From the Fontanelle Cemetery to the Farmacia degli Incurabili: discover the sites to visit in Naples and delve into the most unusual and secret part of the city.
Would you like to visit Naples as you have never seen it? Yes, we know – the city of Mount Vesuvius has endless historical, artistic, architectural… and even excellent culinary attractions, thanks to pizza and other delicious specialties!
But what if for once, you wanted to organize a city tour of the city of curiosities and its unknown places? Let’s leave aside the most famous streets and monuments for a moment and delve into a secret city: here are the places to visit in Naples to discover a previously unseen part of it that, we are sure, will fascinate you!
The Fontanelle Cemetery in Naples
In the heart of the Sanità district, carved out of a huge tuff cave, is a very special place: the Campusanto d’e Funtanelle, or Cimitero delle Fontanelle, a giant mass grave with many hundreds of skulls (called “cappuzzelle”) on display. These are the remains of all the people who were killed by the plague epidemic of 1656, then by the following famines and cholera: too many to be buried individually.
Today, according to the ritual of “peasant souls“, it is possible to “adopt” a skull, polishing and honoring it, and the soul of the deceased will grant a favor in return. Some cappuzzelle are said to have specific powers: ‘A Capa d’o Capitano is said to help unmarried girls find husbands, while ‘A capa ‘e Pascale is reputed to suggest winning Lotto numbers!
Unusual attractions in Naples: the Gate of San Gennaro
The second stop on our tour to discover the unusual sights of Naples takes us to the Porta di San Gennaro, the city’s oldest gate. Located opposite Piazza Cavour, it is mentioned as early as in some documents from the year 928 and was the only access point to the heart of the city for those coming from the north.
Of the seven ancient gates of Naples, it is the only one that has preserved its own fresco: this one depicts St. Gennaro and was donated by the painter Mattia Preti as a votive offering after the plague of the 17th century. As you cross it, you will find that the setting changes considerably from here on, as you enter the Greek part of Naples.
The Bourbon Gallery, one of the sites to visit in Naples
By now you know, it is under the ground that Naples hides some of its most amazing treasures-we have already seen this by taking you on a subterranean tour of the city and introducing you to the Neapolitan subway, with its beautiful art stations. Today, instead, we take you to discover the Bourbon Gallery, a fascinating underground tunnel.
In the project commissioned by Ferdinand II to Enrico Alvino, the intention was to connect Largo di Palazzo (today’s Piazza del Plebiscito) with Piazza della Vittoria, so that in case of emergency the sovereign could quickly reach the sea. Today, you can walk through the Bourbon Gallery with various itineraries and admire bridges, walls and walkways, on the way encountering the great tuff Carafa Caves, ancient Roman cistern.
But that’s not all: during World War II, the tunnel served as a hiding place (and still houses numerous everyday objects of the time); then, until the 1970s, it was used as a judicial repository: this is why you can admire statues, motorcycles, and even vintage cars.
Naples and the Spanish Palace
In the eighteenth century, when King Charles of Bourbon reached the Royal Palace of Capodimonte from Naples, he had to travel over the Vergini alla Sanità, a route so steep that the horses that towed his carriage had to be replaced by oxen. The “ritual” took place inside a building designed by architect Ferdinando Sanfelice: today, the Palazzo dello Spagnolo remains as a fine example of Neapolitan Baroque architecture.
In your itinerary of the unusual and secret Naples, observe in particular its extravagantly shaped staircases-Sanfelice’s designs were famous for their originality, so much so that the people feared they might collapse at any moment and had nicknamed the architect “Sanfelì, lievet’ ‘a sotto” (“Sanfelice, get out from under”).
Among the lesser known places: the Pharmacy of the incurables
The last of the places to visit in Naples is the Farmacia degli Incurabili, attached to the Renaissance hospital known as Santa Casa degli Incurabili located at the top of the Upper Decumanus. It is a true gem that tells of the city’s artistic history (with its Baroque-Rococo elements) and, at the same time, the history of medicine and pharmacology.
Inside the Pharmacy of the Incurables, you can see precious vases and urns that contained spices and ancient medicines, including the legendary theriac, a mixture containing, among other things, opium, meat and viper skin that was considered the panacea of all evils. Fun fact: the Pharmacy was also one of the symbolic sites of Neapolitan Freemasonry.
Would you like to know more about these and other places of secret Naples? Read “Napoli insolita e segreta” by Valerio Ceva Grimaldi and discover all the most original and unusual places in the capital of Campania.
To Naples with Italo
If this alternative Naples has amazed you, don’t wait: take one of the many trains to Naples that Italo offers from anywhere in Italy and set off on this itinerary to discover the most unknown and interesting places in the city!