Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

 © ErN 156 Jeff Matthews entry Nov 2011        

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 most popular tourist attraction at Lake Fusaro is called the Real Casina Vanvitelliana [Royal Vanvitellian Lodge, photo right] after the architects, Luigi Vanvitelli and his son and collaborator, Carlo. In 1782 at the behest of Ferdinand IV of Bourbon this delightful lodge was built on the eastern shore of the lake, already the grounds for royal hunting and fishing. The building is in rococo style, and the decorations were the work of the noted landscape painter, Jakob Philipp Hackert. The building is on an island joined to the shore by an arched wooden bridge. Much of what one sees today is the result of intense, recent restoration. On the ground floor, the central circular hall displays a green marble Baroque mantelpiece. Its twin—once on the opposite side of the hall—was removed during World War II. The original antique floor with floral design is also gone, and nothing remains of the frescoed vault adorned with themes of the hunt, of fishing and of nature, in general. The walls display four large paintings by Hackert (The Four Seasons), showing the panorama seen through the windows. The lines of the horizon in the paintings are such that they are extensions of the real horizon seen through the windows. These works disappeared during the revolution of 1799, but reproductions made from drafts were put in their place in 2001.

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 today   
That 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.

This site was one of the 22 Royal Bourbon properties in the Kingdom of Naples. They range from the large Royal palaces to smaller residences and hunting lodges. This is the complete list with links to entries:
Palace Naples
Palace Capodimonte
Palace Portici

Palace Caserta
villa d'Elboeuf 
Villa Favorita
Palazzo d'Avalos
Lake Agnano
San Leucio
Palace Quisisana
Demanio di Calvi

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.)

photo credits:
—Cerberus-Tom Oates; Bourbon Lodge-Idéfix; Fusaro Outlet-Napoli Underground.

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