We made it back to Naples from our outing to Pompeii and Herculaneum with time to spare. This was where the tricky part in planning came in. Would we just wander away the day, or would we tick something else off the list to give us more room for our third day’s travel to the Almafi Coast? We decided on the latter and we headed to the underground.
There are quite a few catacombs tours and entrances throughout the town of Naples. A few center around dead people—real, bonafide catacombs—and a few of the others center around the aqueduct system. To me, the civil engineering and city design history of the city is great interest to me, especially when it comes to how the ancients drank and pooped, so going for the latter-type sotterranea was an obvious choice.
above the entrance door
The Sotterranea Napoli is perhaps the most famous of the underground tours. There is no way to book ahead, and you have to go in with a tour guide. Which is good, because you can probably get lost and never found down there. The entrance is right in the middle of the old town, next to the Basilica of San Paolo Maggiore. When you’re there, you find the organizer and tell them you want an English tour (or Russian, Italian, Spanish, or whatever) and then they’ll call out your language after a bit. The Italian line is the longest, and the English line is quite a bit shorter, but I’m not sure if that holds true during the tourist season.
When we got there, we were lucky that there’s a free toilet for anyone waiting in line. We were glad to take advantage of that since we knew that there would be no toilet where we were going.
The tour starts off with a staircase leading down some 40 meters below the city, into the aqueduct system. The system was made by the first Greek settlers in 400 BC. They dug down into the tufa, a kind of soft volcanic rock, and mined the tufa to build the buildings up above. However, they mined it in a very specific way to match the plans of the city, and they created an intricate freshwater and sewage system to supply the town. Most houses above would have access to their own private aquifer, or water tank, that from within their house they could gather water.