Subterranean Naples

Anyone who knows me knows I have a wanderlust. There are even books written about my travel adventures.

My latest voyage took me to six countries in and around the Mediterranean, including two I’d never been to before. One of our destinations was Naples. Having been to Pompeii and Vesuvius on a previous visit to this part of Italy, we decided to stay inside the UNESCO World Heritage Zone of the city.

Or should I say, under it?

Heading down the 136 steps into subterranean Naples

Centuries before the eruption of Vesuvius that destroyed the Roman town of Pompeii, the Greeks delved into the roots of the Earth beneath Neapolis (as Naples was called at the time) to quarry stone from which to build the city and its walls.

Reconstruction of Greek mining techniques in an actual Greek quarry, 130 feet beneath the surface

Miners and rock moved in and out through shafts, which later became wells

Probably the tallest cistern/quarry we saw on the tour

Shaft/well entrance in the roof of the quarry/cistern

Later, the Romans excavated over 250 miles of tunnels connecting the Greek quarries. This produced a vast underground system of cisterns and aqueducts, which stretched as far Pompeii and beyond.

A typical tunnel between two cisterns

A larger cistern, the red line shows where the normal water level would have been

For centuries, hundreds of wells tapping into these subterranean reservoirs provided Naples with water.

A well heading back to the surface, complete with steps so cistern-cleaners could get in and out

Some of the re-excavated cisterns have been re-filled with water

In 1884, a cholera epidemic resulted in the aqueduct being permanently closed. Over the following decades, the wells instead became a convenient place for Neapolitans to dispose of their garbage.

One of the lower-roofed cisterns, although the original floor is several feet below the current one, thanks to the refuse thrown down here

An idea of the amount of rubbish that accumulated

During the Second World War, the tunnels were given a new lease of life, as air-raid shelters.

Depiction of Second World War bombs in one of the former quarries

Mock-up of bombs falling through a former well

More recently, the Associazione Napoli Sotterranea has begun re-excavating some of the refuse-clogged tunnels, and providing tours of some of the newly-accessible spaces and passages.

Artistic representation of the excavations

Old toys found during the excavations

Our guide, Yuri, tell us about this experiment into growing plants in the tunnels

Exploring the ancient underground labyrinth well over 100 feet beneath the city, was certainly the highlight (or more literally, low lightless) of our day in Naples!

Collecting our candles for the most exciting part of our tour

It gets pretty narrow at times

Please don’t go out!

Is there anyone there?

One of the most impressive rooms we were shown

Subterranean Sue!

A cellar once used by nuns

Another shaft back to the everyday world of modern Naples

Heading back up there ourselves!

This post was inspired by this photo themes of Wanderlust and Roots from the Daily Post, Earth from Ailsa of Where’s My Backpack?, and Winter-Water from Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge.

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20 Responses to Subterranean Naples

  1. Sue says:

    Marvellous! I have been underground in Matera (Basilicata), Italy….

  2. Alanna says:

    Wow…very cool!

  3. Brilliant photos, they are wonderfully eerie!

  4. Pingback: Weekly Photo Challenge-Wanderlust – WoollyMuses

  5. That is pretty fascinating! I for one would not do so well exploring subterranean Naples, as the claustrophobic in me shudders at the thought of being underground. That said, I am thankful to still be able to get a peek through your pictures and post. 🙂

  6. Pingback: Wanderlust: Bike Ride | What's (in) the picture?

  7. Thank you for this great post and for sharing your experience visiting Naples underground I enjoyed reading your post, it brings great memories of my native country Italy and Napoli the city I was born. I moved to US in 2002, is nice to see a not so often seen part of my city through your photos. 😉

  8. Cee Neuner says:

    This is such a fun photo. Thanks for playing Jaspa.. 😀

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