Ciao ragazzi (hi guys) – you see I have been practising my Italian, though my Thursday bank holiday was spent in slightly less chatty company. In the Sanità district (one of the tourist spots on my doorstep) lies the Cimitero delle Fontanelle, a cave-like tomb filled with carefully ordered bones. I knew about the practise of adopting skulls before my visit (and there are still some in carved boxes, or others with coins, flowers, bus tickets and even a phone on their heads), however I was not prepared for the size of the place, nor the access that visitors are granted. Cavernous stone rooms are lined with bones and skulls neatly arranged facing the same way, around one corner is even a place where I would guess the religious practices used to take place with wooden seats around a religious figure. This is one of the creepier places, in shadows with the drip drip coming from the ceiling emphasising its current disuse.
If you want to visit yourself, I would recommend the official page (helpfully with options in Italian, English and German). Currently visiting is free (which I think is great, I’m sure another city would charge an entry fee) and the visiting times from the official site (currently) are Monday to Sunday, 10am to 5pm. There are tours available, but given that I’m not the biggest tour fan I’m afraid I cannot be a huge help on this. I much prefer seeing things in my own time (with time to pause and draw), however with the odd history of such a place I can see why a tour might be appealing. For me, though, it seemed a place to be viewed in quiet consideration.
I found the tombs fascinating, (really, how could you not?) so have done more research post visiting:
In the early 16th century undertakers began moving bodies to the tomb outside the city to make room in the churches, these bodies were joined in 1656 by thousands of victims of the plague. According to a Neapolitan scholar of the 19th century (Andrea De Jorio), great floods washed these remains into the streets. The remains were returned to the tomb, and the site became a paupers’ cemetery. The last great burial in the tombs is thought to be following the cholera epidemic of 1837. In 1872, Father Gaetano Barbati had the remains disinterred and catalogued. A cult of devotion to the remains of these anonymous dead began in Naples, members pointing out that they offered respect to the remains of those who had seen little in life. They ‘adopted’ skulls by cleaning them, naming them, asking for favours and bringing flowers. The cult lasted until 1969 when Cardinal Ursi of Naples decided that such devotion had degenerated into fetishism and ordered the cemetery to be closed (though of course it can now be visited, and from the fresh looking offerings I have seen (such as recent metro tickets and jewellery) the practice must in some part be ongoing).
The resource for this post was the official site, particularly the history page is very useful.