My Trip to Underground Naples

Entrance to the Naples underground.

Entrance to the Naples underground.

Day 7 was the tour of the Naples Underground. Let me say if riding in the front of the bus on Capri was a thrill Naples downtown in rush hour is just terrifying.

But first to my adventures waiting on the tour bus at the round about. You remember the day before I came up on a car theft just moments after it happened. Well this day I witnessed a mugging just over on the other side of the roundabout. The traffic cop (the same one on the scene yesterday) saw it and blew her whistle and waved her stop/go paddle at the escaping van. How it happened here at the airport was shove down an older man walking toward the parking. They took his roller bag and man purse (or satchel if you are in the Wolf Pack from Hangover). Then the grabber jumped back into the back of a battered

This was the first wall of the city built by the Etruscans. Then later Romans added to it, then KIng of Naples and eventually there's a freeway on top.  But this is the oldest part and if you look at the various designs in the blocks those are marks for the teams that mined the rock and chiseled the stone.  They were paid per piece.

This was the first wall of the city built by the Etruscans. Then later Romans added to it, then King of Naples and eventually there’s a freeway on top. But this is the oldest part and if you look at the various designs in the blocks those are marks for the teams that mined the rock and chiseled the stone. They were paid per piece.

white van and took off. I don’t speak Italian but I did get the grabbee older gentleman shouting Romny.  I think the other word was F**KING. Not sure over the whistle going off. The traffic cop raced to the man and was on her radio. Rapid response came quickly per their name.  There was much talking over each other with many hand gestures as all cursed the gypsies.

After the mugging the other two who were going from my base showed up fashionably late. One was a mother with her 3 month old in a tummy carrier. The other was a professor from the university here on base.  The bus arrived even more fashionably late due to traffic. Then there was the drive to downtown area. Let’s just say Naples downtown traffic during morning rush is an experience all its own.  I was in the front and when I got out I was reminded of a friend’s face when she got out of a New York City cab that we’d promised a very big tip if he got us to the theater on time.  After driving on sidewalks down allies just wide enough for our cab, lots of honking, and even going the wrong way for just a block – we arrived in time to see the curtain go up.  However my friend who had the front seat to this as I did Naples traffic said, “I converted to every major religion on that ride and a few minor ones.”  I too had a few conversions in Naples rush hour.  At least I was in a bus.

The "new" gate to the oldest section of the city.

The “new” gate to the oldest section of the city.

We got off the bus just down from the archaeological museum (a must if I ever return).   Our first stop was to see the Etruscan, Greek, Roman wall that was the start of the underground we were going to visit. This was in a private garden but our guide had made arrangements for us to visit and see the wall.  He felt it was the place to start with the history of the underground.  That was what I liked about Aldo he made history accessible to even non history enthusiasts and thrilling for those of us who were enthusiasts.

However, like many places with money & influence you can get away with things like driving in the pedestrian area and parking in ancient alter sites.

However, like many places with money & influence you can get away with things like driving in the pedestrian area and parking in ancient alter sites.

Back thousands of years BCE the rocks were mined from there. As happens the layering of archaeology happened and each era added on top of the wall to keep the security of the city.

The part of the city were we went is the oldest part and is pedestrians only. The roads were still Roman paved the gate we went into was “new” built in 1613. We wandered (led by Aldo) down narrow winding streets passing many a street shrine to a Saint much like you see in Mexico. These are carefully attended by locals. Back during the black plague priest would stop at these alters and say mass for those quarantined in the buildings to hear placing Eucharist in buckets lowered from the windows.

The candle stash for tours.  Not many pictures from the underground due to lighting issues.

The candle stash for tours. Not many pictures from the underground due to lighting issues.

The underground was started as a quarry, then Romans transformed them to be part of the aqueduct system with flows to city cisterns and overflow protection. Later parts of it became wine cellars and public cold storage. During modern wars it has been bomb shelters like the tube in England.

The entrance (see post feature image) is from when it was a public cold storage in the 1600s and is capped in Bacchus smiling down as wine was often placed in cold storage. There were 250 wide varying height and very worn steps down. We first came down to a large open area of the first cistern. There we learned about how the aqueduct worked and how the mining removed all the hard stone leaving the sulfa stone that had to be waterproofed to be a holding tank. Then we lit our candles to go further. Yep that’s right CANDLES the deeper parts do not have lights. Never did I thank my stars that I always carry a flashlight, just in case.

