The Ipogeo dei Cristallini and the incredible discovery of the Baron of Donato

by Mariano Cervone

The Rione Sanità, the real beating heart of the historic center of Naples, once represented that area outside the walls, where the burials of the inhabitants of the ancient Neapolis. It is in this middle ground, a border place between the living and the dead, that there is the Ipogeo dei Cristallini, where there are in fact some of the most important and today best known examples of burials in Naples, including the seventeenth-century common grave of Fontanelle Cemetery.

Going up the grazing hill of Capodimonte, it is possible to meet very articulated tomb complexes, among which the now famous ones Catacombs of San Gennaro, in the shadow of the Capodimonte Basilica.

Ipogeo dei Cristallini

Where is the Ipogeo dei Cristallini located?

But along this path, just a few meters from the Palace of the Spanish, opens a tomb complex that remained unknown to most people until some time ago. This is the Ipogeo dei Cristallini, which dates back to the fourth century BC, when the necropolis of the ancient city stood in this area.

Chamber tombs, much older than the Catacombs of Gaudioso e San Severo.

The hypogeum owes its name to the homonymous via dei Cristallini in which it is located, and stands in correspondence with the Palazzo del Baron of Donato. It was the Baron himself who discovered the complex at the end of the 19th century, digging into the foundations of his property, perhaps in search of water or to extract tuff from it. The noble baron found this extraordinary jewel of ancient Greek painting and architecture quite by chance.

Ipogeo dei Cristallini

A fortuitous find

Di Donato immediately warned that it was an extraordinary discovery and had an access staircase built, opening a corridor on the access doors to the individual burial chambers. The beauty of this place has aroused even the interest of CNN.

Dense soil filled to the point that the baron had to crawl into one of the three rooms, where he noticed a huge arch. The ground was not yet unpaved and the walls were not completely clear, but three niches were clearly visible inside which one could glimpse a cinerary vase and aepigraph in marble.

The Ipogeo dei Cristallini has thus passed from generation to generation up to Giampiero Martuscelli, grandson of the baron, who continued to guard and preserve this millenary place, together with the inhabitants of the historic building and the whole Rione Sanità.

It was Martuscelli himself, with the support of his wife Alessandra Calise and children Paolo and Sara who, in 2018, had the idea of making the Ipogeo dei Cristallini usable, making this exceptional discovery available to the city and the public. complete with website.

Ipogeo dei Cristallini

The finds on loan to the National Archaeological Museum of Naples

The finds that were found inside the underground rooms of the Ipogeo dei Cristallini are today found in the rooms of the Neapolis section of the National Archaeological Museum of Naples, loaned to MANN from the same Martuscelli family.

These tombs, from the Hellenistic period, were captured by the eye of Mimmo Jodice which, through its iconic black and white shots, compensates for the temporary closure for the rearrangement of the new rooms of the museum.

Dug into the tuff, the burial chambers of the Ipogeo dei Cristallini boast a very refined cycle of frescoes, with bright colors and a particular trompe l'oeil, which reproduces prestigious architecture and very luxurious environments, where you can recognize a head of Medusa or the myth of Dionysus and Ariadne, of extraordinary symbolic value.

It is precisely the wall paintings, damaged by high humidity, that represent the greatest difficulty of a recovery that ended in 2022, after two years of important recovery and restoration interventions.

It is during this campaign of works that studies have brought to light changes undergone by the tomb complex over the centuries, which, in Roman times, adapted to the burials in the niches that were found here.

The Ipogeo dei Cristallini is thus added to the many other tourist attractions of the Rione Sanità, together with Sanfelice Palace, making this neighborhood one of the most loved places by Neapolitans and tourists from all over the world.

Bibliography

The Ipogeo dei Cristallini opens in Naples, Desirée Maida

Discovering the hypogeum of the Cristallini, the Greek belly of Naples, Valeria Perrella

The Greek burial ground found in Naples under the Di Donato palace in via Cristallini ai Vergini, Gennaro Aspreno Galante

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