Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

© Jeff Matthews   entry Mar 2015
The Difference between Underground Cities and Underground Settlements

Beneath Montreal                     
There is no shortage of material about modern underground “cities”. Many major cities in the world already have networks of pedestrian tunnels beneath the surface. Many of them have shops and cafes. They provide convenient and comfortable shelter from inclement weather and are safe alternative paths away from road traffic on the surface. Major transportation hubs such as a train stations and airports also have labyrinths of comfort beneath them: restaurants, cinemas, gyms, shopping malls, meeting rooms, etc. —everything you need for an underground “city”—except one thing—which is why I write “city” with the "so-called" marks. There's no place to live. Some of them may have accommodations, true; that is, you probably can get a room while you wait for a flight or train, but you're not going to move in.  The only thing we have in Naples that even remotely looks like the image on the right is called il Vulcano Buono (the Good Volcano - link here). It's a hyper-shopping mall with all the amenities, but it's not underground. They built it on the surface and covered it with a huge artificial volcano-looking hill. It's very nice, but you're still not going to be living there. That's what settlements are for.

In an article on underground settlements of the ancient world (on the website of Napoli Underground, here) Gianluca Padovan writes,
Uniting hundreds or even thousands of persons into this kind of “beehive” must have required much more rigorous attention to daily affairs than in any other form of settlement. Life was based on decisive organization and attentive discipline. If it had been otherwise, surviving underground would not have been possible. Here, too, we have in these settlements everything that is required for daily life, such as wells and cisterns for water supply, drains and waste removal systems, public and private spaces, places of worship and work, and shelter for the animals. Most important are ventilation systems, generally air shafts.
He cites the ancient Greek historian Xenophon's account of the return march of the Ten Thousand after the battle of Cunaxa (401 BC), Xenophon says that near a zone where there were fountains there was an underground village:

The houses were underground structures with an aperture like the mouth of a well by which to enter, but they were broad and spacious below. The entrance for the beasts of burden was dug out, but the human occupants descended by a ladder. In these dwellings were to be found goats and sheep and cattle, and cocks and hens, with their various progeny. The flocks and herds were all reared under cover upon green food (...) when Cheirisophus and Xenophon had greeted one another like bosom friends, they interrogated the headman in common by means of the Persian-speaking interpreter. 'What was the country?' they asked: he replied, 'Armenia'."             (Xenophon, Anabasis, Book IV, 5, 25-26 and 34, translation by H. G. Dakyns)

There, that's an underground settlement. Just try taking your goats and chickens into the underground “city” beneath” the main train station in Naples today. It's not easy to interpret “Armenia” in this context, either, but if the term refers even approximately to the same area as later historical boundaries, then it is near the Cappadocia region of the Anatolian peninsula (modern Turkey), the mother lode of ancient underground settlements. The most famous example is Derinkuyu in the Nevşehir province. (This artist's image shows areas for sleeping and cooking, livestock stables, communal rooms, wells, water tanks, ventilation shafts, communal rooms, and tombs). Derinkuyu has been known for many years and has been well-studied and photographed internally. This image does, however, show the "beehive" effect mentioned above.)
Derinkuyu extends to a depth of approximately 60 meters and was large enough to shelter approximately 20,000 people together with their livestock and food stores. It used to be billed as the largest underground settlement in Cappadocia, but recent archaeology suggests there are larger ones. In any event, they go back at least to the 8th century BC (with claims for some of them as old as 5,000 years). There are possibly hundreds of them, with underground tunnels (roadways) connecting some of them to one another. One has the sense that these are not just individual settlements, but in some way parts of a coherent underground civilization or culture extending over a long period of time. As cultures changed over the years and different religions came and went and vicious raiders swept over Anatolia, these settlements often served, even into modern times, as shelters for those seeking refuge.

There are many underground sites in Naples such as aqueducts, quarries and catacombs, and one hears, indeed, references to "the city beneath Naples." But that is a metaphor to mean the many hundreds of underground spaces dug out beneath the city to get rock to build the real city on the surface. Those spaces are a dark and empty representation of surface reality, but they are in no way to be considered cities or settlements. You don't live in them
—unless you have to (as air-raid shelters, for example). We do find references, however, to the city of the mythological Cimmerians of Naples. Our Neapolitan Cimmerians were the ones of whom Homer spoke in Book 11, "The Kingdom of the Dead," in The Odyssey:

...where Cimmerian people have their homes—their realm and city/ shrouded in mist and cloud. The eye of the sun can never/ flash his rays through the dark and bring them light/... (trans. Robert Fagles)
They lived in an underground city in the Flegrean Fields and sought sooth from an oracle, a Sibyl, a sorority sister of the Cumaean Sibyl just a short hike up the road. There were many Sibyls in the ancient world, but the Cimmerian Sibyl was said to be venerated by the pre-Hellenic native populations. (The image, right, is The Cimmerian Sibyl by 'il Guercino' (alias G. F. Barbieri, 1591-1666). After Homer, Greek historians repeated the story. Strabo [64 BC-24 AD], in describing for Agrippa the geography and customs of the Campania, writes in Book 5 of his Geography (Loeb Classical Library edition, 1923):

Again, Ephorus, [reference to earlier historian, Ephorus of Cyme, 400-330 BC] in the passage where he claims the locality in question for the Cimmerians, says: They live in underground houses, which they call "argillae," and it is through tunnels that they visit one another, back and forth, and also admit strangers to the oracle, which is situated far beneath the earth; and they live on what they get from mining, and from those who consult the oracle, and from the king of the country, who has appointed them fixed allowances; and those who live about the oracle have an ancestral custom, that no one should see the sun, but should go outside the caverns only during the night; and it is for this reason that the poet speaks of them as follows: "And never does the shining sun look upon them"; but later on the Cimmerians were destroyed by a certain king, because the response of the oracle did not turn out in his favour; the seat of the oracle, however, still endures...
So we see that Strabo was citing Ephorus who was probably citing Homer (or whoever the many Homers were) who was/were peddling oral history from the distant past. The Cimmerians were destroyed, they say, but the myth has endured.
(There is another entry on the Cimmerians, here.) Even the great archaeologist, Amedeo Maiuri (who uncovered the grotto of the Cumaean Sybl) makes constant reference to them, wandering around the Flegrean Fields, essentially muttering to himself, "C'mon, it's gotta be here somewhere."  Maybe not. The problem is that there really was an historic people called the "Cimmerians"; however, they were equestrian nomads from the region north of the Caucasus in the 7th century BC. (There is no unanimity of opinion on that, but they weren't from Italy!) That is reasonably close to the area where all those underground settlements of Anatolia are, so maybe...I don't know...someone mushed up his mythology in the first millennium BC?  Is the similarity between Cimmerian and Sumerian just a coincidence? Sumer was an ancient culture of Mesapotamia (modern Iraq, roughly) possibly settled as early as 5000 BC. Even for Homer, that's ancient history. Did Sumerians build underground settlements? No. They used clay masonry to create complex forms of stacked mud brick to build, for example, those stepped pyramids on the surface, called ziggurats, but as far as I know, there was no underground stuff. That's too bad because I thought I had a lead there, something that entailed Greek oral history confusing Mesapotamia with Naples. No particular point here, sorry, just that there cannot reasonably have been two ancient peoples with the same name, one group riding horses around the Black Sea and the other digging underground settlements in Naples (before there was a Naples, of course). I'm open for suggestions.

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