Peculiarities and misterious places to discover in Napoli and Campania

This project aims to show to guests and participants of the Universiade Napoli 2019 a side of our city and our region that is not always visible at first sight.
So, we collected the most interesting and hidden sides of Naples and Campania, to show them beyond clichés.
Illuminated by the ray of mystery, Naples will caught the attention of everyone who wants to deepen the knowledge of one of the most fascinating Italian cities.

The project was carried out by Immacolata Levrano, Sara D’Agrosa and Simona Carosella (Extracurricular interns of “L’Orientale” University), Annamaria Colantuono, Noemi Crescentini,Celeste Nappi, Pasqualina Gessica Stile e Manuel Ventriglia
Università degli Studi di Napoli Federico II e Luca D’Angelo, University of Siena.


The Dolls Hospital is an ancient workshop in the historical centre of Naples that restores toys, in particular dolls. These ones are literally «treated and assisted» as real patients. The inventor was Luigi Grassi, a Neapolitan scenographer who opened his workshop in the second half of the 19th century in San Biagio dei Librai street, the heart of Naples. The tradition has been going on for four generations: the little workshop is now a museum, located in the courtyard of Palazzo Marigliano (very close to the ancient workshop location).
Getting into the museum, the visitor has the feeling of being in a real Hospital with all dedicated wards: restroom, First Aid, veterinary surgery for stuffed animals, donations, dressing rooms, restoration, ophthalmology, orthopaedics.

Palazzo Mannajuolo is an historical building, located in Via Filangieri, a street in Chiaia district. It is an excellent example of liberty architecture with neo-baroque influences. Unquestionably, the staircase is the part that gives the building its personality and significance: the majestic helicoidal marble staircase catches the visitor’s eye, involving him in a beautiful head-turning game. Its white spiral-shaped body is laterally enveloped by an ornamental wrought iron balustrade that reflects the baroque style.

Spinacorona Fountain is placed in Via Giuseppina Guacci Nobile, in the heart of Naples. It is commonly known as «the fountain of breasts» because in Neapolitan language “breast” is not just an anatomical part, but represents abundance, prosperity, well-being, happiness and health. The Spinacorona Fountain is one of the rare examples of transition from Medieval to baroque style. It represents the Greek Siren Parthenope in the act of extinguishing Vesuvius fires with the water from her breasts. It would seem that Neapolitans prayed the Siren goddess to placate the Vesuvius rage, which was particularly active in that period.

The very epigraph which once decorated the Fountain “Dum Vesuvii Syrena Incendia Mulcet” (the Siren’s beauty extinguishes the fire of Vesuvius) proves that the beauty of the city of Naples was under Parthenope’s protection.

The only documented work by street artist Banksy in Italy is located in Piazza Gerolomini in Naples, close to Via dei Tribunali one of the most famous narrow streets of the historical center.

Fontanelle Cemetery is an ossuary located in a cave in the tuff hillside in the Naples’ district of Materdei. The remains were interred and then joined in 1656 by thousands of anonymous corpses, victims of the great plague of that year. The last great “deposit” of the indigent dead seems to have occurred after the outbreak of cholera epidemic of 1837. A spontaneous cult of devotion to the remains of these unnamed dead developed in Naples. Cult devotees would bring flowers and gifts as offerings for their chosen crania, and address them by name. In return for this doting care, the deceased would grant favours to their devotees, who would petition the skulls for assistance in a variety of forms – through dreams, direct conversation or by writing their requests on small slips of paper, which would be rolled up and inserted into the skulls’ eye sockets. People claimed to receive messages from the deceased in their dreams, and would then “adopt” whichever skull they believed had belonged to the spirit that had contacted them, becoming in effect a kind of caretaker of the remains and the soul of the dead persona as well. They would clean and care for their skulls, even building engraved marble shrines for them. These boxes might enclose a single skull, or multiples if the same person adopted more than one.

The small lake «Bagno di Fasilides» is placed in Mostra d’Oltremare. It is the accurate reconstruction of the «Gondar Castle» and its lake. Gondar was the ancient capital of the Ethiopian Empire, where the final battle of the Italian Campaign in Eastern Africa took place.

Between history and legend, Dracula is one of the most mysterious and interesting figures of the literary world. Her daughter Maria was brought to Naples as a child and married a young and rich Neapolitan. According to the reconstruction of events, Count Vlad Tepes Dracula wouldn’t die in battle, but imprisoned by the Turks, and then released and brought to Naples by her daughter. When he died, he would have been buried in the city, and the grave located in the Church of Santa Maria la Nova. The grave is believed to belong to Maria’s father in law, but we can clearly see on the marble of the tombstone a dragon, which is the symbol of the Order Count Dracula was part of.

The great devotion for Saint Januarius casted a shadow over the first bishop of the Neapolitan Christian community, Saint Aspreno. The church dedicated to him is today incorporated in the Borsa palace in the homonymous square. Healed directly by Saint Peter, Aspreno is the protector of those suffering from headache. Inside the church there is a little altar with a hole in the middle, and as the legend tells us, headache can be healed forever by putting the head inside it. Moreover, it is said that the pharmaceutical company Bayern decided to call the famous «aspirina» pill in honour of Aspreno.

