Posted Aug 15, 2011 by Larry Ray
In the same issue of local newspapers in Naples last week the network of huge quarried cavities, tunnels, and underground service mains beneath the city once again were featured, tragically in one case and in yet another, a brazen attempt at robbery by criminals tunneling beneath a bank.
In the photo below, an all too common, "voragine" or sinkhole washout of a roadway which caused the gigantic hole into which a loaded trash compactor truck plunged, killing the driver.
These deep, gaping chasms have resulted with alarming frequency over the past decades. The city's aging water and sewer mains, buried in the loose, friable volcanic soil and tufa volcanic sandstone, develop cracks and broken connections. This allows huge areas of subsoil to wash out and erode, undiscovered, ultimately leading to a surface collapse that can swallow buildings and vehicles without notice.
There have been instances where the erosion has taken place steadily, unseen, both beneath the surface while also washing away the roofs of already existing excavated cavities below where the tufa sandstone had been mined centuries before as a durable and easily worked building material. In these instances the gaping maw at the surface exposes a frightening darkness plunging down into the ancient caverns for twenty meters or more.
And in Naples, when the surface is not caving in dramatically, it is being stealthily tunneled into by gangsters using manholes and storm grates as secret entryways to their secret tunnels.
For many years criminals have pulled off stunning bank and jewelry store robberies using the large sewer mains and other interconnecting tunnels beneath the city center both for escaping after daylight robberies or for totally underground heists. A recent wave of mole-tunneling by "la banda del buco" or the "hole gang" has been discovered by the Naples Police department's own squad of underground exploration specialists.
The thieves artfully excavate their own tunnels from an existing large sewer main to precisely arrive beneath banks and upscale stores where they chisel away into bank and jewelery vaults making off with millions of dollars in loot. But recently the squad of "speleo-cops," guided with detailed maps of the drainage and sewer mains, made a major discovery the same week as the unrelated tragic cave-in which happened not far from the Naples international airport.
The speleo-squad discovered a new tunnel that thieves had just dug beneath the area at the end of Naples most fashionable street, the Via Roma. The tunnel was accessible by entering a street level metal grating above a wastewater service conduit off which the tunnel had been dug through the same tufa sandstone, just as as the ancient Greek and Roman aqueducts were excavated by slaves thousands of years ago.
The speleo-cops followed the freshly dug tunnel which led to a point directly beneath a well known bank in an area not far from Naples famous National Museum. Countless hours of tunneling work by the "hole gang," who were clearly ready to break through into the bank in the wee hours, was undone as the cops collapsed and closed off the tunnel.
These two stories, while astounding to most of the rest of the world, are relatively common stuff in Naples, and both are related to the endlessly fascinating . . . Napoliunderground!