Piles of human skulls on display in the Fontanelle Cemetery burial ground
Photo by Antonio Manfredonio  –  Link

Fontanelle Cemetery

Italy > Naples

What is the Cimitero delle Fontanelle?

With an area of 325,000 square feet, this mass catacombs is quite a site to behold.

The Fontanelle Cemetery, originally a quarry, became a makeshift burial place for victims of the 1656 plague, which killed off nearly two-thirds of the population. As cemeteries filled up in the churchyards within the city, Naples was forced to bury the dead here, on the outskirts, north of the San Gennaro gate. They chose a cave in the Capodimente hill as the site for Fontanelle Cemetery (named for the many springs in the area).

However, tradition dictates that being buried away from one's parish church causes the soul to enter a sort of purgatory, unable to reach heaven. So, in order to assist the souls on their journey to the afterlife, a ritual called anime pezzentelle was born...

Anime Pezzentelle

During the 19th century and beyond it became popular for locals - and particularly local women - to "adopt" the skulls buried in Cimitero delle Fontanelle in order to help them out of purgatory. These devotees, part of the "Cult of the Dead", would bring gifts to the skulls, pray for their souls and ask them for favours in return. This practice became known as anime pezzentelle (roughly translated as "derelict souls" or "abandoned souls").

The cult grew even more popular during times of crisis, like World War I and World War II. Devotees would create entire life stories for their skulls and even attempt to communicate with them. This macabre ritual didn't stop until the 1960s, when Cardinal Corrado Ursi finally closed the ossuary in fear that the ritual was bordering on fetishism.

After lying in disrepair for years, the Fontanelle Cemetery reopened to the public in 2010.

Opening Times

Throughout the Year

  • Open Daily: 10:00 AM to 05:00 PM
Price Information

Entry to Fontanelle Cemetery

  • General Free
Address

80,

Via Fontanelle

Naples

Campania

Italy 80136