This is a little jewel of our city, a hidden gem compared with the other monumental beauties. The cloister, annex to the convent of the same name, consists of a portico with a missing piece and a beautiful terrace made by Luigi Vanvitelli. Today it is part of University “Federico II” Department of Political Science, and it represents a quiet and welcoming place for students to meet and study together.

Piazza del Gesù is one of the most beautiful and popular squares of the historical center of Naples, a gathering place for young people ad tourists. But, what makes the square so fascinating and mysterious?

When you arrive in the square, you will notice, at first, the marble obelisk dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Built by the will of the Jesuits, it presents a statue of the Virgin Mary on the top, which is the origin of a curious mystery: if you look at the statue from a specific perspective, especially during sunrise or sunset, you can notice a sort of double face. From behind, the veil that shrouds the head of the Virgin looks like a stylized face, with a low gaze, and the whole statue seems a dark hooded figure, holding a scythe in his hand.

Legend says that this could be an optical effect created to honor the Mexican Santa Muerte. Others think this mistery could come from masonic activities or simply from religious causes.

But mysteries don’t end here: the church façade has an unusual aspect, because of the protruding stones, in the shape of diamond, composing the so called “bugnato”, on whose side some mysterious symbols are engraved. There are different theories about them. One possible explanation involves the will to attract positive energy in the building and to bring out negative ones. But one of the most fascinating theories focuses on the interpretation of these signs as musical notes. Indeed, some researchers believed that these signs could be Aramaic letters, representing the seven musical notes. Reading from right to left, looking at the building from the Fonseca pedagogic high school and from the Genovesi high school, from top to bottom, and converting the engravings into notes, they should compose a melody of about forty-five minutes.

Moreover, during the Second World War a bomb was dropped from an airplane, hit the central nave, but remained miraculously.unexploded.

However, apart from all these mysteries, the church is one of the most important examples of  Neapolitan Baroque, richly decorated by the most important artists of the city. In the church, you can also find the corpse of San Giuseppe Moscati, the “Doctor of poor people”, canonized by John Paul II in 1987, along with most of his furnitures, documents and objects.

Another church loved by Neapolitans is Santa Maria Francesca church, especially for its “chair of fertility”. The church, placed in the Spanish Quarters, carries an old tradition, that is both sacred and profane, a sort of catholic myth according to which women could ask for the blessing miracle of fertility by sitting on the chair within the church, that once belonged to the Saint. A lot of women throughout Italy and the world, state that they received the miracle of maternity after sitting on the chair. Why a chair? It is believed that it symbolizes a specific posture, symbol of holding still, stopping before the confusion generated by passion, the chaos of impulses and instincts to find yourself again.

D’Averno lake in Pozzuoli, formed in one of the craters of several dormant volcanoes, is wrapped in an aura of mystery, result of many tales transmitted from the era of Greek myth to the present days.

Legend says that the gate of hell was located nearby its shore, a hypothesis taken up by Virgilio and then by Dante Alighieri in his Divine Comedy: Plutone kidnapped the beautiful Proserpina in Sicily and brought her, through the lake, into the world of the dead where she became queen of Hades. Virgilio supposed that the Cumanean Sybil cave was located in in that area as well. Actually, this cave was a sort of underground path that connected Lucrino lake to Averno’s shores, a military work made by will of Agrippa.

Are you ready to go to hell?

There are a lot of ghosts haunting the city of Naples, as well as stories connected to them. One of the “nicest” and most atypical ones is undoubtedly the ghost of a child that seems to roam around the famous “Gran Caffè Gambrinus”, in Trieste e Trento square, who doesn’t scare anyone, but inspires only tenderness.

She wears typical clothes of the Nineteenth century, and for this reason we could think that she probably lived or died in that period. It is said that she goes around the Gambrinus tables, looking for sweeties and delicacies to steal, taking advantage of the Cafè clients’ distraction.

According to the tradition, the child prefers especially nougats. For this reason, it is easier to find her during the period of All Saints’ Day and during New Year’s Eve. Probably, there is an explanation: dried fruit is considered dead’s food and it is tradition to leave it on tables as a gift for dear departed. Moreover, it is no coincidence that typical Neapolitan nougats are composed by walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts, perfect for the young and glutton ghost.

Unfortunately, the origin and the story of the baby will remain a secret.

However, don’t forget to leave her a sweet when you will take a coffee at Gambrinus!

The city of Benevento hides one of the most fascinating mysteries of the Campania region. In fact, Benevento is well-known for the witches capable of performing incantations and hexes or preparing magic potions. It is no coincidence that the city had a different name in the past: Maleventum.

It is said that Benevento’s witches used to meet under an enormous walnut tree, beside the Sabato river’s banks where they venerated devil in the form of a dog or a goat. It seems that witches had a normal shape during daytime and that the transformation took place during the night. After rubbing an unguent on their body, witches could fly on a dried sorghum broom. Among witches there were the so called janare, with a distinctive mark: they were born on the Christmas night and acquired the powers at seven years old.

