The Parthenope Siren
The history of the city’s founding has its roots in one of the best-known legends – the Parthenope Siren – who was supposedly carried by sea currents between the rocks of Megaride, where the Castel dell ‘Ovo stands today.
There she was found by fishermen who venerated her as a goddess, however the body of the mermaid dissolved and transformed itself into the morphology of the Neapolitan landscape. The head can be seen leaning towards the east on the height of Capodimonte, and at the foot to the west too, towards the promontory of Posillipo.
Since that time, she became the protector of the area and she even gave her name to that small village. Centuries later, the city of Naples continues to be called the ‘Parthenope City’ and the beautiful Siren is its symbol. A fountain has also been dedicated to her in the Piazza Sannazzaro.
The Alchemist’s Chapel
The historical monuments that belong to the baroque artistic heritage of the city hide mysterious stories, often linked to the world of the occult. The Chapel of San Severo, for example, is one of those places that intimidates due to its creator.
Prince Raimondo di Sangro, known as ‘the alchemist’, enriched the chapel with esoteric works on which a veil of mystery and magic still hangs.
There are two skeletons with an almost intact circulatory system that leave many doubts about its conservation. There is also the Veiled Christ, a marble sculpture by Giuseppe Sanmartino made in 1753.
This sculpture has fascinated scholars from all over the world. It is said that that the realistic transparency is due to a mysterious type of marbling. Sanmartino imagined it in natural size, lying on a mattress, with his head raised by two large pillows and covered with a sheet.
However, this is no simple sheet. Instead it is a delicate veil, which allowed a glimpse of the features of the tortured body of Christ. The limbs of Our Lord thus remain visible, with all their small folds and facets.
The veil is so thin that it reveals the face and the signs of torture well. The shroud was engraved with such perfection and meticulous skill that it is possible to recognize a swollen vein in the middle of the head and the hollows of the face among the waves of the marble.
A suggestive creation whereby Christ appears to us almost still in agony. The Veiled Christ has always seemed so powerful and wonderful, and at the same time realistic and delicate. This led the visitor to think that it could not have been made only with simple marble.
Over time, a legend was created that stated that Raimondo di Sangro, who was also a very famous alchemist and scientist, had taught the sculptor Sanmartino a special technique for marbling the Veil to give this effect. Anyone who lays eyes on the statue of the Veiled Christ will forever be in awe at how realistic it is.
The Veil between life and death
Many of the mysteries of Naples are linked to the afterlife. The thin line that separates life and death is even more evident inside the Fontanelle cemetery. Thousands of skulls of people who died in the past are found preserved in this ossuary. Yet for the Neapolitans it is not a simple cemetery, but it hides a deeper meaning.
In the darkness of the cave, there were many who came to worship the skulls to ask for graces and favors. Thus, the cult of pezzentelle souls was born, where someone claims to have really seen them, in dreams or in reality, but above all to have seen their desires come true.
The splendid Neapolitan city hides many of its popular myths underground. It is here that, thanks to the darkness and the mystery, the story of the mischievous Munaciello is born. It is said that this sprite has always wandered through the narrow tunnels of what was once the city’s water service.
In underground Naples, the Munaciello roams freely, rising to the surface from time to time to spite those who dislike it and leave a penny to the nicest. With a disturbing and mysterious appearance, he observes everything and is often heard laughing like a child in the silence of the night.
In his most common depictions, he is a boy with a gnomish appearance, dressed in monk’s clothes. He is often represented as a benevolent spirit of the houses he sneaks into, where he makes his inhabitants find gifts or numbers to play the lottery with. However he has a dual nature, and sometimes he is instead a spiteful figure, who hides or breaks objects of the house he has targeted.
Naples’ restless spirits
One of the iconic places of the Neapolitan city, nestled in the heart of the historic center, is the Basilica of Santa Chiara. It was built to give life to a real citadel that could accommodate the Poor Clares and the Friars Minor, and was commissioned by Sancha d’Aragona, wife of King Robert of Anjou.
It is the ghost of this queen who continues to wander among those rooms, restless and pained. It is said that whoever had the courage to look into her face, disturbing her during her desperate prayer, died immediately.
The brick facade with diamond-shaped ashlar of the Gesu Nuovo church, a building originally built as a palace, reveals symbols that still have an obscure meaning. According to some, these symbols are Aramaic letters referring to musical notes.
In this case, the facade conceals a score to be read from bottom to top and from right to left. However, the agreement entitled Enigma did not convince some esoteric experts.
The central Piazza San Domenico Maggiore is one of the most crowded in the heart of Naples. But in the midst of that confusion, mysterious presences seem to wander around and find no peace.
One of these is an already known figure, the aforementioned esoteric Prince di Sangro, this time in the guise of a ghost. It seems he is not the only one that populates the great Neapolitan square.
Legend has it that Maria d’Avalos, brutally killed by her husband for adultery, has continued for centuries to appear between the obelisk and Palazzo San Severo without finding peace.
Some people even swear to still hear her voice near the palace and others claim to see her desperately searching for that lost love, torn from her life out of jealousy.
Venerating San Gennaro
Every year, three times a year, the city of Naples and all Catholic faithfuls turn their attention to the Cathedral of the Neapolitan city to admire the miracle of the liquefaction of the blood of San Gennaro, the patron saint of the city.
The story of the miracle of San Gennaro has ancient origins, and it is said that before his death part of his blood was collected in ampoules and preserved over time. In the 15th century the relics of the Saint to the Cathedral of Naples were to be transferred. On the way to Naples the nurse Eusebia, who brought with her the ampoules containing the blood of the Saint, approached her body causing the first episode of blood liquefaction.
In memory of this event, the first miracle of San Gennaro takes place on the first Saturday of May each year, when the faithful can admire the liquefaction of the saint’s blood.
The second liquefaction takes place on September 19th, the date on which his death is remembered. While the third liquefaction takes place on December 16th, during the Feast of the Patronage of San Gennaro.
Even today, the Royal Chapel of the Treasury of San Gennaro preserves the ampoules with his blood while above the altar there is a bust that houses the bones and the skull.
The chapel is connected to the Museum of the Treasure of San Gennaro. There are preserved paintings, statues, jewels and precious objects that kings, nobles and common people have decided to donate to the Saint over the years.
If you are curious about all things mythical and magical, you might also be interested in some of the myracle waters of Italy. If planning a trip to Italy, why not speak to our dedicated travel experts who can advise you on the best things to do and visit based on your specific interests.