Underground in Campania: Mithraeum of Capua

An unassuming red brick building marks the entrance to a very special underground place in Italy, the second century AD Mithraeum, or, as the Italians say, Mitreo. If you are a fan of going underground to strange places, the Mithraeum of Capua is a great place to start.

The cult of Mithras started gaining religious ground in Persia around the 14th century BC. The cult spread to Greece, then Rome. By the first century AD the religion became a Very Big Deal, popular with the poor and the Roman Military.

Mitraeums are usually underground, like caves. Many Christian churches were built over them. The religions share an important date with Christianity, December 25.

Despite the cave-like, underground setting, the mithraeum here has evidence of blue paint and stars on the top of the vaults. It’s likely ritual feasts were held here.

Here’s a description you’ll find on the wall as you enter:

“The Mitreo, discovered by chance in 1922, is a hypogean sacellum dedicated to the cult of Mithra, an ancient godhead of Iranian origin. The Mitreo of Capua is one of the rare examples having painted walls. On the wall opposite the entrance, the God is represented in the act of killing the bull and the different human beings arise from the parts of this animal. The workshop of Mitra was partiularly widespread among the popular classes as they were attracted by the promise of a better afterlife.”

Altough the story originates in Persia, the Romans made it their own by adding the bull. Yes, the Story of Mithras and the Bull is a distinctly Roman addition, in which a young Mithras kills the sacred bull exactly thusly:

Mythras and the Bull: Capua Mithraeum

The bull story does not appear in Persian accounts.

In any case, the Mithraeum of Capua is one of the few frescoed examples we have.

Here’s what you see when you enter and turn to the left:

capua mithraeumMithraeum Fresco: Santa Maria Capua Vetere

Embedded into the wall is a marble sculpture depicting a couple of mythical folks you might know:

eros and psyche pictureEros and Psyche

Oddly, the Mithraeum of Capua isn’t in the city of Capua which you find on your map. It’s really in Santa Maria Capua Vetere, old Capua, a medieval town which also includes Italy’s second largest amphitheater and a gladiator museum. Let’s look at the map:


Unique: The Frescos in the Mithraeum
Don’t miss: The Amphitheater and Gladiator Museum
When to Go: Spring or Fall. Summers are hot. Naples climate charts and information
Region: Campania Map
Days: 1-2
: Train station: Yes. To get there, a bus or train from Naples will take about 23 minutes. Route
How to gain entrance: Ask at the museum, and they will send someone to open the door to the Mithraeum. If you see the door open, you can just go in. That’s the advantage of staying at the hotel we recommend below, you can easily see when it’s open.
Parking: Relatively easy
Recommended Hotel: B&B Vico Mitreo 2 The Mitreo is just across the street.
Local Wines: Falanghina (white), Aglianico (red)

Underground in Campania: Mithraeum of Capua originally appeared on JustGoItaly.com Apr 18, 2015, © James Martin.

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