Naples Underground – a parallel world of the city
… This is a real “parallel world”, which is under modern Naples. A quiet city where you can feel the breath of an ancient volcanic sandstone – tuff, and time seems to have stopped. Homer and Virgil accompany us through an incredible network of underground passages, caves and streets, as if taken from legends. A story that has not yet been written. A story waiting to be told. This is sottosuolo, or “bowels” – the underworld of Naples. Parallel world of Naples Ancient ritual crypts and underground sanctuaries – hypogee, ancient Greek caves, ancient Roman aqueducts, medieval tunnels, secret Bourbon tunnels and underground passages … All this is underground Naples, one of the largest urban dungeon systems in the world. Under the streets of the city there are spaces of millions of cubic meters, worked
out over almost three thousand years; moreover, as a rule, abandoned. This is the result of neglect by the authorities, as well as destruction due to natural and man-made causes. Huge voids are found under almost every district and quarter of Naples at different depths. This is a kind of underground city, very little studied, which holds incredible secrets associated with various events that have occurred over the millennia here, in the shadow of Vesuvius. No one knows its true size. Cavers who have explored the gigantic dungeon network over the past thirty years have estimated that at least 60% of the city’s population lives and works below the city’s historical level. Only in the Stella area there are about 62 artificial grottoes and caves, restored for modern use, with a total volume of about 160 thousand cubic meters. About four square meters per inhabitant of the block! Another 86 caves are located under San Carlo all’Arena, 85 in the Avvocata area, 34 in San Fernando and in the Chiaia region, 32 under San Lorenzo and 28 under Cape Posillipo. And this is only part of a huge list. The oldest cave discovered to date is a grave about 4,500 years old in the Materdei area. In general, from the end of World War II to the present day, researchers have discovered about 700 cavities near Naples, consisting of tunnels, galleries, caves, secret passages. In total, they occupy an area of about a million square meters. Recent studies by enthusiasts and cavers indicate that many more cavities have not yet been discovered. At least about two million square meters of undiscovered cavities are hidden right under our feet. The future of this huge underground space, developed mainly during the time of the ancient Greeks and Romans, and expanded and changed over the centuries, remains unknown. Excavations have not been significantly destroyed due to the fact that the host rock is an ideal material for creating tunnels and grottoes: this is the famous Neapolitan yellow tufa. This machinable but durable sandstone formed as a result of geothermal and volcanic activity 13 million years ago. Naples dungeons have changed little over the past centuries, but in the mid-1940s. many of them were urgently put into operation as bomb shelters. Of the 210 shelters used during the war, all were created on the basis of ancient caves. Roman aqueducts and tunnels were specially expanded and extended to connect separate cavities under the city. Today you can get into less than half of the former cave shelters – the rest is blocked due to the growth of city blocks and other circumstances. For example, in the densely populated Spanish Quarter, in the Via Roma area, an enormous bomb shelter still holds about 20,000 people. Apart from the famous catacombs and caves of archaeological importance, it turns out that hundreds of other underground areas examined by the Neapolitan “city cavers” are practically inaccessible and in terrible condition. Naples Underground – Forgotten for decades. These mysterious places have suffered the devastating effects of time, human neglect and indifference of the authorities. Often, cavers can find water pipes, aqueducts and tanks that have survived from Greco-Roman times; now they are inaccessible and filled with garbage dumped in old wells. But this ancient system until the end of the century before last supplied the whole city with drinking water. The tons of waste and debris trapped in the dungeons in recent years have caused many underground fires, which often went out of control and had tragic consequences. An example is the fire of January 1982, when toxic smoke seeped into the sewers and the foundations of old houses in the slums of the Spanish Quarter behind the fashionable Via Roma. As a result, an old man sleeping in his shack was poisoned and died. On June 7, 1979, a severe fire broke out under Gradoni di Chiaia. It started when a carpenter used an old well in his store as a place to dump sawdust and other garbage.