Naples:life,death & Miraclecontact: Jeff Matthews


main index              © Jeff Matthews                    entry Nov 2006                   

[This article comes from a good friend, Larry Ray, former and longtime resident of Naples and hard-core "Napoletanophile," especially whatever pertains to the mysterious "other city"--the caverns, tunnels, hypogea, quarries, and bat-caves that lurk beneath the city,  just waiting to swallow you whole.  He also has in this Around Naples Encyclopedia a page devoted to Remembering Naples.  Additionally, he maintains his own website and is the English-language translator for the articles that appear on the site of Napoli Underground , which you are cordially invited to visit. The site is the work of scholarly spelunkers and sundry mole-people who,  yea, even as we speak, are shedding new light on dark places.]

The Cavern beneath via Nicolardi--the Big Money Pit             (2010 update: below)

by Larry Ray


Only in Naples, Italy, could a story this fantastic actually be possible. The story came to our attention when we noticed that our web site's database was getting an unusually high number of hits regarding a huge underground tuff quarry (C0456) up on the Capodimonte hill above the city.  We soon learned that State TV channel. Telegiornale 3. had run a somewhat fantastic story about a proposed plan to fill the 5,000+ Square meter cavity, some 38 meters below ground, with mega-tons of concrete to "shore up" the cavity--at a proposed cost of 8 million Euros, or 10 million US dollars.

First, a brief history of the ancient underground quarry and the reason for all the attention today. Tuff (from the Italian "tufo") is a "type of rock consisting of consolidated volcanic ash ejected from vents during a volcanic eruption."  The entire Naples area is a geothermal region with deep veins of the tuff sandstone, called "yellow tuff."  It is an ideal building material and a large percentage of the lovely castles, villas and other ancient buildings in Naples were built from it. The tuff is reached through an access and removal shaft called the occhio di monte, or "eye of the mountain". Through this shaft, gigantic blocks of tuff were quarried and pulled up. The resulting void was a bottle shaped cavity with sloping shoulders which provided ample reinforcement to prevent future cave-ins. The large access and removal shaft was later covered over with planks of wood, then layered with crushed tuff and soil. Out of sight and out of mind.

These huge quarried caverns honeycomb Naples and its surrounding area and have been interconnected with tunnels, galleries and diversion channels from the ancient Greek aqueducts and later aqueducts serving the city. In short the entire city has huge caverns beneath it such the one seen in the above photo. So why, after centuries, have some suggested filling in the one near via Nicolardi on the hills above the city? 

This week, an annual series of civil defense earthquake drills have been conducted.  The most recent devastating 1980 earthquake is still very clear in everyone's minds. It caused severe structural damage and the displacement of tens of thousands of victims whose homes were uninhabitable after the quake. Temporary emergency housing was improvised all over the city in large open areas where small dwellings were devised, including those from modular steel shipping containers. One of the temporary settlement areas was, as you may have already guessed, in an open area off via Nicolardi--and one of the heavy steel dwellings was placed over the ancient boarded up "eye of the mountain" shaft. Fortunately no one was at home when the modular home's weight was enough to send it tumbling through the rotted boards and fill material. It fell more than 38 meters, almost 125 feet, into the cavern below.

Our webmaster, and senior speleologist, Fulvio Salvi, more than 25 years ago was then a junior speleologist working on the staff of the City of Naples' "Department of the Underground".  It was generally known that a quarry existed up on Capodimonte but it had never been explored. So after the cave-in, Fulvio, athletic and eager, was the first soul in several centuries to enter the huge cavern. He descended slowly down a slender steel cable...and descended... and descended...into the pitch black void. He began to spin, like an ice skater, faster and faster as he descended to 100 feet, and still no bottom. He was slowly able to check his rotation, and set foot on the crumbled bottom at around 38 to 40 meters, 125-130 feet.

He was later joined by the most knowledgeable expert of the "sottosuolo" (subsoil), engineer, Clemente Esposito, who helped photograph, and who directed measurement, survey and mapping of the huge quarry. A temporary steel cage climbing shaft was later inserted to allow easier access for subsequent exploration and evaluation.

So, fast forward to the present: Civil Defense officials, conferring with today's department of the underground, somehow recall the incident of 1980 with the temporary container shelter falling into the quarry, and discuss "fixing a potential problem." It may not be unlike so many huge projects we are all familiar with in our own countries, like grand bridges to nowhere being built, or inexplicable million dollar government structures being erected. You get the  idea.

So, what has to be asked is: "With an entire city built over these quarries that have been down there for centuries, what justification is there to spend  ten million dollars pumping concrete into a 187,000 square foot void? Just to be "on the safe side?" Would the government want to fill all of them at 10 million dollars a pop? There have been numerous cave-ins on a regular basis all over Naples year after year, and they just get covered over and repaired. And the cave in up on Capodimonte is not over a roadway or populated area--the cave in of the old shaft opening was, in fact, out in that open area which was used as a temporary housing area 26 years ago.

It has been suggested that pumping ten million dollars worth of concrete into an almost bottomless pit just to "be safe" would be just like attempting to drain the Bay of Naples to prevent the possibility of a tsunami destroying the area.


Related articles, see:

                 Caves &Tunnels & Holes in the Ground,
                 Proud to Be a Troglodyte
                 Beneath the Oldest Basilica
                 The Roman Aqueduct       
                 The Cavern of Mithra    


Plus: This recorded interview  (about 30 min.) with Larry Ray from Radio New Zealand about the caves and quarries beneath Naples. This version is on the Napoli Undergound website.              


Update of The Big Money Pit                                                    (January 25, 2010)

by Larry Ray

Once Again, plans to pour 6.5 Million Euros into a huge hole in the ground in Naples.


Have you ever wondered what happened to some big incredible news story that was getting all the attention then seemingly disappeared completely? Well, one of the ones that we hoped had gone away has popped up again in an obscure web news service. And it is as incredible now as it was four years ago. It involves politics and a seeming lack of understanding of geology or the gigantic man made tuff quarries some 30 meters below Naples.

Millions of Euros are about to be spent to dump a cement slurry through a hole in the ground into a gigantic void some 40 meters or about 130 feet below the surface. It is all being done in the name of public safety. Head engineer in charge, Goffredo Lombardi, talked only about the blocking off of streets and re-routing traffic for an undetermined period. No mention was made of engineering studies that might have been undertaken for the project or if a system of reinforced piling was considered or of any scientific justification for the massively expensive project.

Lombardi says some 60,000 cubic meters or 2,118,880 cubic feet inside a series of cathedral-shaped caverns in the hills above the city will be filled with an ill-defined mixture of something "similar to the strength and characteristics of tuff sandstone." Our rough figures show the survey made by dean of Naples Urban Speleology, Clemente Esposito, and NUg webmaster, Fulvio Salvi, in the 1980's found there are easily some 150,000 cubic meters in the cavern complex, more than twice Mr. Lombardi's quoted figure.  Most importantly, however, there is no more demonstrable danger from this huge ancient tuff quarry than from hundreds upon of hundreds of other huge cavities which run all beneath Naples and surrounding area. But now 6.5 million euros or 9.4 million US dollars has seemingly quietly been appropriated after a four year wait and you can be certain it will all be spent.

With no real governmental transparency in Italy and politics today that even Machiavelli might have questioned all we can do at this point is watch all those millions be poured down a large political hole in the ground.

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