The next day is dedicated to visiting the Catacombs of Naples (Via Tondo di Capodimonte), the most important in southern Italy, to which our Otto is also admitted.
Under the ground a city in the city
The appointment with the La Paranza Cooperative guys, for over ten years committed to the protection and enhancement of the Rione Sanità and formed by a group of young people who have decided to get busy to improve the neighborhood, is on the hill of Capodimonte.
They will accompany us on the tour that starts from the ticket office next to the Basilica Incoronata Madre del Buon Consiglio, where there is also ample space to park the car. Alternatively, you can take the bus: from the Archaeological Museum, go up towards Capodimonte and the bus stop is just in front of the ticket office.
At the Catacombs of San Gennaro, which present themselves as a real underground city that extends for 5800 square meters, it is accessed from the garden of the basilica. We are in the womb of Capodimonte: the Catacombs, the first in the world accessible to the disabled and the blind, are structured on two levels and are characterized by large spaces because unlike the Roman ones have never been used by the first Christians as shelter because in Naples they have never been persecuted.
They were born as a burial place and were enlarged in the 4th century AD following the deposition of the remains of Sant’Agrippino who was the first patron of Naples.
Inside you are surprised by the vastness of the rooms that in addition to burials of various kinds dug into the Neapolitan yellow tuff, hosting a large basilica from which you can access the remains of another oldest basilica with the frescoes of the first 14 bishops of Naples and for this called Cripta dei Vescovi.
At a lower level is the confessio of San Gennaro: here the remains of the saint were moved before finally finding a home in the Duomo.
Naples is well aware of what a saint to vote for! There are 52 his patron saints, one for each week of the year. Although the best known is San Gennaro and woe if his blood in the bottle does not melt in one of the three dates of the year, December 16, the Saturday before the first Sunday of May, the anniversary of the transfer of the body of the saint from Pozzuoli in Naples, and September 19, during the feast of the saint: a clear sign of misfortune. Flora, our guide, reminds us of two: in 1944 the last eruption of Vesuvius and in 1980 the earthquake.
The visit continues in the lower part where you almost lose yourself among the huge spaces with ceilings up to 6 meters high and with a large baptismal font wanted by the bishop Paul II, who in the eighth century took refuge in the Catacombs of San Gennaro because of the iconoclastic fights – as Flora explains accompanying us in the Basilica of San Gennaro Extra Moenia, remained closed for 41 years and today used as a location for concerts and events.
From the basilica you exit through the complex of S. Maria del Popolo degli Incurabili, a historic hospital, inaugurated on 23 March 1522 and strongly desired by the Catalan noblewoman Maria Lorenza Longo. From here you cross the entire Sanità district to reach the other Catacombs, those of San Gaudioso (entrance from the Basilica of Santa Maria della Sanità, in Piazza Sanità 14), which are located below the Basilica of Santa Maria della Sanità, also known such as the Church of San Vincenzo alla Sanità, whose statue is kept in a gilded Gothic shrine raised in 1836 by the faithful to defeat the cholera epidemic that struck the city.
Inside the church there are many works of great interest, but the attention is immediately captured by the pulpit and the baroque monumental staircase leading to the apse area, below which is the crypt from which it was once directly accessible to the catacomb.
Miriam explains to us, who accompanies us during the visit (which can be done with the same ticket of the Catacombs of San Gennaro that can be used within a year), which the Dominicans later, wishing to give prestige to the Basilica and attract faithful, decided to buy the relics of 13 saints that were placed in the side altars created with the closure of access to the crypt.
This operation proved to be effective and many faithful began to request, also paying very well, to be buried in a catacomb next to the saints, so that the works of this great baroque church were completed in only 8 years, between 1602 and 1610.
Going down you find another hypogeum very fascinating, more collected but also more suggestive than that of San Gennaro: the Catacombs of San Gaudioso, which are named after Gaudioso the African, bishop of Abitine in Tunisia who died here and was buried .
The oldest part dates back to the 5th century and from this period some frescoes and remains of mosaics, but the most interesting area is the main tunnel, enlarged in 1600: here are the humanoid frescoes that show the remains of real walled skulls in the wall.
These works, quite macabre, were a custom of the period for which a portrait was dedicated to the most important characters. Among these the most disturbing is that of the guardian of the cemetery, created with a set of parts of different bodies, and a painting that represents a sort of allegory of death, which inspired Totò for his famous poem ‘A livella.
In these catacombs there is a lower floor, not used for burial, but used to “drain” (scolare) the corpses: the dead were seated in niches carved in the walls of tuff, called cantarelle and under them were placed vases in which were deposited viscera and fluids so the body was dried before being transferred into the loculus. The schiattamuorti dealt with these practices. All the info on the site www.catacombedinapoli.it.
Returning to the surface you can decide to go back up the Ponte della Sanità to return to Capodimonte or continue to Borgo dei Vergini, with avalanches of scooters, markets and the splendours of Palazzo dello Spagnuolo, a wonderful example of architecture in Baroque style Neapolitan with double staircase and stucco decorations.
Walking through a bustle of people who never seem to stop, you can admire the murales scattered on the walls of the neighborhood and you are attracted by the smell of good that comes from Pasticceria Poppella (Via Arena della Sanità, 24), where Ciro, after giving welcome to the four paws together with his dog named Sharon, proposes his legendary Fiocco di Neve: it can not be described, it must be tried!
One leads to another and you can not help but come back before returning home for a glove of these delights with cream, babà and tart with wild strawberries. How do you not love a city where you can taste these goodness?
The addresses for dinner are a classic: Concettina ai Tre Santi (Via Arena della Sanità, 7 Bis) for the “margheritissima” with cherry tomatoes from Piennolo and Parmigiano Reggiano or ‘A Cucina ‘e Mammà (Via Foria, 101), a typical trattoria with true Neapolitan cuisine: try the spaghetti with octopus sauce.