Underground Naples

Trip Start Jul 11, 2010
Trip End Aug 15, 2010

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Flag of Italy  , Campania,
Monday, July 19, 2010

We make an early start today, as we want to see a little of Naples itself before we head off to Sorrento. We have chosen a small B&B in Sorrento called Casa Rachelle – we feel that we are deserving of a few days of relaxation after the hectic schedule of sights and food, so we've booked a private room where we can just relax, and be at peace. Over breakfast I examine my body, and realise I am a lot more burnt than I thought. It seems that the burn comes up some time after it happens, and my arms and chest (everywhere facing the sun while lying on my back) are all rather pink. Leanne comes out for breakfast, and I see she too has crisped up a little, especially on her back. Whoops! Should have listened to the pro and put some cream on!

Our plan today is to check out the local market in the morning (we love markets!) and go on a tour around lunch time – we have found this thing called Napoli Sotterranea which seems to take us into the underground tunnels underneath Naples. We are suckers for underground stuff, and have to go. The market is quite usual – a combination of produce vendors and flea-market stalls. Leanne buys a thin t-shirt, and we take a few photos. We breeze past a change office so I can convert some dollars to euros, and we make our way to the underground tour. We wait for the English tour to start, and when it finally does we end up with some Italians in our tour who were running late for the Italian tour, so we must suffer through hearing everything in both languages. Not only that, but after the guide says the Italian portion, the wogs just start talking to each other and being loud, which is very annoying. The guide is a little flamboyant, but he is nice and informative.

The tour begins by taking is to a rather non-descript doorway, which leads us into an even less-descript apartment. The guide tells us that there used to be a Greek theatre in Naples, as it was settled by the Greeks many thousands of years ago. However, modern historians could find no trace of it, and assumed that it had been demolished in the name of 'progress’. However, in recent years (I forget the amount, but it could be anywhere in the last hundred) some archaeologists recognised some arch-based architecture in a few of the modern-day apartments. They bought out the family, moved in and started excavating. Beneath the plaster facade they found the remains of the original Greek theatre, concealed beneath the walls. The arches they had seen were remnants of that – clues to it’s origins. At this point the guide presses a button, and the bed slides back to reveal a passageway into the cellar. We all descend, and it is truly amazing.

The archaeologists also found evidence of Greek masonry in the smaller cellar beneath the apartment, and began to excavate out and around it. What they found was the complete backstage of the Greek theatre, concealed entirely beneath the plaster cladding. The guide showed us an example of two different styles of building – apparently an ancient way of earthquake-proofing. Earthquakes produce vertical and horizontal movement, so by incorporating panels of different orientation of brickwork, the Greek’s had created something that would withstand the destruction of an earthquake (see picture). The guide shows us around some more, and it is truly incredible to see – he says that Emperor Nero (that self-indulgent ‘musician’ who burnt down half of Rome to extend his palace) performed here during an earthquake and the structure survived. We ask about the rest of the theatre – where is the stage, and the steps that were for the audience? It seems that when enterprising builders wanted to develop Naples, rather than preserve the ancient ruins, they used the existing structure as the foundation of the new apartments. Therefore the theatre still exists beneath the walls of the modern-day housing. I ask why it has not been excavated and preserved, and the guide says that the archaeologists ran out of funding, and the occupants refused to move. Very typical of this place. Still, I find it really quite fascinating, as does Leanne. We linger for a moment to take a few quick snaps before being hustled out of there.

On our way back to the underground tunnels which comprise the other half of the tour we pass a small shop, and I look in. It’s a book-binder, and the elderly man working there is binding books by hand. I watch as he glues on the spine and cover of a set of printed pages, before putting them in a huge vice-like press. I get a quick photo, and am amazed – it is hard to believe that there are places where these jobs are still performed by hand – artisans of their craft. I love it: I think that much of the world has lost touch with the craftsman, in favour of the much more ‘efficient’ factory or production line. Machines have taken the time out of so many jobs, and I think in many ways we have suffered for it. I see many jobs done here by hand which at home are all machine-produced, and I wish we could learn from these folk. Anyway, enough reminiscing, on with the tour!

We get back to our point of origin, and descend a very long staircase, down into the depths of Naples. We are entering the old aqueduct, hewn by Greek hands (well, Greek slave hands) which used to supply the Greek settlement in antiquity. There is a network of cisterns and aqueducts down here stretching over a hundred kilometres, and we are just visiting a few such chambers. They are huge, and it’s quite cool down here. Apparently during the war these caves were used as shelters for people during raids. You can still see evidence of them down here, which is quite incredible. We even get taken through a passage which is 6m high, and only 30cm wide – several of the groups larger attendees decide to wait this one out. The passage is incredibly narrow, and lit only by the light of our candles. We go into one of the private cisterns, which still has a hole in the roof and a bucket on a rope hanging through it. This part is good, but the theatre was the real highlight for me.

After our tour, we had a nice lunch at, you guessed it, Gino Sorbillo, before we headed back to Hostel of the Sun to collect our effects and taxi to the train station. We order too much food (again), but we take it away this time, thinking it will make a good snack of the train. Sorrento is calling is, and we are eager to answer it.
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Nicole on

My Mum makes handmade journals - you can see that anytime in the leafy streets of Beulah Park!!!

swissandy on

Haha, poor your mum :-(

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