Catacombs are underground burial systems. It is a vast sheet structure built underground and includes corridors and halls on the walls of carved human graves, actually collections of bones. Throughout history, catacombs were discovered in several European places for Jewish and Christian dead. The custom began in ancient times and has similar brothers in Israel, such as the Cave of the Patriarchs and the Sanhedrin Caves.
According to archaeological estimates, the catacombs in Naples were built around the second century AD and are particularly impressive. Visiting the burial caves is recommended if only to have a different experience and an exciting and unusual historical tour. Today, the city has three underground burial sites that have been discovered so far: San Gennaro, San Severo, and San Gaudioso.
The Catacombs of San Gennaro: The burial caves of San Gennaro are the largest in southern Italy (and even more extensive than the famous caves in Rome). They cover an area of almost six dunams in a two-story building. The site was discovered in excavations conducted on Capodimonte Hill. The structure was built under volcanic soil, and the caves are covered with a material called volcanic tuff.
The caves of San Gennaro became famous since the patron saint San Gennaro, the most popular of the 52 patrons that Naples had, was buried there. The burial was for the entire Christian population of the city. Still, it is built in a specific order so that the first graves belonged to high-ranking personalities and noble families, and gradually, the classes descended to the common people.
Besides burial sites, the catacombs were also used as a holy place, as many bishops and leaders were also buried there. That is why they were also designated for prayer and were called “the churches of the bishops.” In the catacombs of San Gennaro, about 3,000 graves of those who died during about 300 years. In the fifth century AD, the place was already overcrowded with graves, and the local bishop decided to move the burial to the main cathedral of Naples.
Catacombs of San Gaudicione – Beneath the grounds of the Santa Maria della Sanità church is the second underground burial site, the Catacombs of San Gaudicione. The catacombs of San Gaudisio are significantly smaller than their counterparts in San Gennaro and contain many relics and mosaics from the Byzantine period. Many Christian elements from the fifth and sixth centuries can be seen there. The caves are named after a respected bishop, who fought for his Christian faith when Christianity declined in favor of idolatry. The king at the time, Genseric, was enraged by Gaudisio’s rebellious activity and together with other rebels, exiled him far from the city in a boat to the heart of the sea. When Gaudisio died, as a mark of disgrace, he was buried outside the walls of Naples. Fortunately for him, that cemetery was expanded and years later became the catacombs named after him. More and more burials were added to the place until the 17th century.
The Catacombs of San Severo: Severo was the 12th bishop of Naples. The story is similar to that of Gaudisio. His opinion was known for the fact that, at a time when idolatry threatened the Christian faith of the inhabitants, he managed to strengthen and restore the religion and became a spiritual father to many believers. He founded four basilicas in Naples, two of which are still known today (San Severo and San Giorgio). The catacombs of San Severo were established in the fifth century and were only discovered in the 19th century. Unlike the caves of San Gennaro and San Gaudisio, they were less well preserved and are therefore not open to the public.
How to get there – the two catacomb sites open to the public are quite accessible, and getting to them is relatively simple. The entrance to San Gennaro’s catacombs is via the Capodimonte 13. The entrance to the catacombs of San Gaudioso is via the address Sanità Square 14. You can go to the places on foot from the historic center of the city or take the bus lines 178, 168, or R4 from there. You can also walk from the Archaeological Museum of Naples for a few minutes.
Prices – a ticket for each burial site separately costs 9 euros. You can visit the catacombs with a combined ticket that costs 18 euros and is valid for one month. A local guide necessarily accompanies the visit to the caves.
It should be noted that the on-site training is excellent and is combined with entertaining theatrical performances with costumed actors. The tours are held in groups (usually of about 30 people). They start in the evening and last approximately one to two hours. Advanced booking is required.