Hello dear! How are you feeling? Today we will have probably not the most positive topic but certainly quite exciting one. Let's look at the cemetery of Fontanelle (Cimitero fontanelle) in Naples. But there won’t be graves and cemetery in their classical understanding. We will dive into the history and even recall the Italian camorra.
Fontanelle Cemetery is an ossuary. The place or building where the skeletons of the dead are stored. Many ancient civilizations are known for such things. The Egyptians mummified their rulers. The Phoenicians in Carthage, the Mayans in Mesoamerica, the Jews during the Second Temple, even Catholics and Orthodox did not bury dead people in some cases. We can recall the catacombs of Paris with the remains of more than 6 million people. In Naples it’s not so grand — there are only about 40,000 people. Although it is believed that the remaining bones are stored under the floor four meters deep.
In Naples the ossuary is located in a cave which at that time was still outside the city. In this area there were several tuff quarries used to extract tuff — the material from which Naples was actually built. When the need arose for new burial places in the city it was decided to use one of the caves. First buried remains from city cemeteries began to be moved here to free places for new deceased wealthy citizens.
The main burial places in the cave were created in 1656 during the plague epidemic. At that time about one and a half thousand people died every day in Naples. After the plague ended the cave was walled up and opened only to add contents during the next epidemics. Well, it’s even hard to imagine — a huge cave littered with the corpses of people ... sick with plague. Well this is like an unopened abscess on the body.
But than at the end of the 17th century several floods occurred and washed the remains of the cave. Again try to imagine it — dirty rivers with bones along the city streets. After that the corpses of the poor people who had no money for burial were brought to the cemetery. In 1837 there was an epidemic of cholera and naturally the cemetery was used again.
In 1872 residents started to order the remains and tradition of caring for nameless skulls appeared in Naples.
They were decorated, given names and asked for advice. Followers of the cult noted that they respect those who did not have anything during their lifetime, who were too poor even for a proper burial. They faithfully visited the skulls, cleaned them, “adopted”, thus even “returning” the names to the skulls. Then they began to pray at them and ask for help from the dead. The people even said that when the spirit of the deceased fulfills the request his skull begins to sweat. In fact, this is just condensation from high humidity in the dungeon.
The cult lasted until the 20th century when the Neapolitan cardinal decided that all this smells like fetishism and banned all this stuff. In 2010 the cemetery was opened as a historical museum.
The cult of death is still alive in Naples although it is not so openly demonstrated.
The cave is quiet and a bit cool. Rough corridors lead deep into the labyrinth. The nave on the left is filled with the remains of priests from city parishes. The central corridor belongs to the victims of the famous plague epidemic of 1655; in the hall to the right are the skeletons of the beggars.
Light from the main entrance illuminates only part of the underground necropolis. Distant corridors lose their outlines in stone shadows. The cave absorbs the light of the sun, draws it into the black eye sockets.
A dim yellow light oozes from the depths of the rough arches. Like bonfires of past dark ages. The fire is creeping up the steep walls but moisture and silence nails it on dusty skulls.
Thousands of evenly-placed eye sockets follow every step of the living. They absorb everything — the sounds of steps, the voices of the living. This is their kingdom. Even after death, they saw only darkness and the insane tricks of mad people.
And this is not the scenery. These are the people. They were once alive. And now the strongest part of their flesh is just lying on the ground behind a wooden fence. As if they were just so fake accessories.
In the very depths of the gloomy corridors there is a niche with three crosses and a base of skulls at the central cross. It’s considered that the peaks of ancient Camorra met here for taking blood oaths, death sentences and other rituals. Demonstration trials of the guilty colleagues were held here as well. In principle, the surroundings are just right.
In the Italian mafia ranking the Neapolitan camorra takes an honorable third place, immediately after the Calabrian mafia and the Sicilian Cosa Nostra. But in the level of bloodthirstiness and lawlessness it was the undisputed leader. Camorra originally played the role of intelligence and counterintelligence under the king in the 18th century. Executioners and assassins were recruited from it. But then the control over it was lost and Camorra turned to total terror.
Camorra (from the Neap. Morra — «gang") has never been a single organization. It consisted and consists of several groups (now there are about 200 of them) whose leaders do not subordinate to anyone. The more difficult it is to chop off the head of a snake. The mafia is constantly replenished with the youth from poor areas. Even Camorra Dons themselves live in the poor quarters of Naples — moving to wealthy quarters can lead to the loss of authority and power for them.
Smuggling, drugs, racketeering, sheltering prostitutes, counterfeiting and arms trading — all that bring huge turns of illegal money. Interestingly one of Camorra's main businesses is the recycling of industrial waste. It overwhelmed Campagna province with mountains of garbage and toxic industrial waste which naturally affects agriculture and the health of residents.
In general, it seems that Naples is beautiful city, sunny, on the seashore. But in hidden ‘caves’ everything is littered with dead.
Fontanelle Cemetery is open for visits daily from 10:00 to 17:00 hours. Last entry 30 minutes before closing. Admission is free (free). Opening hours are subject to change.
Address: Via Fontanelle, 80 (near Via Vallone dei Gerolomini). Nearby there is the metro Materdei.
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