Michael Strickland's blog on all things travel: news, deals, destinations, dreams and more.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Weird Rome: The Capuchin Crypt

When I spent a week in Rome back in 2001, I had a lot of time to myself to explore the Eternal City. I found priceless Caravaggios hidden away in unassuming chapels, I ate a panino on the steps of the Trevi Fountain, I even stayed in a hotel situated in a wing of a 15th century palazzo. But the most memorable sight—for its weirdness—was probably the Capuchin Crypt.

Beneath the church of Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini (Via Veneto, near Piazza Barberini), you'll find the mortal remains of over 4,000 Capuchin monks. They aren't neatly buried in a church cemetery; the bones are out in the open, on display for all to see.

But wait: this isn't like the Catacombs of Paris. You won't find simple piles of human bones here. No, you'll witness the most bizarre, macabre artwork you've ever seen in your life. Bones nailed to the walls and ceilings in intricate designs. Whole skeletons assembled into forbidding poses. Functioning light fixtures made of bones.

My guidebook made only the slightest of mention of this attraction, but having a morbid interest in such things, I made it a point to visit the crypt. I had low expectations, and suspected a tourist trap with a few bones scattered about. But the warped imagination on display turned out to be as impressive as the artistic genius splashed across the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

Make no bones about it: the Capuchin Crypt is a must-see for any visitor to Rome.

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