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Everything is Related to Naples
Number 156 in this series. Link to all items here.
Lake Fusaro, Hell-Hounds and Hunting Lodges
Cerberus (Heraklion Archaeology Museum)
Lake Fusaro is just north of the Gulf of Naples, between Monte di Procida and Cuma. The lake is barely one square kilometer in size. From above, it looks like a flat tire with the flat side almost flush against the coast but separated from the sea by a sandy swath covered with a thick growth of Mediterranean scrub. In Roman times, the lake formed part of the network that included lakes Lucrino and Averno plus the Miseno harbor and interconnecting manmade channels that made up what was called Portus Iulius, the home port for the western Roman Imperial Fleet. Earlier, the Greeks had settled all over the area. They noticed the burnt-out craters of the Flegrean Fields (still bubbling in places), the air thick with the smell of sulfur, and thought, This sure as Hell looks like Paradise! and placed much of their mythology in these parts: the entrance to Hell was at Lake Averno with the Cimmerian undergound dwellers close nearby. And Lake Fusaro? Here is where "Huge Cerberus sets these regions echoing with his triple-throated howling, crouching monstrously in a cave..." (in A.S. Kline's recent and brilliant translation of the The Aeneid). (Cerberus was a watch-dog, as you may recall, but many forget that the job of this slobbering, three-headed, snake-maned Hell Hound in Greek and Roman mythology was to keep you from getting out of hell, not to keep you from getting in. If you, for some strange reason, actually wanted in, he was all cuddly little poochie-woochie.)
The lake is connected to the sea by three man-made channels built at various times. Two relatively recent outlets are the north outlet from the Bourbon period (1859) and the central channel from 1940. The oldest one (the Foce Vecchia—Old Outlet) is the controversial one and perhaps the one of mythology. It is on the south and consists of a gallery dug into the tuff rock of the Torregaveta promontory and a long channel behind that running back into the lake. Some place the construction at the time of the Romans, while others say the second half of the 1600s.
The Fusaro outlet todayThat is quite a time spread, but both versions may be true. The Old Outlet is a 125-meter gallery dug into the tuff rock; it is 4.30 meters wide and about 6-8 meters high, lying 2.5 meters beneath the surface. Archaeologists tell us that it served as a kind of tunnel-road joining the landing and the inland property belonging to Publius Servilius Vatia Isauricus. Ruins are still visible at the promontory and have been dated to the first century BC or, at the latest, to the age of Augustus. Thus, it is Roman. Yet, a contrary opinion comes from Tuscan architect Antonio Niccolini (1772-1850), whose search in archives led him to conclude that at least much of the tunnel was, in fact, built in the second half of the 1600s when the fathers of the church of the Annunziata in Naples had concession of the property and decided to improve it by opening an outlet to the sea to let fish into the lake. That work was completed in 1696. It is probably a matter of one age building over another one, something quite common here.
Indeed, even before the Greeks, we presume that the lake was used by the indigenous Opici-Oscan population. They were situated on the Cuma promontory where they cultivated mussels; this could explain the rendering of that mollusk on the reverse of Cumaean coins. Even today, part of the lake in given over to the cultivation of the well-known Fusaro mussels. The name "Fusaro," itself, indicates another use of the lake: from infusarium; this was where they soaked hemp and flax for commerical puposes in the Middle Ages. The ancient Greek name, by the way, was Acherusia Palus—the Acheron Swamp. The Acheron was the river of pain that you crossed on your way to Hell.
There are only three ways to get past the dog: (1) lull it to sleep with a lyre, the way Orpheus did; kick the snot out of it, like Hercules; or drug it with doped honeycake, as did Aeneas and Psyche. (For that, you will need 1 cup of honey, 1 cup of cake, 1 cup of drugs, 3 eggs—one for each head—and 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Preheat oven to 175° C. ... Put in the dog.)
—Cerberus-Tom Oates; Bourbon Lodge-Idéfix; Fusaro Outlet-Napoli Underground.