Napoli Sotterranea (Naples Underground), Italy

March 20, 2016

Today was one of those days where the journey was more important than the destination.

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Fruttivendolo Ambulanti

Like watching a fruttivendolo ambulanti (walking street vendors of fruit and vegetable in vans) delivering food, mostly to the elderly.

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Ascensore Sanita (Elevator Health)

Built in 1937, the Elevator of Health is a vertical transport system of Naples connecting the Health Bridge with the Sanita neighborhood .

Above the exit of the bridge of Health, there is a memorial plaque in memory of Cerasuolo Magdalene , called Lenuccia, who courageously prevented the destruction of the bridge during the Four Days of Naples by the German military.

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Rione Sanità (literally "Health Alley" in Italian) neighborhood was a burial place in Roman and Hellenistic times, as witnessed by the discovery of Hellenistic hypogea and Paleochristian catacombs. The area was settled in the late 16th Century.

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While the settlement in Rione Sanità was originally established as a home for noble and rich families of Naples' aristocracy (as witnessed by palaces such as Palazzo Sanfelice and Palazzo dello Spagnolo), the area eventually turned into one of the most infamous and degraded of Naples.

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Palazzo Sanfelice

Unemployment, poverty, and the widespread presence of Camorra (local Mafia) have long characterized the quarter.

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My journey then took me through the historic center of Naples.

I followed a street called Spaccanapoli (one of the main streets of the original greek city of Neapolis)

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Church of San Domenico Maggiore

The street borders the Church of San Domenico Maggiore. It was built between 1283 and 1324.

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Saint Domenic Obelisk

In front of the church is an obelisk— one of three "plague columns" in Naples topped by a statue of Saint Dominic, founder of the Dominican Order, erected after the plague of 1656.

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Nearby archeological excavation

The voids, cavities, tunnels, aqueducts, and passageways conservatively occupy an area beneath modern day Naples equal to three times the size of the Vatican. Only a small percentage of the maze has been explored and mapped.

Naples Underground is a guided tour underneath the city of Naples. The tour takes you on a journey through 2,400 years of history, from the ancient Greeks to modern times

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Extracting "Tuff"

'Tufo' or yellow tuff sandstone was a perfect construction material, and huge palaces and villas were built from large blocks of this wonder stone quarried from ever widening bottle shaped cavities beneath them. The sloping sides of the bottle shaped quarried void maintained the structural integrity of the ground beneath the huge buildings.

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40 meters below ground

The cavities were then cleverly used as huge water reservoirs some 30 to 40 meters below ground.

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Only in 1885, after a terrible epidemic of cholera, the use of the old system of distribution water was left in order to adopt the new aqueduct than still it is in function.

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In WWII, well shafts were enlarged and spiraling stairwells constructed under orders of Mussolini for public entry into air raid shelters 30 to 60 meters below the surface in the immense quarried caverns which were outfitted with lights and even showers.

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Some even had airtight doors to counter feared gas attacks.

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The tour then takes you into a typical Neapolitan house, commonly called “low”, because it is located at street level of the city.

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You will be welcome to a permanent exhibition of “Scarabattoli” (glass kiosk exhibiting images and sacred objects sec. XVII) to preserve the nativity scenes and the popular manger.

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Scarabattoli

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Once inside, a hatch underneath a bed leads to the remains of the ancient theater of Neapolis, where the emperor Nero also had his private dressing room, whenever he performed his shows in Naples.

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Hidden door below bed

Underneath the floor the Roman theater there were small running water channels revealed to be drain sewers from the Bourbon period, made out of “riggiole” (tiles) with blue color designs.

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Few meters away, just below the church there is another buried world that was once at street level: the remains of a first-century A.D. Roman market, a barrel-vaulted shopping arcade and a road with remnants of ruins, including a domed oven of an ancient bakery and a communal laundry with tubs and drains.

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