Napoli Underground - Urban speleology
NUg Speleologists Assist Exploration ...
NUg Speleologists Assist Exploration of Private Underground Catacomb

Posted by Larry Nov 4, 2007

Following the destructive earthquake in the Naples area in 1980, many ancient churches in the city were closed because of fear of structural damage. One particular church with a fascinating history was among those shuttered and abandoned. Located in the very center of the original city, this church, which will remain unnamed for reasons of security, has a long and mysterious history. It stands where a large private palace once stood in the 17th century. A noble Marquise owned the palace, and had decided to move to a newer part of Naples. A religious order bought his palace for 600 Ducats in 1601, and converted it to a small chapel and convent. Historians and archeologists knew that the elaborately decorated church was built incorporating parts of a grand old private palace, beneath which a private burial catacomb had been used dating at least to the mid 1500's. In 1640 the religious order acquired an adjoining palace and an atrium between the two buildings. An elaborate Rococo church was constructed over the site of the private underground cemetery. For the next three hundred years the elaborately decorated church and convent used the old cemetery for burial of clergy and members of the order.

After the earthquake of 1980 the church, like hundreds of other ancient buildings in Naples, suffered structural cracking and damage. The church was closed and abandoned. Pieces of the ornate facade and exterior began to crack off and plummet to the narrow street below creating a public hazard. Priceless paintings and ornamentation had been removed from the church and placed in museums and stop-gap measures were taken to shore up the exterior the church. The once famous church and convent with its mysterious underground burial chambers faded from memory as the once glorious structure faded into the background melding with the facades of the other centuries old buildings on the street.

A few weeks ago, NUg director, Fulvio and fellow speleologists, Luca and Fabio were asked to assist with a survey of the present structural condition and safety of the ancient catacomb beneath the church by archeological researchers, and those interested in the overall condition of the ancient church. The initial inspection is detailed in the photos below which show the deteriorating condition of the once magnificent and ornate church. Fulvio's team, the first to view the chambers in decades, located the old entrance into the catacomb chambers and were wary of what they found. The archways above the old chambers had been shored up with thick wooden braces, all of which were now rotted and crumbling. Large pieces of the walls and overhead areas had fallen and littered the floor. They discovered huge piles of bones from burials that could possibly date to the 1500's or even earlier. Several once elegant, velvet covered coffins were found, still containing totally decomposed skeletal remains of high ranking clergy whose rich and colorful robes and vestments could still be seen, though now almost turned to dust.

A second trip is planned by Fulvio and his team to assist a highly respected forensic archeologist who will collect samples and conduct tests in the extremely fragile and potentially dangerous catacomb complex. The researchers hope to determine the ages and times of burials of the various remains in accessible parts of the catacomb complex.

Larry Ray

by Napoli Underground :)