Napoli Sotterranea

Historic Site in Naples

Napoli Sotterranea
CC BY-SA 2.0 / Armando Mancini

Naples’ underground world is a fascinating aspect of the city, shaped by its unique geological and morphological characteristics. The territory consists of tuff, a type of rock that is light, friable, and easy to quarry, which has deeply influenced the city’s development and architecture.

Historical Development of Napoli Sotterranea

The transformation of Naples’ landscape began around 470 BC when the Greeks started utilizing the underground to meet their water supply needs. They constructed extensive cisterns to collect rainwater and quarried tuff to use as building material, laying the groundwork for the city’s underground infrastructure.

This network expanded significantly under Roman rule with the enhancement of the aqueduct system. The Romans built a sophisticated network of water channels, known as “cunicoli,” which distributed water throughout the city. This system was further extended during the Angevin rule starting in 1266, when new urban expansions led to increased tuff extraction for building material.

In the late 16th and early 17th centuries, laws prohibited the import of external building materials, leading Neapolitans to intensify the extraction of tuff directly beneath the city through existing wells. This “bottom-up” extraction required innovative techniques to maintain underground stability and prevent collapses.

Modern Usage and World War II Contributions

The underground played a crucial role during World War II, providing refuge for the population. The existing aqueduct structures were adapted to create shelters, with the city preparing 369 cave refuges and 247 non-landslide shelters. This repurposing led to a redivision of the ancient aqueduct system to accommodate these shelters.

Post-war, the underground spaces also served as dumpsites for rubble and transportation means, burying remnants of the war period. It wasn’t until the late 1960s that attention returned to the underground, spurred by geological instabilities like sewer breaks or leaks in the new aqueduct, which, instead of causing typical urban flooding, led to the formation of significant abysses due to the extensive underground network.

Napoli Sotterranea as a Cultural and Tourist Attraction

Today, the underground of Naples has been rediscovered and valorized through the efforts of volunteers and historical societies. Guided tours, such as those led by the Free Association of Underground Hikers founded by Michele and Salvatore Quaranta, explore this “lower city.” Visitors can venture beneath the Spanish Quarters to former cisterns of the Carmignano aqueduct and experience the historic environment where many sought refuge during the war.

The walls of these underground passages are adorned with historical inscriptions, names, caricatures of notable personalities from the era, and other relics like information about the Italian submarines Diaspro and Topazio that operated during the war.

Exploring Naples’ underground offers a unique glimpse into a lesser-known page of the city’s history, revealing the resilience and ingenuity of its inhabitants and providing a profound understanding of how Naples’ past intricacies shape its present.

The Napoli Sotterranea appears in our Complete Guide to Visiting Naples!

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Visiting Napoli Sotterranea


Guided tours in English: daily at 10 am, 12 pm, 2 pm, 4 pm and 6 pm.


Guided tour: € 10

Address: Napoli Sotterranea, Vico San Anna di Palazzo, Naples, Metropolitan City of Naples, Italy
Duration: 20 minutes
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