The Mausoleum of Posillipo: a temple for the resurrection of Matteo Schilizzi, the banker obsessed with death

by Federico Quagliuolo

There is a giant gray monument in front of the sea of Posillipo which, in the plans of the creator, it had to be a kind of tomb for the resurrection. It is called "Mausoleo di Posillipo" or "Mausoleo Schilizzi" and it is a temple really built with the intention of rise again. No joke.

The client of thismad and grandiose work era the Livorno-based businessman Matteo Schilizzi and the architect was a genius of the time who accepted the challenge between the paranormal and the visionary: Alfonso Guerra and, later, his son Camillo.

Things didn't go according to plan, but what was defined by Alisio was born "the best example of neo-Egyptian architecture in Europe". And today the mausoleum has become the military shrine of Naples, today in the throes of abandonment among a thousand restructuring promises never respected. Let's find out what happened.

The terror of the afterlife

It all started when in 1877 Marco died at the age of twenty, the brother greater by Matteo Schilizzi.

The two brothers, descendants of a family of Cypriot origins, were linked by a deep and intense affection and the loss of Marco was a real one for the young Schilizzi trauma. The ache he was then irrepressible when he discovered that the family tomb had been desecrated and the body of the beloved brother was left on the ground, out of the coffin. The thieves were looking for jewels and other precious ones and, with the cynicism of grave robbers, they plundered the family chapel.

After this episode the young man developed an obsession with death, which resulted in the study of texts on esotericism, the dark arts and alchemy. All this ended up in the cauldron of hers very strange personality. For the rest of the life of Matteo Schilizzi (really worth a read!), we refer you to our story dedicated to him.

Mausoleum of Posillipo entrance
The entrance to the Mausoleum of Posillipo. Photograph by Federico Quagliuolo

The Posillipo mausoleum is born

Arrived in Naples in 1881, Schilizzi, thanks to a heritage of 40 million lire (equivalent to about 170 million euros today), it began big business, which fared even better when it entered the tenders of the Remediation. And he decided to buy "the most beautiful soil in the whole Mediterranean ", as he himself said. It was a vast plot of land from the parts of the promontory of Posillipo, when the hill was still virgin between vineyards, vegetable gardens and noble villas scattered on the panoramic route.

It was there that Schilizzi asked his most trusted friends to be introduced to him the best architect capable of indulging his every idea: he was advised Alfonso Guerra, one of the better men by Ferdinand II first and then of post-unification Naples. The project presented made Schilizzi exalt, which did not limit the expenses. The works began quickly and, in 1889, construction sites suddenly stopped: the banker had ended up in one again deep depression.

The Livorno banker continued to live trapped in his seesaw of moods. He alternated great happiness at moments of deep depression. In the house he had a little one small temple dedicated to his brother, illuminated by candles he kept burning continuously. In the original projects of the mausoleum, in the center of the immense structure, was to contain a gigantic black sarcophagus that it would host his body and that of his dead brother.

Inside of the Mausoleum of Posillipo
The interior of the Mausoleum of Posillipo. In place of the cross, the sarcophagus was to rise. Photograph by Federico Quagliuolo

Details of the Mausoleum of Posillipo: a hymn to the resurrection

Already from the outside the black colossus is scary, with its gardens and monumental staircase. Every detail has a precise esoteric value and was made following the "bizarre whims of Schilizzi“, As Camillo Guerra explains in his report. He also called it "a megalomaniac Jew"(Even if he was not a Jew), just to add to the dose.

The doors are guarded by two "Warriors of light", which at the time of the Pharaohs had the task of help the dead in his resurrection. They are made in bronze and are a real one masterpiece of the Chiurazzi Foundries.

The interior of the Mausoleum is a flood of blue and light. Today there is a plaque dedicated to soldiers who died in war, while in the original projects there had to be one written with hieroglyphs that have not reached us, designed by Schilizzi himself and delivered into the hands of Alfonso Guerra.

Every detail internal and external has a precise esoteric meaning: there are hibiscus flowers on the gate, symbol of immortality and purity since the time of the Egyptians, i Lotus flowers instead they have the meaning of rebirth.

The dome has the symbols of foot soldiers in the winged sun (eternity), the palm (la peace), oak (la glory), while on the upper part of the structure, in addition to the breathtaking view over the entire Gulf of Naples, others are visible warriors of light, in this case armed with sticks.
Even the materials are not left to chance and are all selected by the designers for a specific chromatic or energetic role: from travertine toalabaster, passing to piperno Neapolitan al marble of Carrara. Some finishes are in gold, mostly the rest is in bronze.

The Mausoleum of Posillipo: a temple for the resurrection of Matteo Schilizzi, the banker obsessed with death
The dome of the Mausoleum of Posillipo

The Posillipo Mausoleum becomes a Military Memorial

If today we have the Posillipo Mausoleum we must thank Camillo Guerra, the son of the architect, and more or less all the intellectuals of Italy who moved in favor of the work, which otherwise would have been replaced from some beautiful residential park.
After Schilizzi's death in 1905, the Posillipo mausoleum remained abandoned halfway through the work and many wondered what happened to it. The banker had died without a wife and without heirs and he was not buried in the place he dreamed of.
Then a citizens committee who tried in every way to convince the Municipality of Naples to buy the land, but things were not feasible due to thehuge debt of Palazzo San Giacomo. What a news.

But it served the WWI to change the cards on the table: Naples suffered only a bombing, but they were more than 2000 Neapolitans died on the northern fronts. In favor of the conversion of the Posillipo Mausoleum into a military shrine, he even took the field Armando Diaz, the most famous man in Italy. Without forgetting the letters of Gabriele D'Annunzio directed to Vittorio Emanuele III in person, and the appeals of Salvatore Di Giacomo and of the War itself.
In the end the funds came thanks to the intervention of the state. And in 1930 the new shrine of the Fatherland in the presence of Mussolini and Vittorio Emanuele III, who greeted the heroes of the Great War. They did not know that the museum, twenty years later, would also welcome the countless young people who died during the Second World War.

Hypogeum mausoleum of posillipo
The hypogeum of the Mausoleum of Posillipo, with the tombs of World War II. Photo by Federico Quagliuolo

And today?

Today the Posillipo Mausoleum is there, silent and in a dignified decay. The Municipality of Naples has repeatedly promised to restore it, but in fact the interventions have always remained minimal e the facility is not open to the public for safety reasons. And the gate opens only on the occasion of special celebrations.

It is no longer the banker's grave, although it is said that his ghost every now and then you come back in front of the gate to look, melancholy, his failed challenge to death.

-Federico Quagliuolo
The story is dedicated to Leda Fusco for her generous donation. Support Naples Stories too!

References:
Antonio Lazzerini, The military shrine of the Posillipo Mausoleum, Youcanprint, 2016
Achille della Ragione, The Schilizzi Mausoleum: a potential tourist attraction
https://www.comune.napoli.it/flex/cm/pages/ServeBLOB.php/L/IT/IDPagina/37251
https://napoli.repubblica.it/cronaca/2015/10/04/news/restauro_del_mausoleo_schilizzi_ma_non_ci_sono_i_soldi-124321218/

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