The Fontanelle Cemetery in Naples is located just outside of what used to be the city center, in the Sanità neighborhood. What it is mostly known for is a cult called pezzentelle, in which the living and the dead exchanged certain favors. Currently, the cemetery is holding an estimated eight million human bones.
Fontanelle Cemetery Naples
Address: Via delle Fontanelle, 80 – Napoli. Telephone: +39 081 19703197. Opening hours: From 10am to 5pm. Admission: Free of charge. (At the time of writing, August 2023, the cemetery is closed, call first to see if it has reopened.)
The “guides” offering tours at the entrance are not official.
History and description
In 1656 a plague epidemic struck Naples and its population more than halved, from 400,000 60 150,000. Many victims were buried in a former tuff stone quarry in the Sanità district. Unfortunately, this meant that many among the deceased were buried outside the consecrated grounds of their parish churches, a circumstance that was believed their souls from entering Paradise.
More than two centuries later, in 1872, a parish priest called Gaetano Barbati encouraged the local population to clean up the cemetery. Local women started the habit of “adopting” a lost skull (anima pezzentella), by cleaning it, praying for it and placing it inside a protective marble (or a wooden box, if they were less wealthy) shrine. They also gave the skull a name, which had supposedly been communicated to them in a dream. In return, the defunct would make a wish come through or tell them (this is Naples, after all) what the winning lottery numbers were going to be.