle tells a story of compassion and collective remembrance in the face of adversity.

Things to Do & See at Cimitero delle Fontanelle

Upon entering Cimitero delle Fontanelle, you're greeted by corridors of quiet repose, each lined with shelved remains that have been there for centuries. Taking a leisurely stroll among the rows of bones, you might feel a profound connection to the city's history. The lighting is subtle, casting a respectful glow on the relics of lives past, making it an introspective journey.

Engage in the tradition of contemplation here by observing the 'pezzentelle souls' I mentioned before. Despite the Church's ban on the ‘adoption’ practice, you can still find tokens left by locals, signifying the ongoing connection they feel with the deceased. This personal touch adds an intimate layer to the visit – showing that folklore lives on even as times change.

If you're interested in the more unusual aspects of history, you can explore the various legends associated with the cemetery. Ask about the tale of the 'Captain of the Dead' or discover the descriptions behind each section of the ossuary. Each tale is a thread in the rich tapestry of Neapolitan lore.

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Art lovers will find themselves captivated by the chapel dedicated to Our Lady of the Souls of Purgatory, adorned with religious artworks that reflect the spiritual nature of the site. And for those keen on photography, the play of light and shadow amongst the bones provides a striking contrast that captures the essence of this place.

Visitors often leave feeling a sense of serenity and a deeper understanding of Naples and its people. Cimitero delle Fontanelle offers a unique opportunity to explore themes of mortality, history, and community – all while surrounded by the silent yet eloquent testimony of those who preceded us.

Frequently asked questions

What is the Cimitero delle Fontanelle?

The Cimitero delle Fontanelle is a historic charnel house, an underground cemetery located in Naples, Italy. It is famous for the skeletal remains of over 40,000 people that were interred here, giving a unique glimpse into the city's historic relationship with death and disease.

How did the Cimitero delle Fontanelle get its name?

The Cimitero delle Fontanelle gets its name from the 'fontanelle', or little fountains, that were once found in the area. The site was originally a quarry that provided tuff stone for construction and later became a burial site during epidemics.

What is the cultural significance of the Cimitero delle Fontanelle?

The Cimitero delle Fontanelle holds cultural significance in Naples as it is a reminder of the city's history with plagues and epidemics. Traditionally, it has also been a place of worship where the Neapolitans would adopt and care for the skulls of the anonymous deceased, known as 'capuzzelle', in a ritual for the souls in purgatory.

Can visitors take guided tours of the Cimitero delle Fontanelle?

Yes, visitors can take guided tours of the Cimitero delle Fontanelle. These tours provide insights into the history and rituals associated with this unique site and are often led by knowledgeable guides.

Are there any special events or traditions associated with the Cimitero delle Fontanelle?

Yes, one particular tradition is the 'Feast of the Capuzzelle', where people come to honor the deceased and maintain the skulls. Additionally, events such as All Souls' Day may involve special commemorations at the cemetery.

Attractions Details

📌 Address

Via Fontanelle, 80, 80136 Napoli NA, Italy

Opening Hours

8:00 AM - 5:00 PM

💸 Entrance Fee

Free

Find it on google maps