Despite the name, Fontanelle Cemetery in Naples isn’t a traditional cemetery. It’s a place of many thousands of burials, but it’s actually an ossuary built into a natural cave in the soft rock underneath the Capodimonte Hill in the early 16th century. It served as a burial ground until the late 1960s.
The bones interred at Fontanelle were painstakingly catalogued and re-organized in the early 1870s, after flooding and mass burials had made the cemetery more of a jumbled mess. A cult devoted to the skulls in the cemetery sprang up, and a church was built at the entrance. Today, visitors can still see the church - Maria Santissima del Carmine - as well as the cataloging work done in the 19th century.
Prior to 2010, Fontanelle was only open to the public on a few days every year. Now, it’s open year-round. Visitors are free to walk through the site without a guide, though joining a tour that includes Fontanelle Cemetery as one of its stops is beneficial to help make sense of the history of the place. Tours that include off-the-beaten-path parts of Naples sometimes include Fontanelle Cemetery.
Note that if you do decide to visit on your own without a tour, some people may try to sell you tickets outside the entrance. Entry to the cemetery is free, so don’t pay for a ticket.