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Naples, Italy

Catacombs of San Gennaro

Underground paleo-Christian burial site, composed of the remains of several cemeteries and Basilicas 

The Catacombs of San Gennaro (St. Januarius) are considered by many to be the most significant paleo-Christian ruins in Italy south of Rome. They are situated in the northern part of the city, on the slope leading up to Capodimonte, on a site that is now easily identified by the large church of Madre del Buon Consiglio. In early Christian days, there were actually three cemeteries, dedicated, respectively, to San Gaudioso, San Severo, and San Gennaro. The three grew together and are now known collectively as the Catacombs of San Gennaro.

These Catacombs in Naples are different from their Roman counterparts in that they have more spacious passageways along two levels. The lower level is the oldest, going back to the 3rd or 4th century CE and may actually be the site of an earlier pre-Christian cemetery later ceded to the new sect. It became an important religious burial site only after the entombment there of Bishop Agrippinus of Naples. The second level was the one expanded so as to encompass the other two adjacent cemeteries. The site was consecrated to Gennaro (Januarius) in the 5th century on the occasion of the entombment of his earthly remains there. The remains were later moved to the nearby Cathedral of Naples, where they are still housed.

Between the 13th and 18th centuries, however, the catacombs were the victim of severe looting. Restoration of the catacombs was made possible only after the transfer of skeletal remains to another cemetery.

Today the catacombs are prized especially for both the length of the period they were in continued use - from the emergence of Christianity until the 10th century - and the well-preserved fresco cycles that decorate their corridors and chapels, spanning from the 2nd to the 10th centuries.

Obscura Day location: April 9, 2011.

Know Before You Go

Turn right out of hostel and you will arrive at Via Depretis. Cross to the bus stop on the other side of the street and catch R4 bus to Via Capodimonte. Follow alley alongside of the Madre del Buon Consiglio church.

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