Italy is a popular destination for tourists from around the world due to its natural beauty, food and people. It also has a long and rich history that reaches back to antiquity. Let’s explore two darker places from Italy’s ancient times.
The Capuchin Crypt of Palermo, Sicily
Visitors to the Capuchin Crypt of Palermo are guided by a monk down a dark staircase that leads down to the crypt where many bodies are hanging from the walls on hooks. Some are in niches higher up the wall, and their eyes seem to watch visitors as they pass by. Most are still wearing their best clothes. Bones have been carefully stacked in some corners of the crypt. The atmosphere is creepy but reverent at the same time.
The crypt was built by the monks of the Capuchin Monastery of Palermo. The Capuchin monks fall under the Franciscan Order and wear a hood or cappuccio in Italian from which the name their order comes from. The first body interred in 1599 was that of Brother Silvestro da Gubbio. The crypt is divided into five sections. The first is devoted to the monks; the second is the Men’s section followed by the Women’s section which has an area for virgins who have metal bands on their skulls. The fourth section is for Professionals such as soldiers, doctors, lawyers and other well educated men. The final section is reserved for the bodies of priests.
It is oddly interesting to see the outfits the corpses are wearing. They reveal the history of clothing and military garb from the late 1500’s to 1871 when the body of Brother Riccardo was the last to be interred. The monks’ embalming process used vinegar as the preservation agent.
One more body was placed in the crypt in 1920, that of Rosalia Lombardo, a young child who succumbed to pneumonia. She is known as “Sleeping Beauty” and she appears to be napping. But it is a sleep that is frozen in time. Her family’s physician used a secret chemical process for embalming which preserved her body remarkably well. It is only in recent decades that her body began to show signs of deterioration. As of 2011 the monastery was working with the physician’s descendants to see if his embalming formula can be found in any of his papers. Visitors report an unsettling feeling of being watched as they move through the catacombs. Over time it has developed the reputation for being one of Italy’s most haunted and macabre locations.
The Ruins of Pompeii
Situated 7 miles east of Naples and 130 miles south of Rome Pompeii was an affluent town with 20,000 residents that contained temples, baths, theaters, houses and shops. The town gained its prosperity by catering to the needs of vacationing government officials and their families who spent their summers on the nearby coast.
Pompeii was also located in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius, an active volcano to this day, that erupted on August 24, 79 AD and buried Pompeii under many feet of ash. This fierce eruption stopped Pompeii in its tracks as her residents went about their daily lives carrying on with their usual activities. These poor people suffocated on the thick ash that filled the air and then fell to the ground where the volcanic ash preserved the town in a time capsule. In 1738 builders for the King of Naples were doing work where Pompeii once stood when they began to uncover ancient artifacts long buried in the ground. Archeological excavations began 10 years later and eventually revealed the streets and structures of Pompeii and its way of life. Mid-19th Century archeologist Giuseppe Fiorelli filled the air pockets left by the decomposed bodies with plaster of Paris and created body casts that caught them in their moment of death.
The streets of Pompeii have also been excavated and today tourists walk them to see the silent buildings and homes of Pompeii. Some claim the town has an eerie feeling about it. Night watchmen report hearing unusual sounds and seeing brief glimpses of shadows as they close up the town for the night. Mediums often visit Pompeii and give their impressions. One claimed she learned that she was a “lady of the evening” in Pompeii in a past life. Sometimes people say they get a sense that they are being watched when no one is in sight. Maybe these unseen figures are still moving about the streets of Pompeii doing the every day things they did in 79 AD.