Last I spoke with everyone we were just leaving Africa. We’re now in Italy and have stayed in apartments in Rome and Napoli. I thought I’d relate an experience we had in Napoli.
Having come from the spectacular sites of Rome – the Colosseum, Vatican City, Trevi Fountain – we took a high speed train to Napoli (or Naples) and arrived in an hour. Travel here in Europe is so much easier than other parts of the world we’ve been, with trains, buses, and taxis readily available, albeit much more pricey!
We got to our apartment which was very spacious and our host was very keen to point out things of interest on a map of Napoli which he left with us. He explained that Napoli was the birthplace of pizza and the very best pizza was at a restaurant called Sabillo on Via Tribunali. Turns out that it was very close to a tour we wanted to go on called Napoli Sotterranea where they took you underground to see Napoli as it was in the past. Caleb was passingly interested but, oddly, Connor did not want to go at all. All the tours we had done in Rome had probably worn him out.
We met with our guide, Alex, who really made it fun for the boys as they were the only children on the tour. He explained how the area we had descended into (some 30m below street level) used to be an elaborate series of chambers and aqueducts that were fed by mountain streams. Every now and again Alex would point up and show us where another hole in the vaulted ceiling indicated a well opening from which villagers would draw water.
They were also modified and used during World War II as bomb shelters when Italy was being bombed by the Allies. Here’s an interesting point – I knew that Italy was allied with the Nazis under Mussolini but what I didn’t know was that there was a resistance movement opposing Nazi rule throughout the war (according to Alex) and once Mussolini was overthrown, Italy changed sides.
At one point in the tour Alex gave us all candles, lit them, and told us to follow him through some of the very narrow waterways that were the aqueducts. Those who were claustrophobic could stay behind for 15 minutes or so as we would eventually circle around. This was definitely the highlight for the boys as we groped our way through the dark tunnels which seemed to twist and turn for no apparent reason. I had to walk sideways the entire time because they were all narrower than the width of my shoulders.
We emerged into various chambers and were shown how the University of Naples is conducting plant-growing experiments down in the tunnels and it turns out that the basil used so prominently in pizza does very well down there!
There were also other chambers that had been refilled with water to show how it used to be and how water was pulled up.
The next part of the tour took us back up to street level briefly as our next guide, whose name none of us can remember, took us to see the old amphitheatre. We were standing in the middle of an alley between two buildings and she said, “This is where the cheap seats would have started,” and I’m thinking, “Uh-huh. This is going to be REALLY interesting for the boys.” Then she leads us into somebody’s house and I’m thinking, “Ok, I hope the people who live here don’t mind a dozen strangers or so tramping through their living room.”
She then tells us how a lady used to live here and had a large wine collection. She used to have to access it trough a trapdoor under her bed. When she wanted to expand the storage space she accidentally broke through into the previously undiscovered amphitheatre. Over time, people just built on top of existing things and eventually the theatre was forgotten – until this lady and her wine obsession found it again.
We toured through the various spaces and tunnels – some were backstage passes, some were entrance arches, some were surmised to be dressing rooms. At one point we were in a bit of a wide tunnel that used to be an entryway and the guide explained that this area used to be used by a motorcycle repair shop. A little flat jut in the arched ceiling was someone’s kitchen floor and you could hear them, depending on the time of day of course, moving about and cooking. People who lived in the area were allowed to stay at the historic site because all the newer construction was actually helping to keep the old amphitheatre from falling apart.
All in all, it was a very interesting and somewhat convoluted but the boys loved it. Even Connor, who was not keen at the beginning, was re-energized and chattered about nothing else all the way back to our apartment. The only downside was that we never got to taste the best pizza from the famous restaurant because it was so full of people with a queue outside that stretched farther than we were willing to wait. But that’s a small thing compared to the great experience we had below ground in Napoli.