Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

   entry Apr 2014

he Gauro Volcanic Crater  (with Mt. Barbaro & Mt. Sant'Angelo)

The area known as the Campi Flegrei (Flegrean Fields) is a welter of extinct volcanoes, lakes, tufa outcroppings, sulfur springs and fumaroles; it is all directly inland from the Bay of Pozzuoli. All geological features within the Campi are still bounded by the remnant rim of the massive Campanian Ignimbrite explosion —alias the Archiflegrean Caldera collapse —of some 40,000 years ago. (That caldera is the area bounded by the broken red line in the image on the right. Also see the separate entry on the Campi Flegrei.) All the geological features within the original rim are, chronologically "secondary"; that is, they formed thousands of years after the original ignimbrite event. Within the Campi Flegrei there is an extinct volcano named Gauro (also Mt. Gauro) just to the NE of Lake Averno (the crater, slightly elongated and oriented N-S, is visible in the image just to the left of the town of S. Vito); on the southern part of the rim of that crater, there is a peak, named separately as Mt. Barbaro; at 342 meters (c.1100 feet) it is the highest point of the Campi Flegrei. (It is the peak on the right in the top photo, taken from Lake Averno. On the left, on the other side of the "saddle," is another section of the Gauro crater, also named separately, Mt. Sant'Angelo.)

The name "Gauro" (meaning "majestic) was given to the crater by the Greeks when they settled in this part of the Mediterranean, first on the island of Ischia, right across the water from the Bay of Pozzuoli (just off the lower left portion of this image), and then on the mainland at Cuma, just a short distance away. The crater is rich in items of geological and historical interest. There are remnants of medieval structures as well as cisterns used by the Romans, indicating that the area was of agricultural importance in ancient times. There are also numerous caves in the yellow tufa rock to spelunk around in. (Try not to disturb the bats!) The very dark caves, for the most part collapsed, were said to contain priceless treasures of the mysterious inhabitants of an underground city, the mythical abode of the Cimmerians mentioned by the Greek geographer, Strabo; explorers have been looking for the entrance ever since. Indeed, a number of medieval texts speak of such a city and, as recounted in the 13th-century document, Pathenopean Chronicles, Virgil himself is said to have come by his superhuman powers in this place. It is there that he and his disciple, Filomeno, discovered the burial site of the centaur, Chiron, and "removed from beneath his head a book that instructed them in necromancy and other sciences..."  Aside from the mythology, many points along the rim offer a spectacular panorama of the bay.

From 1776, a painting of the Gauro crater by Pietro Fabris

n military history, the Battle of Mount Gaurus of 343 BC is of some interest: it was the first clash between the up-and-coming Romans and their fierce rivals, the Samnites. Although the precise details of this first battle are hazy, most historians chalk it up as at least a modest victory for the Romans, but the so-called "Samnite Wars" see-sawed back and forth for centuries (see the above Samnite link for details). Some time later in the second Punic War (215 BC), Hannibal, in his invasion of the Italian peninsula, decided to stop at Mt. Gauro to consult the sibyl on just how to proceed against the Romans. No one seems to know if this was the famous sibyl of Cuma or a separate secret Cimmerian sibyl. Also, one of the slopes of Monte Barbaro is called the Mount of Christ or Mount of the Saviour. There is a church (now in ruins), around which arose the medieval legend, recounted by Neapolitan historian Scipione Mazzella (in the late 1500s), that here, near Lake Averno, is where  Christ, after his death descended into Hell to save the souls of the Holy Fathers in limbo.

Modern details include the fact that the floor of the extinct Gauro crater has been for some decades a recreational facility of the US Navy, named Carney Park. There is a great swimming pool and 9-hole golf course, but even if you can say "separate secret Cimmerian sibyl" five times really fast, you're not getting in there without an ID card. Also, our merry prankster friends at Napoli Underground ran an April Fool's gag a while back about the place.


I am indebted to Selene Salvi and Daniela Marra for their article, La Montagna Sacra (The Sacred Mountain), which
appeared on the website of Napoli Underground. (That website no longer exists. jm . Oct. 2021)

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