Travel

Rick Steves takes you on a tour of Europe’s most offbeat cemeteries

Over the years, I’ve popped into a lot of burial grounds – some peaceful and scenic, some eerie and evocative – all revealing compelling stories of the past. Some high-profile places – such as the catacombs in Rome or Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris –get a lot of press; these are some of my favorite lesser-known places to commune with Europeans long gone.

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Cemetery of the Fountains (Naples)

The series of caves known as the Cemetery of the Fountains (Cimitero delle Fontanelle) are stacked with human bones and dotted with chapels.

A thousand years ago, this was just a quarry cut into the hills north of Naples. But in the 16th century, churches with crowded burial grounds began moving the bones of their long-dead here to make room for the newly dead.

In Italy, Naples' Cemetery of the Fountains (Cimitero delle Fontanelle) houses the remains of paupers and plague victims. Eventually, locals started "adopting" them and giving them names.

Later, these caves housed the bones of plague victims and paupers. In the 19th century, many churches again emptied their cemeteries and added even more skulls to this vast ossuary. Then devout locals started to “adopt” the remains. They named the skulls, put them in little houses, brought them flowers, and asked them to intervene with God for favors. If you visit this free sight in Naples’ gritty Sanità District, consider bringing some flowers too.


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