As of August 6th, Italy set a new decree stating that it is mandatory to have a “green pass” showing a person is vaccinated in order to enter basically any indoor establishment (museums, malls, indoor dining, underground, etc). Luckily for us we didn’t really have to worry about that until a few days later. We had been keeping it low key for awhile; mainly due to the fact that our car had been in the repair shop for weeks, plus the weather had reached a steady 90-100 degrees every day. As we began August I finally faced the truth that I was struggling with my Italian and I needed to get back at it and quickly! Learning continued to get pushed to the back burner and I was in major need of some inspiration. So on that fist weekend of August we braved the insane heat and new rules and used the bus system for the first time to get us to downtown Napoli. I needed to feel that chaos, see locals interacting during their daily routines, and eat some Neapolitan pizza to revive that mundaneness that comes with base living in the middle of nowhere when your only car is stuck in the repair shop. The decree was still new at the time and I had heard that some establishments didn’t recognize the CDC vaccine cards issued by the States as valid. Because of that, we also carry a copy of the part of the decree in Italian saying that our cards are the equivalent of their pass- just to make sure that we aren’t turned away. (We actually still carry it to this day!) Thankfully, we didn’t have, or have had since then, any problems. We will continue to safely explore no matter how crazy everything is. Time keeps moving and I won’t let it pass me by while I’m here. We had purchased tickets weeks before to visit the Catacombs of San Gaudioso, but we also discovered some other highlights by accident just from walking around. Napoli is still one of my favorite places here!
Catacomb of San Gaudioso
The story of St. Gaudiosus
“Septimius Celius Gaudiosus, known as Gaudiosus of Naples or Gaudiosus the African, was bishop of Abitina, in Tunisia. He arrived in Naples through a fortuitous event: after the invasion of the Vandals, he refused to convert to Arianism, so king Genseric had him placed on a ship without sails or oars, along with other exiled Christians, including Quodvultdeus, bishop of Carthage (buried in the Catacombs of San Gennaro). When he died, between 451 and 453 AD, he was buried in the cemetery outside the city walls of Naples, and his place of burial soon began to arouse devotion. From that time onwards, the early Christian underground cemetery expanded and gradually became the Catacombs of San Gaudioso.
The works of St. Gaudiosus
During his stay in Naples, he settled on the hill of Capodimonte, where he built a monastery. Several works are attributed to Gaudiosus:
- He founded the Caponapoli monastery
He introduced the Rule of St. Augustine into the monastery. This was a series of written instructions on the monastic life from the 5th century to date
He is accredited with transferring part of the relics of Santa Restituta to Naples, kept in the namesake early Christian basilica, which is now part of Naples Cathedral.
The first part of the catacomb was built between the 4th and 5th century AD. The Catacombs were extended following the burial of the North African bishop, deposited here between 451 and 453 AD. The Catacombs of San Gaudioso are the second largest in Naples, and includes both early Christian and 17th century elements. On one side there is the intensity of the early Christian elements, such as the tomb of St. Gaudiosus and frescoes and mosaics of the 5th and 6th centuries, and on the other, the special graves reserved for nobles, dating back to the 17th century, when the catacombs resumed the function of a burial site.”
One of the interesting things about this catacomb is the hall of skeletons. “During the 17th century, the site mainly contained graves for aristocrats and the clergy. The tombs of the nobles and clergy were created following a special procedure. The skulls were placed on display in the walls of the ambulatory, while the rest of the body was frescoed, usually with the clothes and professional instruments that represented the social status of the deceased. The frescoes were painted by Giovanni Balducci, an artist who refused payment in order to be buried among the aristocrats in the Catacombs of San Gaudioso.”
The second interesting, and kind of disturbing, thing was the burial process. “The burial of nobles and clergy involved the practice of draining. Draining was a process in which corpses were placed in niches so that they would lose their fluids. This process took place in small cavities called seditoi, drainers or in Neapolitan cantarelle, from the Greek canthàrus, due to the vessel placed under the deceased, which had the function of collecting the cadaveric fluids. Once the process was complete, the bones were washed and finally laid to rest. This macabre task was performed by a figure called a schiattamuorto. The schiattamuorto had the task of placing the corpses to drain, carefully creating holes in the bodies in order to facilitate the desiccation process. Today, even though the tasks have changed, an undertaker is still called a schiattamuorto. The spaces in the catacombs, although large, were nevertheless cramped and unhealthy, due to the draining. The few openings in the Catacombs of San Gaudioso included trap doors that led to the crypt, but these were only opened during funeral rites, so that the deceased could be placed in the drainage niches. This meant that the schiattamuorti worked in appalling conditions of hygiene and were inevitably destined to fall ill. A well-known expletive derives from this ritual:
“Puozze sculà!”, or “may your life drain away “, i.e. may you die. “
“Down here, do you see, we are both the same? You’re dead and so am I; each of us is the same as the other.”
Totò, ‘A Livella
Totò and Rione Sanità
“Totò was born in Via Santa Maria Antesaecula, not far from the Catacombs of San Gaudioso. Antonio was born in circumstances of severe economic and family hardship. Born from a secret affair, his father, the marquis Giuseppe De Curtis, initially refused to acknowledge him. The family was only reunited in the early 1920s, and then moved to Rome. The Prince never forgot his beloved district. Every now and then, he would walk through the streets of his neighbourhood at nighttime, leaving ten thousand lire notes under the doors of the most needy families. The bond with his neighbourhood was so strong that when he died, after a funeral in Rome and in Naples, a third one was held in Rione Sanità.”
We actually walked through Naples’ district of Rione Sanità and the surrounding area. Here are some other gems we happened to see:
⭐️ Casa di Totò: We could see the outside of the apartment of famous Italian actor and comedian, Totò, born in apt. 107 (later moving next door to 109) here in the Rione Sanità of Napoli.
⭐️ Palazzo dello Spagnolo: late Baroque style palace known for its elaborate staircase.
⭐️ Palazzo Sanfelice: another elaborate staircase built in the palace in the early 1700’s.
⭐️ Porta Capuana: an ancient door to Naples built in the 1400’s!
[info: catacombedinapoli.it/en/places/catacombs-of-san-gaudioso-naples ]
Our roots will forever be from here, America, born and raised. Yet, life requires us to move more frequently than we care to count. Whether living stateside or abroad, you can always find us traveling somewhere. We scout out places that you only think you can dream of one day seeing and we seek out those that aren’t found in guidebooks. We then bring them to life here in our travel memos, so hopefully, one day you too can visit them or at least be able to live vicariously through us. This blog isn’t just about crossing off places from a bucket list. It’s about absorbing and learning how other cultures grow and fit into the same world that we do. Life is short and the world is big. Enjoy and get out there!