LivingTravelNaples, Italy's creepy Fontanelle cemetery

Naples, Italy's creepy Fontanelle cemetery

In the mid-17th century, an outbreak of the bubonic plague quickly spread throughout the Kingdom of Naples, which is now part of the modern country of Italy. However, the death rate exceeded the rate at which churches could prepare burial plots, forcing undertakers to take grisly measures – that is, moving the old remains into a cave to accommodate the new dead.

Do you think it’s creepy? You will never guess what happened to the bones after they were buried at a site now known as Fontanelle Cemetery, which today is estimated to contain more than eight million of them. Tip: You can see the answer to this question with your own eyes.

The indigent cemetery of Naples

Before I can tell you what happened to the bones in the Fontanelle cemetery, I need to explain a little more of the story: the burial of “old bones” after the overwhelming outbreak of the plague was just the beginning of the macabre here.

Undoubtedly, a few decades later, a period of great flooding in Naples caused the bones of the cemetery to be washed out of the cave. Once the waters receded and the bones were finally restored, it was in an even more careless and careless way than before. This led the French, who had overtaken the city in the early 19th century, to designate the Fontanelle Cemetery as the official final resting place for the destitute population of Naples.

A spooky cult of devotion

As if all this wasn’t bad enough, a new epidemic struck Naples in the mid-19th century (this time, it was cholera), leading to even more anonymous corpses being buried in the Fontanelle Cemetery. At the same time, word of the existence of the cemetery around Naples spread, prompting city residents to start seeing it for themselves, many sympathizing with the bones.

Others were frankly devout, arguing that since the dead buried in the Fontanelle cemetery had largely lived lives of invisibility and destitution, they should be cared for in death, a trend that eventually resulted in the formation of ‘cults of devotion to the bones. These became increasingly ubiquitous until 1969, when the Cardinal of Naples banned them because of their sacrilege and closed the cemetery.

How to visit the Fontanelle cemetery

The good news is that the Fontanelle Cemetery has since been reopened, albeit as a historic site, rather than a cemetery in active use. With that said, you shouldn’t be surprised to enter the cave and see more skulls than you can count, not to mention the other random bones scattered about. The Fontanelle Cemetery is certainly in contention for the strangest open-air museum in the world, to say the least.

To visit the Fontanelle Cemetery, which is free from July 2014, take line 1 of the Naples metro to the “Materdei” station, then follow the signs pointing to Cimitero delle Fontanelle . Alternatively, take a taxi to «Cimitero delle Fontanelle». The cemetery is open every day from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and you don’t need an appointment or a ticket to visit, although if you visit during the winter you must dress in a coat, as the museum is technically outdoors.

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