Looking up a Roman well that 1600 nuns turned into a narrow stairwell to their storage.

Looking up a Roman well that 1600 nuns turned into a narrow stairwell to their storage.

During the earthquake of 1980 some people were trapped in the underground.  The ancient cistern entrances were used by brave emergency responders to help those people and get them out.  There is a memorial to those heroic men and women on the steps down into the underground.  A dusty well worn set of gear hang in remembrance.

A section of the tunnels we explored was lit.  Hard to tell size but trust me it's SMALL.

A section of the tunnels we explored was lit. Hard to tell size but trust me it’s SMALL.

Then we met the tunnels we had to go through.  They were so narrow that we had to turn sideways.  They were short, so short at times I felt the hair on my head getting brushed all while carrying a lit candle. I am not ashamed to say my anxiety started kicking up on the third right turn. As a turn was made it was shouted back “Turn right at intersection!” passed on like the old game of telephone.  I hate to think where I would have wound up if I made a wrong turn.  The baby woke and wailed. I was about ready to too.

Ancient Roman wine urn next to modern vending.

Ancient Roman wine urn next to modern vending.

I don’t like tight spaces and add to it there was open flame in front and behind me… Then we came out the first working cistern that was 7 stories tall. The water was the bluest blue. Spectacularly so. It was flowing with a clear sound and smelled of fresh minerals. It is still flowing through the Roman system from the mountains 98 kilometers (61 miles) away. It was nice to get in a large open room. Very interesting to see it just from the light of our candles.

Then it was through another narrow twisting set of passages to another room/cistern that was used for cold storage. Then through the gate that led to the section that had been locked off from the public storage it was for the cloistered nuns. The nuns couldn’t be seen by the public once cloistered so their storage was gated and curtained off. They had access through a former well channel that was carved out to stairs. Then in the new (1600s) cellar they stored their food and wine and their secrets. There was a section that vented into the cellar with all these terracotta tubes. Archaeologists would go up the stairs and couldn’t see the purpose of the tubes until they beat on the wall finding a hollow spot there the went through the wall to find a room with walled up baby skeletons. The tubes were to vent the decomposition gases of the nun’s decaying babies.

Look to the upper left corner and you'll see the foot board of the bed slid into the wall to allow the secret door to open to the Roman theater green room. The door is open showing the stairs.

Look to the upper left corner and you’ll see the foot board of the bed slid into the wall to allow the secret door to open to the Roman theater green room. The door is open showing the stairs.

Then we were heading out and back up the 250 steps. From there Aldo led us to a newer underground discovery. A couple died a few years without heirs and their home went to the state. When the state entered through the Roman brick and tile entrance they found a hoarder’s mess cleaning it out they found that the beds slid back into the wall and there was a trap door under them. Through the trap door they found themselves in a large vaulted room that was a Roman green room where the actors dressed and prepared for shows.

This is a view of the Roman Greenroom.  The large white box there with the banner on it is the dining room of a house.  These homes hacked into the Roman theater ruin within the walled city in the 1600s to expand their homes.

This is a view of the Roman Greenroom. The large white box there with the banner on it is the dining room of a house. These homes hacked into the Roman theater ruin within the walled city in the 1600s to expand their homes.

They cleaned it out and lo and behold this simple couple had a large section of a rare indoor Roman theater to themselves. The actual stage part had been walled into another house centuries ago. Now the government is trying to evict the people whose houses run into the theater. This is not popular.  Keep in mind these houses have been houses since LONG before the American Revolution. So for now we just get a glimpse of how the matrix of the houses consumed the Roman theater.

From there we went to the steps of a church that originally was a Greek temple to Polydeuces and later in Roman times to their equivalent Castor and Pollux. When Christian times came it became a Roman Catholic church. You can still see the pagan gods on it and inside happily coexisting along with the Christian symbols.

From there it was a stop by a coffee shop then on the bus back to the base.  As always there are plenty more photos over on my flickr account.  You can get there by clicking any of the photos.  Also there you can enlarge the photos to see more detail should you wish.  This one was a challenge being in the dark and by candlelight for most of the tour.

A typical street scene in the Old City of Naples.  We are off for coffee and pastries.

A typical street scene in the Old City of Naples. We are off for coffee and pastries.

 

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