Virgil's tomb

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
For the three 18th-century English paintings, see Virgil's Tomb (Joseph Wright paintings).
Piedigrotta entrance to tunnel reputed to be the site of Virgil's tomb.

Virgil's tomb (Italian: Tomba di Virgilio) is a Roman burial vault in Naples, said to be the tomb of the poet Virgil (October 15, 70 BC – September 21, 19 BC). It is found at the entrance to the old Roman tunnel known as the grotta vecchia or cripta napoletana in the Piedigrotta district of the city.

Virgil's tomb is located on the hill between Mergellina and Fuorigrotta, on the road heading north along the coast, beside a very old tuff quarry. It is a small, unimpressive-looking structure, with a small dome of rocks located at the top of the park.


Virgil's tomb.

The tunnel was built during the reign of Augustus connecting Neapolis (ancient Naples) to Pozzuoli and Baiae. The tunnel is over 700 metres (2,300 ft) in length and between 4 to 6 metres (13 to 20 ft) wide. The height varies from 7 to 30 metres (23 to 98 ft). Until the beginning of 20th century the tunnel could be used to travel from Naples to Baiae.[1] The tunnel is currently closed[citation needed] for renovations as some areas became blocked when parts of the tunnel collpase during the 1920s.

Virgil was the object of literary admiration and veneration before his death. In the following centuries his name became associated with miraculous powers and his tomb the object of pilgrimages and pagan veneration. The poet himself was reputed to have created the cave with the fierce power of his intense gaze.

At the time of Virgil's death, a large bay tree was near the entrance. According to the legend, it died when Dante died, and Petrarch planted a new one. Because visitors took branches as souvenirs the second tree died too.[1]

Virgil's death[edit]

When Virgil died at Brindisi in 19 BCE, he asked that his ashes be taken back to his villa just outside of Naples. There a shrine was created for him, and sacred rites were held every year on his birthday. He was given the rites of a heros or hero, at whose tomb the devout may find protection and counsel (as from Orpheus' oracular head). Virgil's tomb became a place of pilgrimage for many centuries, and Petrarch and Boccaccio found their way to the shrine. It is said that the nearby Chiesa della Santa Maria di Piedigrotta was erected by the Church authorities to neutralise this pagan adoration and "Christianise" the site.

The tomb however, is a tourist attraction, and still sports a tripod burner originally dedicated to Apollo.[2]


Eventually the tomb fell into ruin and its exact location was forgotten. It is said that a certain English scholar Ludowicus, acting secretly for the Norman king Roger II (c.1136 CE), who was trying to conquer Naples, went looking for Virgil's bones and his book of magic. Using secret arts, Ludowicus found them. The people of Naples prevented him from taking the bones, but he was allowed to take the book, the Ars Notaria. John of Naples showed parts of this book to Gervase of Tilbury around the year 1200.[citation needed]

The bones were placed in an ampule (ampulla) in the Castel dell'Ovo, where they were supposed to "guard" the city.[citation needed] At that time, many cities were similarly protected by the relics of patrons; for example Aristotle's bones "guarded" Palermo, and other cities were supposedly protected by relics of Orpheus, Hesiod, Alcmene, Plato and others. Other sources say that it was Robert of Anjou who placed Virgil's bones there.[citation needed]


It is said that Virgil's bones protected Naples for many years, and attackers usually suffered from plagues of flies,[citation needed] which may be derived from a legend that Virgil constructed a "Magic Fly" to control the Neapolitan flies.[citation needed] Eventually, in 1194 Emperor Henry VI, who was well-schooled in classical lore, was able to conquer Naples, for it had been discovered that there was a minute crack in the ampule.[citation needed] Thus the hermetic seal was broken, and Naples fell by force of arms for the first time in a thousand years.


  1. ^ a b The Tomb Of Virgil Old and Sold
  2. ^ Oggetto Artistico : Virgil's Tomb Parco della Tomba di Virgilio. Circuito informativo regionale della Campania per i Beni Culturali e Paesaggistici.

See also[edit]