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 up on the Capodimonte hill above the city. ( C0456 ) 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 proposed cost 8 million Euros, or 10 million US dollars.
First, a 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 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.
These 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 like the ones seen in photos accompanying this article.
So why, after centuries, has some suggested filling in the huge one near via Nicolardi on the hills above the city? This 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 cavern below.
Our 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.
He was later joined by the most knowledgeable expert of the "sottosuolo, engineer, Clemente Esposito, who helped photograph, and directed measurement, survey and mapping of the huge quarry. A temporary steel cage climbing shaft, which you can see in the incredible photos, was inserted to allow easier access for subsequent exploration and evaluation.
So, 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, inexplicable million dollar government structures being erected . . . you get the idea.
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 years ago.
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. This was too good a story not to pass on to you.
Article and opinion by Larry Ray
The cavity of via Nicolardi
1980 - TYPICAL TEMPORARY SHELTER IMPROVISED FROM STEEL SHIPPING CONTAINERS
by Napoli Underground