San Gennaro Catacombs, Naples

February 19, 2020

I've had this post sitting in my drafts for over a year now. Right now, I'm writing a bumper post with my full trip itinerary from this past summer, when I spent a week in Naples. One of the places we visited was the Cimitero Delle Fontanelle, which reminded my of my already written post on the San Gennaro Catacombs. SO I thought I'd have a quick read over it, update it a wee bit and post it, ahead of my guide to Naples post coming next week - so here goes!

One thing that has been on my bucket list for the last few years when I've visited the Campania region of Italy, are the catacombs of Naples. I've always had an interest in funerary archaeology - my undergraduate dissertation was focussed on Ostia's necropoleis, and my first ever dig was in a medieval chapel graveyard. Finally this past summer I had the chance to take an afternoon and book onto a tour of San Gennaro.

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The San Gennaro catacombs houses an underground graveyard dating back to the 2nd century AD. The tombs started as the burial place for a noble family before expanding to a Christian burial place in the 4th century.

The deepest part of the catacombs contains a grave and basilica of Sant'Agrippino. The upper parts of the catacombs became the burial place of bishops - when San Gennaro's (the patron saint of Naples) remains were moved here in the 5th century, consecrating the catacombs as a site of pilgrimage.

34202946_10211756961375868_4195395832226250752_nI booked onto an afternoon tour, where there was a small group of us shown around the different levels of the catacombs by a tour guide. She was amazing at explaining different points of significance, and answering any questions we had.

My favourite thing to see in the catacombs was the beautiful frescoes that adorned some of the tombs. Most interesting was the story of the Thoetecnus family. The fresco dates back to the 6th century, and shows high status family. What's really cool is that there are three layers of plaster on the fresco, showing that each time a family member died, they were able to repaint the fresco to include each person.


There are so many beautiful frescos and mosaics to look at throughout the catacombs, including lots of Christian imagery.


It was such an interesting tour to take, and something I would highly recommend to anyone who's interested in something a little bit different for their visit to Naples. All of the remains are removed from the catacombs now, so you won't be seeing bones when you're down there. However, the visit is so atmospheric, you really get the sense of how sacred this place is. What I find really incredible, is that Mass can still be observed in the underground basilica.

They have a really fantastic website - here - which tells you of the history of the catacombs and shows some of the restoration work, and how they've opened the site to be accessible for the public!

Tours are offered in English, and the guides are so helpful. Some tips to bare in mind if you visit: you're underground, so of course it gets a little chilly. For a Brit on holiday this might not seem too cold (my Scottish body still had me sweating throughout), but taking a jumper / shirt would suffice for those who may feel the cold at 15 degrees. Also, the tour finishes at another end of the catacombs, leaving through a modern church and at a hospital. Have a map handy, or be prepared to call upon a taxi, as you're no longer in the tourist area of Naples and you may get lost.


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