Probably, legend took its origin from the pagan cult of Iside, the Egyptian moon goddness, to whom Diocleziono dedicated a temple. Moreover, according to the tradition, a goatskin was hung on a sacred tree near Sabato river in honor of Wotan and in order to gain its favor, his worshippers used to gallop around the tree, trying to tear shreds of the skin that they would eat thereafter.

Not everyone knows that mummies with peculiar features were found in some Italian villages and cities. A special case is the “Zi Vicienzo Camuso” (Uncle Vicienzo Camuso) mummy, from Bonito (AV).

It is said that the mummy was found in the hypogeum of the Oratory of Santa Maria Annunziata during the demolition works that followed the Irpinia and Sannio earthquakes on 21th August 1962. This discovery caused a stir amongst the town’s inhabitants because of the its state of preservation: it appears, in fact, that the mummy dates back to 1588. We have no other news about it, suffice to say that its name was given by the inhabitants of Bonito.

The true mystery, however,  lies in the discovery of the mummy: it is said that the same year, in Venezuela, an Italian engineer went to a medium for a séance. During the séance, the medium started talking in bonitese dialect and said: “I am… Beato from Bonito, 47 graces by means of Padre Pio”, specifying where it had been buried and encouraging the Italian engineer to contact the town mayor ,  so that its corpse could be found. The Italian engineer did as he was told and the body of “Zi Vicienzo” was soon found in the Oratory of Santa Maria Annunziata: it the year was 1962.

Even now, the mummy represents an icon for Bonito’s population, who asks him for miracles.

It is the ruin of an ancient and abandoned mill, in Varcaturo, near Naples. Locals call it “o’ mulino a viento” (windmill), but It is better known as “Torre degli Incurabili” (Tower of incurable people), and it was not  just a building used to grind the grain.

Dating back 1700, it was used as a mill, but at some point it changed its function. It became a lazaret, from which it took the name, and then became a mental hospital. Torre degli Incurabili is linked to a lot of esoteric tales. In fact, the mill has a peculiar octagonal structure,  it is decorated with geometrical figures and it is enclosed by a pyramidal structure.

Moreover, it is said that the mill is populated not only by ghosts but also by strange creatures.

The beautiful Villa D’Ayala in Valsa (SA), is home to one of the most amazing places of Campania. Inside the park, which dates back to the XVIII century, and beyond enchanting pathways, there is the little “Teatro di Verzura” (“Garden Theatre”). It is made of boxwood hedges, with marble human busts scattered among them.


This picturesque theatre is not the only beautiful thing inside the Villa: in the park is rich in statues, some of them located in the so-called «cave of monsters cave», named after the terrifying figures in it. A walk through the Italian-style gardens and a visit at the Villa’s Castle will make you feel as if you’ve stepped  into a charming and enchanting setting.

In the valley of Ansanto (AV) there is the fascinating Malvizza district. Here we can see an amazing vulcanic phenomenon: mud bubbles. Especially after rain, mud bubbles in little craters, creating an effect similiar to a solfatara. According to the ancient tribes of Sannio, in this area lived the Godess of Hell, Mefite. Malvizza district has been mentioned also by the great authors of the past, such as Plinio, Cicerone and Virgilio.

In Foresta, a village between Tora and Piccilli, near Caserta, there  are some of the most ancient human footsteps ever found in Europe. Before knowing of their origin, the people of the  area believed that the footsteps belonged to the Devil,  who supposedly left imprints on the ground while trying to drink at the near spring. They were called «ciampate» that is «footsteps», a name that brings to mind the image of something big and horrible. Only a few years ago, thanks to local scientists, we came to know the truth about the footsteps.

Furore fiordo is a long, narrow inlet with steep sides or cliffs, crossed by Schiato stream flowing from Agerola upland. These deep inlets and cliffs are typical of Northen Europe, but in this case the fiordo shows Mediterranean features. In 1997 it was included in Unesco’s World Heritage. In addition, Furore is one of the most beautiful Italian villages. Once, it hosted the ancient paper factories and one of its most important economical activities was wheat milling.

The Italian directors Fellini and Roberto Rossellini and the famous Italian actress Anna Magnani loved the Fiordo so much: for this reason, they set several movies in this amazing location.

Vivara  is a very small island deriving from the circular crater of a extinct submerged volcano.

Originally, Vivara was linked to Procida Island by a crag, replaced afterwards by a 362 metres long bridge. The small island is a naturalistic paradise: there you can see the Mediterranean scrub and enjoy a panoramic view of Capri, Ischia, Procida and Naples with Vesuvius on the background.

In spring and summer the island is a fixed destination for nightingales, rock thrushes, wheatears, marsh and melodious warblers, bluethroats.

The sea bottom around the island has different depths and undersea meadows are very common.

The Infreschi Bay was elected the most beautiful Italian beach in 2014. it is considered a jewel of the Cilento National Park. It is a corner of paradise and a natural port for tourists, expecially during summer. In the waters of the bay there is an incredible presence of dolphins, attracted by the great quantity of fish.