Legends and mysteries of underground Naples

Legends and mysteries of underground Naples

Naples is a city famous throughout the world for its beauty, its traditions, its light and its colours. But there is also another Naples, on which the sun never shines. Naples, in fact, is a city that has developed on several levels. There is an underground Naples: an intricate tangle of tunnels and cisterns, a mysterious and fascinating place full of stories and legends. Today, part of these tunnels can be visited. Let’s find out more about the legends and mysteries of underground Naples.


The extraction of tuff and the creation of cisterns

The city of Naples is located on tufa soil, rich in natural caves. Over time, the locals learnt to exploit the geology of the place to extract material for construction, and more. Wells, caverns, catacombs and refined hydraulic engineering works have been excavated underground. Already in Roman times, in fact, Naples was a city that was provided with running water and an excellent sewage system.


Underground Naples as a war refuge

Afterwards, underground Naples with its cisterns and caverns remained a place frequented and populated by various figures, some of them very mysterious. Very often, during wars, Neapolitans took refuge underground to defend themselves from enemy attacks. It happened in the Middle Ages, as it also happened during the Second World War.

During the Second World War, underground Naples became a huge shelter. Thousands of citizens took refuge in the underground tunnels to escape the bombing. There are still very evident signs of that period. We can still read a lot of graffiti, all kinds of messages were written on the walls Someone drew the figures of beautiful women on the walls, someone the face of political figures of the time, someone a football pitch. Underground Naples protected the dreams, hopes and wishes of thousands of people. The war refuge that can be visited today had five entrances, an electrical system and toilets. In wartime this shelter was crowded and life had to be organised in detail, reproducing daily life on the surface as much as possible.


Underground cemeteries

The underground of Naples has also been the site of special burials. One of the most famous examples of this custom is the Fontanelle cemetery, a burial ground that holds the remains of more than 40,000 people, many of them victims of the plague and cholera epidemics. Thousands of bones can still be seen in this underground place, including the famous ‘capuzzelle‘. These are anonymous skulls, linked to the cult of the ‘anime pezzentelle‘ (‘the souls of the poor people‘). In Neapolitan popular culture, these skulls are considered a bridge between the earthly world and the world of the dead. It is said that by praying to one of these skulls, its soul then appears in the sleep of the person who prayed to it to reveal important truths. And also the winning numbers of the lotto.


The mystery of the Munaciello

A figure deeply linked to underground Naples is the Munaciello. Munaciello literally means ‘little monk‘. This name was used to indicate the maintenance workers of the cisterns of Underground Naples, often dressed in a monk’s habit and a hood. Called ‘pozzari‘, they were generally very petite figures who could slip nimbly into the underground passages. They not infrequently moved underground through the private wells of Neapolitan families. Various legends have arisen about their silent and mysterious presence.

The Munaciello has become in folklore a veritable spirit, who can be benevolent or malevolent depending on the sympathy he feels for those he meets. He might leave small presents, perhaps coins, or break objects and make mischief.

Naples is a city that never ceases to amaze and enchant. Underground Naples is one of the stops on the Naples Forexchange audio guide tour. Download it to your smartphone now! Buy a Trenitalia ticket to reach Naples easily, quickly and affordably. Book a complete tour now to discover the best of this city, discover different thematic routes with the Forexchange Experiences, walk in the footsteps of Diego Armando Maradona: the King of Naples, discover the colours and flavours of one of Italy’s most incredible cities.


Photo Credits:
Armando Mancini, Wikimedia