Inside the Donato building on Via dei Cristallini 133, in the Sanità district, you can go back in time 2300 years. Down a steep narrow staircase inside the building is this incredible historical testimonial: the Cristallini Hypogeum. In the second half of the 4th century BC the area known as Vergini Sanità was used by the ancient Greeks as a burial place: it remained so for centuries to come with the construction of the catacomb complexes in the first centuries of the Christian era.
Many centuries later, in 1889, the Baron di Donato, while having a well dug beneath his palace on Via dei Cristallini, found painting and architectural treasure: four tombs in chambers dating to between the end of the 4th and beginning of the 3rd century BC, one of the few examples of Hellenistic painting and architecture in the Neapolitan archeological heritage.
The place, which has always been closed to the public and guarded by the Baron di Donato and then inherited by the Martuscelli family, has been protected and preserved over the years by the entire Sanità district, which has always recognized its value and importance. Giampiero Martuscelli, with his wife Alessandra and their children Paolo and Sara, decided instead to open it to the public so that anyone who wanted to see this valuable piece of art history could do so. Alessandra very competently and kindly welcomes me into this magnificent place, and I fall even more in love with the splendid city of Naples, which always has unheard-of treasures hiding just around the corner from us.
Alessandra tells me that for the most part, Greek painting has unfortunately been lost: there are still the paintings on vases, which hardly give an idea of the levels of mastery achieved, and the invaluable testimony offered by the painted tombs. The Ipogeo dei Cristallini is something unique in terms of these testimonials, these paintings. In fact, there’s an ambitious restoration project whose aim is to restore this ancient Greek burial ground so that the public can see it as it was. There are also plans to develop the cultural and aesthetic aspects of the visit to the Hypogeum, using technology to create virtual reconstructions, document the work carried out, and recommend targeted itineraries for various age groups and types of visitors.
The Cristallini Hypogeum is fascinating, and you mustn’t miss it if you are in Naples!