We arrived in Naples around lunch time after getting of the high-speed train from Rome. We found our hostel, that had moved location without telling anyone, by sheer luck and after walking up and down the street for ages and did some research on what to do. We already had Mount Vesuvius and the ruins of Pompeii booked for the following day but now that left us half a day to explore the city. Some searching later, we found that the city had and continues to have quite a few macabre traditions. The first place we found was Fontanelle cemetery. It looked like a quick and easy to walk but after following the map we had a walk through the dodgiest slum town past lots of Italian gypsies to get there. At one point we walked past a shop which looked like a cave inside covered in graffiti (on the inside!) with a group of men smoking and drinking spirits while gambling We walked for half hour until we finally spotted the entrance to the cave behind a big gate. After slinking past the attendee, because we didn’t know if we had to pay (turns out it is free), we started to explore the cave. The back story is that poor people, plague and cholera victims were housed here when churches ran out of places for them to be interned inside the city walls. Soon a death cult sprung up where woman adopted the bones of dead, cleaned them up and payed respect to the dead who had none in life.
Sometimes the women even named them after their names were revealed in their dreams. The cult lasted until recently when it was outlawed but we still saw lots of fresh evidence of the thousands of skulls being cared for. The creepiest part by far was the headless scarecrow made from bones. The cave complex is quite big with many rooms and many thousands of skulls piled high upon themselves. There was even a huge wall made up entirely of skulls and bones! After a quick tour of the cave and an even quicker walk back through the slums we were back on our way to the regular tourist spots and sights. We made it back to the main strip and went to visit the Veiled statue of the Christ in Cappella Sansevero, however at 10 euros to see one statue we moved on.
Just down the road is the Santa Maria del Purgatorio ad Arco. This was another place that wasn’t what it seemed. On the surface it looked like another normal baroque style church but when you looked closely you could also see some hidden skulls mixed in with the baroque decorations.
Hidden downstairs was the church’s other face- the hypogeum. Here this 1600’s church was very different. Down here it was a church again devoted to the cult of the dead. It really reminded me of a vampire’s lair. It was old with peeling white walls and decorated with wrought iron and black crosses on alters. The main area seems quiet empty but you got the feeling that it had been sanitized with many things being removed in recent years. When you walked into the back areas things started to get creepy.
Again, they had the skull worship but the scariest part was the color photos of the people who the skulls belonged to. Not black and white photos but recent color photos. There was a hole where the poor dead were thrown down into and several niches where the dead were idolized and decorated. However the last room was the stuff of horror movies. The last room was like a small church with a walk way down the middle leading to a black altar at the end.
However it was the 10 or so dirt graves flanking you on each side which was so scary. There were even dirt mounds that covered the remains of the corpses. It felt like at any minute an angry vampire would strike his hand up through the damp ground towards us. There was no black guy here and we were the foreigners so we would definitely be the first to die. Luckily for us that didn’t happen and I quickly took some photos while the tour guide was leaving. The tour was short and all in Italian but the combination of these two a place in the same day was truly creepy.
After a sample of the famous Naples pastries had hit our stomachs (yum!) we explored the back streets and the local folk art. After another coffee and a relax we head to the Naples Subterrania or the Naples underground tour.
We got in for the teachers admission of 8€ but normal entry is 10€. Here forty meters below the city streets of Naples we explored the ancient Roman aqua filter, which was built to hold the whole cities water. Slaves built the caves and used the stones to build the buildings of the city and even Pompeii. After the water was infected with cholera, the aqua filter was decommissioned and filled with cement and later used as WW2 bomb shelters, with the water holes used as ventilation. We were given candles and the lights were turned out as we got to explore the extremely tight spaces the slaves had to work under which was quite spooky/fun!
Parts of the aqua filter had been transformed into the nun’s secret habit, storing their food and for a while wine with rumors that they came down to be un-nunly like with monks!! Parts of the aqua filter also served as science experiments as the air was at a constant temperature and humidity meaning plants can grown without any water. Finally we were taken into someones house which up until recently was inhabited by a family, unknown to them their house was built on-top of an old Roman theater! We went down to their wine cellar and past the wall which had been knocked down which opened up into a massive space!! It was a great little tour with a guide which made it extremely interesting and a great way to finish off the day. After that we went back to the hotel for a snake themed pizza, a few too many glasses of wine and a climb up to our tree house style bed. Naples was short but great.