Fontanelle Cemetery (Cimitero delle Fontanelle)
This vast burial site built into a natural cave in the soft rock underneath Capodimonte Hill is home to an estimated eight million human bones and was one of the main cemeteries in Naples for centuries. The bones interred at Fontanelle were painstakingly cataloged and reorganized in the early 1870s, after flooding and mass burials had made the already disorganized paupers’ cemetery a jumbled mess. A cult devoted to the anime pezzentelle (poor souls) in the cemetery sprang up shortly after, with local families constructing small votive shrines to hold skulls said to bring them fortune, and visitors today can still see many of these decorated and venerated skulls, as well as the cemetery’s Maria Santissima del Carmine church and the cataloging work done in the 19th century. Though visitors are free to walk through the site without a guide, joining a tour that stops at Fontanelle Cemetery is beneficial to help make sense of its history and lore. Catacomb and mystery tours that include off-the-beaten-path attractions in Naples sometimes include Fontanelle Cemetery.
Things to know before you go
- Fans of offbeat sights and local folklore will enjoy visiting this singular, if rather macabre, ossuary.
- Fontanelle Cemetery may not be suitable for young children or impressionable adults.
- The ossuary is not fully accessible to visitors with limited mobility.
- Modest attire and appropriate decorum are required to enter the burial site.
- Entry to the cemetery is free, so disregard anyone who attempts to sell you a ticket.
How to get there
The cemetery is on Via Fontanelle 80 in the Sanità district in Naples’ historic center; the closest metro stop is Materdei.
When to get there
Prior to 2010, Fontanelle was only open to the public a few days each year, but now it’s open daily year-round. Avoid visiting on the weekends and holidays, as the cemetery can be quite crowded with both tourists and locals.
The Cult of *Anime Pezzentelle* (Poor Souls)
Perhaps the most unique aspect of the Fontanelle Cemetery is its history as the site of a thriving Cult of Anime Pezzentelle (Poor Souls) for decades. This mix of pagan and Christian beliefs is founded on the adoption by a person of the family of an anonymous skull, which is often given a name, shrine-like case, and decorated with sumptuous fabrics and semi-precious stones. The relationship between the skull and devotee is a quid-pro-quo: prayers for the deceased’s soul in exchange for blessings and fortune. In 1969, the Catholic church decided that the local cult had devolved into fetishism and the city’s cardinal abolished the tradition.
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