Located in the Valley of the Dead, Naples ancient necropolis and modern day Rione Sanità district is a 30,000 square meter cavern burrowed into the tufo of Capodimonte Hill. Named for the abundance of fresh water springs in the area, some estimates say the Fontanelle Cemetery once held some 8 million human bones. The skeletal remains of those too poor to afford a proper burial place and the untold number of souls claimed by disease.
In use since the 1500s, it was a depository for every major epidemic starting with the plague of 1685 up through the cholera outbreak of 1836. In 1872, Father Gaetano Barbati took on the task of cleaning and cataloguing the skeletal remains. Soon after, the cult of the anime pezzentelle, the cult of the abandoned souls already active in the church of Santa Maria delle Anime del Purgatorio ad Arco and San Pietro ad Aram began cleaning and caring and praying for the souls doomed to spending eternity in purgatory.
This practice continued for nearly 100 years until the Archbishop closed the cemetery in 1969 over growing concern the cult had become fetishism. The Fontanelle Cemetery suffered a long period of degradation, but after a major renovation project that started in 2002, the cemetery was reopened to the public in 2006. Only open for a few days each year, after a protest in 2010, the Fontanelle Cemetery was returned to the public on a full time basis.
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