Napoli, Italia - January 2007
After visiting Paris over New Years, we headed to Naples (or Napoli)
Italy to check out some more underground stuff.
We managed to survive Europe's airport lines (checking in requires standing in at least three different lines in a row, and anyone actually making it to the front has to argue for a half hour over nothing), the inability of RyanAir to accept cash, travelers checks, or apparently anything other than obscure European credit cards, the attempts by baggage monkeys to nuke our film every 10 seconds, the 45-minute late Italian trains, and the attempts by various metros and traffic to run us over. We re-connected with Steve, Nivelo, Guru, and Slim Jim at a very nice and higly-recommended hostel called "6 small rooms", then met Fulvio and Luca from Napoliunderground for an introduction to their city's subterranean side.
Naples is an amazing city for underground history. The entire area lies
atop Tuff or Tuffo rock, a type of sandstone created by compacted volcanic
ash. Like St. Paul and Minneapolis in the US, this makes digging tunnels
relatively easy to do with simple hand tools. Over 2,500 years ago this
material began to be excavated for use in buildings and other projects.
When lined with harder, less water-soluble stone, the Tuffo makes an excellent
inner wall for buildings. The best Tuffo was often underground, and so
huge quarries and mines were excavated beneath what is now the city of
Naples. The Greek and Roman aqueduct builders took advantage of these caverns
once they were abandoned, tunneling for miles through the hills around
the city to tap into nearby rivers for drinking water. These narrow aqueduct
tunnels, lined with waterproof cement, brought water into the quarry caverns
which then became a vast network of interconnected underground cisterns.
Well shafts were dug from buildings, and the well-to-do Neapolitan had
merely to lower a bucket down a well in their kitchen for a supply of fresh
water. This tunnel and reservoir system was in use until Cholera outbreaks
in the 1800s brought worries of contamination and led to abandonment.
Other tunnels were dug around Naples for sewage and water drainage, storage, and transportation (including several miles-long chariot and wagon tunnels through the hills). Fortifications and palaces had escape tunnels dug in case of siege. Religious groups used some of the tuffo caverns for chapels and catacombs, some of which still display frescos from the earliest years of Christianity. In the last century, Quarries and Cisterns were often filled with dirt and rubbish, the abandoned well shafts in old homes being seen as convenient trash chutes. During WWII some of these systems were re-opened to serve as bomb shelters for the city's populace. More recently there have been additional tunnels dug, including modern sewers, utility tunnels, metro lines, and train tunnels. Some of the ancient quarries are being used as parking garages, commercial storage, museums, and even homes and businesses!
The first place we visited was the WWII shelter below Piazza Cavour, now a museum of the underground run by "The Pope of the Underground"
This shelter was a former cistern enlarged and modified for easier and safer access to the public. It is connected to the networks of narrow aqueduct tunnels dug over 2000 years ago.
This was an abandoned cistern chamber that Fulvio and Luca brought us to. The narrow slot with incised handholds was the original access ladder used by
quarry workers and later Greek and Roman water system workers. Modern explorers use steel cable ladders or vertical rope gear! We visited several of these water tanks and what seemed like miles of the narrow tunnels. For some reason all the access tunnels are only 1 or 2 feet in width but 6 to 10 feet tall!
Another urban site we visited was the public underground tour, showcasing both Greek and Roman cisterns as well as a Tuffo quarrying recreation.
The hills around the city are honeycombed with caverns and tunnels. A map of the city's underground makes the area look like swiss cheese. Many of these systems connect through quarry tunnels or aqueducts, although some are still used or partially used as storage and for other purposes, such as the various Catacombs (photos weren't allowed, sorry!). The sign in the center was found atop the strange hatch in the 5th picture, I believe it talks about rat poison and the antidote being Vitamin K. The last photo shows a large abandoned institution which had a mysterious quarry connection in the basement.
Hey look, we weren't tourists the whole time! This drain was actually found on our own based on maps and scouting for disappearing streams. It turned out to be rather photogenic and interesting, but the many connections to sewer tunnels and illegal sewage pipes made it very smelly and squishy. We piked out early due to deep water (sewage), and the threat of rain.
This was an industrial wasteland just outside of town which we explored. According to staff at our hostel this is either owned or controlled by the Camora (Mafia), which is why it hasn't been redeveloped. We found a brand new Mercedes Benz luxury car hidden in an abandoned building in this area and left soon after!
Some details of office buildings in the industrial zone, some showed surprisingly high levels of architectural detail, and one had a bidet in the restroom!