Cimitero delle Fontanelle

Fontanelle Cemetery - Cava delle Fontanelle - Camposanto delle Fontanelle


Useful Information

Location: Via delle Fontanelle 80, Napoli (40.858823, 14.238818)
Open: All year daily 10-17.
Last entry 30min before closing.
[2020]
Fee: free.
[2020]
Classification: SubterraneaCatacomb
Light: electric.
Dimension:  
Guided tours:  
Photography: allowed without flash
Accessibility: no
Bibliography: Antonio Piedimonte (2003): Il cimitero delle Fontanelle. Il culto delle anime del Purgatorio e il sottosuolo di Napoli, Napoli: Electa 2003, ISBN 88-510-0131-6.
Giovanni Liccardo (2000): Guida insolita ai misteri, ai segreti, alle legende e alle curiosità di Napoli sotterranea, Rome: Newton & Compton. pp. 195–96. ISBN 88-8289-405-3.
Eleonora Puntillo (1994): Grotte e Caverne di Napoli, Rome: Newton tascabile. pp. 36–37. ISBN 88-7983-645-5.
Vincenzo Regina (1994): Napoli antica, Rome: Newton & Compton. p. 31. ISBN 88-7983-647-1.
Address: Cimitero delle Fontanelle, Insolitaguida Napoli, Tel: +39-338-965-2288. E-mail:
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.

History

1656 first used to store bones.
1810 cemetery enlarged by the architect Carlo Praus.
1836/37 used to bury the dead of a cholera epidemic.
1872 remains disinterred and catalogued by Father Gaetano Barbati.
1969 cemetery closed by Cardinal Corrado Ursi to stop the cult of devotion to the skulls.

Description

photography
Cimitero delle Fontanelle, Napoli, Italy. Public Domain.

The Cimitero delle Fontanelle is an ossuary which was used to store bones. It is located in the northwestern part of Naples. The huge trapezoid caverns are a result of tufa quarrying. Probably they were dug in Roman times or later, the tufa was used for concrete, stones for building houses and pavements and much more is quite likely. The result were three huge, 10m to 12m high chambers called navate followed by several hundred meter long passages. The quarry has a total area of 3,000m². It was named Cava delle Fontanelle (Cavern of the Springs) after the numerous springs in the Rione Sanità.

Until the 16th century the inhabitants of Naples were buried in churches. But at some point the growth of the city and various plagues made this quite difficult. There was simply not enough space. As a result the bones of the dead were relocated to make space for new burials. This was done quietly during the night. In 1656 the passages were for the first time officially used to bury 250,000 anonymous corpses, victims of the great plague of that year. Some 1,500 people died daily. Then it was used to bury many people from the poor parts of the city unofficially. It was used several times during numerous catastrophes like many earth quakes, five volcanic eruptions, uprisings, and famines. One catastrophe actually hit the cemetery, during a flood the human remains were washed out into the streets and caused a grisly sight.

In 1804 the Décret Impérial sur les sépultures was signed by Napoleon. Also known as edict of Saint-Cloud, it made burials inside cities illegal. And as Naples was under French rule at that time it also applied to the city. The cemetery became an official resting place for the indigent dead. This ended after the cholera epidemic of 1837.

The unconventional burial place became known to Father Gaetano Barbati who had the remains disinterred and catalogued in 1872. This caused a spontaneous cult of devotion to the remains of these unnamed dead. Devotees paid visits to the skulls and cleaned them. Some even adopted them and they were given back their names which were revealed to their caretakers in dreams. They talked to them, brought flowers and built a small church, Maria Santissima del Carmine, at the entrance of the cemetery. The whole thing was rather strange and finally in 1969 Cardinal Corrado Ursi decided to close the cemetery.

The unique architecture of the place made it a location in various movies. The most famous is probably Viaggio in Italia from 1954 directed by Roberto Rosselini, with Ingrid Bergman. The place became a historical site, was restored and finally opened to the public. Rather exceptional is the fact that there is no entrance fee. Only scammers are selling tickets to the place, so please do not buy them. Only the guided tours cost money and are highly recommended. You best book them on the official website. The site is currently [2020] closed for renovation, check the official website for updates.