[This article comes from a good friend, Larry Ray, former and longtime resident of Naples and hard-core "Napoletanophile," especially whatever pertains to the mysterious "other city"--the caverns, tunnels, hypogea, quarries, and bat-caves that lurk beneath the city, just waiting to swallow you whole. He also has on this website pages devoted to Remembering Naples. Additionally, he maintains his own website and is the English-language translator for the articles that appear on the site of Napoli Underground , which you are cordially invited to visit. The site is the work of scholarly spelunkers and sundry mole-people who, yea, even as we speak, are shedding new light on dark places.]
The Cavern Beneath via Nicolardi--the
Big Money Pit
by Larry Ray
Only in Naples, Italy, could a story this fantastic actually be possible. The story came to our attention when we noticed that our web site's database was getting an unusually high number of hits regarding a huge underground tuff quarry (C0456) up on the Capodimonte hill above the city. We soon learned that State TV channel. Telegiornale 3. had run a somewhat fantastic story about a proposed plan to fill the 5,000+ Square meter cavity, some 38 meters below ground, with mega-tons of concrete to "shore up" the cavity--at a proposed cost of 8 million Euros, or 10 million US dollars.
brief history of the ancient underground quarry and the
reason for all the attention today. Tuff (from the Italian
"tufo") is a
"type of rock consisting of consolidated volcanic ash
ejected from vents during a volcanic eruption." The
entire Naples area is a geothermal region with deep veins
of the tuff sandstone, called "yellow tuff." It is
an ideal building material and a large percentage of the
lovely castles, villas and other ancient buildings in
Naples were built from it. The tuff is reached through an
access and removal shaft called the occhio di monte, or
"eye of the mountain". Through this shaft, gigantic blocks
of tuff were quarried and pulled up. The resulting void
was a bottle shaped cavity with sloping shoulders which
provided ample reinforcement to prevent future cave-ins.
The large access and removal shaft was later covered over
with planks of wood, then layered with crushed tuff and
soil. Out of sight and out of mind.
huge quarried caverns honeycomb Naples and its
surrounding area and have been interconnected with
tunnels, galleries and diversion channels from the
ancient Greek aqueducts and later aqueducts serving the
city. In short the entire city has huge caverns beneath
it such the one seen in the above photo. So why, after
centuries, have some suggested filling in the one near
via Nicolardi on the hills above the city?
week, an annual series of civil defense earthquake
drills have been conducted. The most recent
devastating 1980 earthquake is still very clear in
everyone's minds. It caused severe structural damage
and the displacement of tens of thousands of victims
whose homes were uninhabitable after the quake.
Temporary emergency housing was improvised all over
the city in large open areas where small dwellings
were devised, including those from modular steel
shipping containers. One of the temporary settlement
areas was, as you may have already guessed, in an open
area off via Nicolardi--and one of the heavy steel
dwellings was placed over the ancient boarded up "eye
of the mountain" shaft. Fortunately no one was at home
when the modular home's weight was enough to send it
tumbling through the rotted boards and fill material.
It fell more than 38 meters, almost 125 feet, into the
webmaster, and senior speleologist, Fulvio Salvi,
more than 25 years ago was then a junior
speleologist working on the staff of the City of
Naples' "Department of the Underground". It
was generally known that a quarry existed up on
Capodimonte but it had never been explored. So after
the cave-in, Fulvio, athletic and eager, was the
first soul in several centuries to enter the huge
cavern. He descended slowly down a slender steel
cable...and descended... and descended...into the
pitch black void. He began to spin, like an ice
skater, faster and faster as he descended to 100
feet, and still no bottom. He was slowly able to
check his rotation, and set foot on the crumbled
bottom at around 38 to 40 meters, 125-130 feet.
was later joined by the most knowledgeable expert
of the "sottosuolo"
(subsoil), engineer, Clemente Esposito, who helped
photograph, and who directed measurement, survey
and mapping of the huge quarry. A temporary steel
cage climbing shaft was later inserted to allow
easier access for subsequent exploration and
fast forward to the present: Civil Defense
officials, conferring with today's department of
the underground, somehow recall the incident of
1980 with the temporary container shelter
falling into the quarry, and discuss "fixing a
potential problem." It may not be unlike so many
huge projects we are all familiar with in our
own countries, like grand bridges to nowhere
being built, or inexplicable million dollar
government structures being erected. You get
So, what has to be asked is: "With
an entire city built over these quarries that
have been down there for centuries, what
justification is there to spend ten
million dollars pumping concrete into a
187,000 square foot void? Just to be "on the
safe side?" Would the government want to fill
all of them at 10 million dollars a pop? There
have been numerous cave-ins on a regular basis
all over Naples year after year, and they just
get covered over and repaired. And the cave in
up on Capodimonte is not over a roadway or
populated area--the cave in of the old shaft
opening was, in fact, out in that open area
which was used as a temporary housing area 26
It has been suggested that pumping ten million dollars worth of concrete into an almost bottomless pit just to "be safe" would be just like attempting to drain the Bay of Naples to prevent the possibility of a tsunami destroying the area.
For related articles, see the Portal for Underground Naples.
Update of The Big Money
(January 25, 2010)
by Larry Ray
Once Again there are
plans to pour 6.5 Million Euros into a
huge hole in the ground in Naples.
Have you ever wondered what happened to some big incredible news story that was getting all the attention then seemingly disappeared completely? Well, one of the ones that we hoped had gone away has popped up again in an obscure web news service. And it is as incredible now as it was four years ago. It involves politics and a seeming lack of understanding of geology or the gigantic man made tuff quarries some 30 meters below Naples.
Millions of Euros are about to be spent to dump a cement slurry through a hole in the ground into a gigantic void some 40 meters or about 130 feet below the surface. It is all being done in the name of public safety. Head engineer in charge, Goffredo Lombardi, talked only about the blocking off of streets and re-routing traffic for an undetermined period. No mention was made of engineering studies that might have been undertaken for the project or if a system of reinforced piling was considered or of any scientific justification for the massively expensive project.
Lombardi says some 60,000 cubic meters or 2,118,880 cubic feet inside a series of cathedral-shaped caverns in the hills above the city will be filled with an ill-defined mixture of something "similar to the strength and characteristics of tuff sandstone." Our rough figures show the survey made by dean of Naples Urban Speleology, Clemente Esposito, and NUg webmaster, Fulvio Salvi, in the 1980's found there are easily some 150,000 cubic meters in the cavern complex, more than twice Mr. Lombardi's quoted figure. Most importantly, however, there is no more demonstrable danger from this huge ancient tuff quarry than from hundreds upon of hundreds of other huge cavities which run all beneath Naples and surrounding area. But now 6.5 million euros or 9.4 million US dollars has seemingly quietly been appropriated after a four year wait and you can be certain it will all be spent.
With no real governmental transparency in Italy and politics today that even Machiavelli might have questioned all we can do at this point is watch all those millions be poured down a large political hole in the ground.