Forty metres beneath the boisterous and picturesque streets of the historic centre of Naples, teeming with Neapolitan street urchins, tourists and ordinary people, you will find another world: the so-called Naples Underground, the womb of Naples, from which the city was born.
Naples Underground is a labyrinth of tunnels and passages, isolated in its ancient stillness, a dense and complex network of underground passages, tunnels and caves that run through the bowels of the city.
This route offers a truly memorable experience. It involves passing through very narrow tunnels; fortunately these are optional, and would not be advised for those who suffer from claustrophobia.
The itinerary includes a guided tour of about two hours to discover the underground of ancient Neapolis.
Naples Underground: Origins and History
The opening of the first underground caves dates back to the Greek rule. They formed as a result of the extraction of tuff rock for the construction of the city of Neapolis and the temples within.
In the third century BC, therefore, the Greeks procured tuff by digging underground. The caves that were dug simultaneously became hollow carved funeral tombs, underground rooms used for funerary purposes.
The great development of the network of tunnels, however, dates back to the Romans. It was they who created tunnel roads (like the cave of Seiano and that of Cocceius) and a multifaceted network of aqueducts, which was fed by finding water from distant sources, some as far as seventy km from Naples.
The more the city extended and grew, the greater became the need to recover water sources to supply the increased demands in the city. That is why in 1629 a wealthy Neapolitan nobleman, Carmignano, constructed a new aqueduct in the underground of Naples.
They continued to dig until the early twentieth century and today there are more than two million square metres in total of tunnels that form the underground network; most of these tunnels are as of yet unexplored.
During World War II the tunnels of the Naples Underground served the population as a place of refuge from the air raids. At the sound of the sirens Neapolitans would descend the stairs to the basement, to seek protection from the bombs that hailed down onto the city.
Naples Underground: what to see
The entrance is at the heart of the historic city centre, in Piazza San Gaetano number 68.
The guided tour lasts approximately two hours.
En route in this isolated place, steeped in thousands of years of peace, you can admire:
- The remains of the ancient Greek-Roman aqueduct. The route passes through some of the tuff cavities that were hollowed out in the Greek era, which were used for about twenty-three centuries as tanks for the water supply of Naples.
- Spaces and underground tunnels used as air raid shelters during World War II.
- The War Museum,in which you can see objects and documents relating to World War II. In total, the city of Naples underwent forty-three hours of bombing; more than twenty thousand people were killed and eighty per cent of the buildings were destroyed. The remembrance of the “Four Days of Naples” is a moving feature in this museum, which highlights four dramatic days during which the people rose up against the Nazis and, without the guidance of leadership, succeeded in expelling the enemy from the city. On the 1st of October 1943, the city of Naples was liberated from the German troops. The people of Naples, exhausted by their suffering, but proud of their success, celebrated the newfound freedom that they had achieved without the help of allies.
- The Hypogeum Vegetable Gardens, or, growth of life in the darkness of the Naples Underground, thirty-five metres deep. The Naples Underground introduces the Hypogeum Gardens, among its numerous educational and scientific activities. At the eve of the 2015 Expo in Milan, the worldwide event dedicated to food on planet Earth, a botanical testing phase in the Naples Underground was launched through a vegetable garden created in the bowels of the earth. In an environment free of acid rain, polluting fine particles, smog and harmful microorganisms, a classical vegetable farm has been developed. The garden is open to visitors, university and botanical researchers, who use it for scientific research.
Here, researchers can analyse the growth and development of crops in the ground in the absence of natural light, in a seemingly hostile environment, since sunlight, which is crucial to photosynthesis, is non-existent. The project is of international scientific interest: even NASA follows the results, as the studies could make possible human settlements outside of planet Earth, in independent frontiers, also, from the point of view of nutrition.
- The “Arianna” Seismic Station that measures and monitors earthquake updates every three minutes. Also, you can visit the weather station where, through continuous monitoring, meteorological data of the underground is compared with that coming from the surface. At the end of the excursion in the Naples Underground is a visit of the ruins of the ancient Greek-Roman Theatre of Naples, also known as Theatre of Nero. The duration of the visit is approximately twenty minutes. In the fifteenth century the theatre remains were incorporated into some existing homes in Via Anticaglia. Access to the theatre is reached through a private property at ground level, commonly called a “basso”, a typical Neapolitan home. One need only open a trap door for access to the rooms that Nero used as private dressing rooms when he staged his plays. However, in via Cinquesanti, just behind the ancient agora of Neapolis, Piazza San Gaetano, another remnant of theatre appears from an ancient carpentry.
Within this area you can visit a permanent exhibition with a number of antique dark wood display cabinets, which guard the nativity scenes and the community crib.It is worth noting that at the entrance to the Naples Underground there is a contemporary art gallery: the Co.R.E. Gallery. The area is a space dedicated to modern and contemporary art exhibitions, and is also designed to host workshops, conferences, concerts and readings. Admission is free.
Naples Underground: info and contact details
Naples Underground: prices
Ticket prices are as follows:
- full price € 10.
- educed price for students and teachers € 8
- reduced price for children between 6 and 10 years € 6
- School groups € 8 (free for teachers)
- for children under 5 years
By purchasing the Artecard you get a discount of 10% on the ticket price.
Naples Underground: schedule
The itinerary includes a guided tour of approximately two hours.
The times of Italian language tours are scheduled as follows:
10,00-11,00-12,00-13,00 – 14,00-15,00-16,00 – 17,00-18,00
(by appointment, and with a minimum number of 10 people, there is an evening excursion on Thursday, beginning at 9pm.)
The times of English language tours are scheduled as follows:
By appointment, and with a minimum number of 10 people, there is an evening excursion on Thursday, beginning at 9pm.
The tour can be led in other foreign languages also; for information and reservations call +39 081 296944.