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Translated by Jeff Matthews

“...within the caverns were born architecture, sculpture, painting, geometry, music, poetry, astronomy, politics and all other human knowledge...it is there that we contemplated Heaven and Earth.” Giuseppe Sanchez wrote that in 1833, and who can gainsay him?

All great and legendary names of antiquity seem to have had something to do with grottoes: Orpheus, Pythagoras, Plato, Numa, Minos, Epimenides... Within the caves, tradition says, was the abode of the venerable Circe, the mournful Echidna, the god Pan, Selene, the sun god, the Cyclops, Chiron and all the other Centaurs; that is where the Nymphs wove cloaks of purple...in the grottoes is where the gods spent their infancy. The Chronicles of Parthenope from the 1300s tell us that precisely in the grotto of the centaur Chiron, prince of teachers, is where the poet Virgil acquired supernatural powers and knowledge that he then put to the service of the city of Naples. Within these chambers echo Sibylline verses, sirens sing the music of the spheres, and past and present are fused in the ample bosom of the immense Aion while the Ancient Serpent devours its own tail.

Who knows these things better than the cutters of stone? Through the centuries some men have saved the mysteries bound to the earth and to heaven, leaving indelible traces where they passed, signs cut into the hard stone and worked to precise dictates, symbols over which time has drawn a veil that today obscures their nature.

Stone gives birth to culture, and it is through stone that homo becomes sapiens.

Our lands have an ancient tradition bound to the working of stone and often History and Poetry come together in telling us how things happened. Homer, in Book XI of The Odyssey, tells us of the existence of a mythical people, the Cimmerians, who dwelt between Cuma (Cyme) and Baia (as Servius, Clüver and Lycophron also tell us). In their city, one never saw the sun, neither at sunrise nor sunset. It is where Ulysses moored to ask questions of the great darkness (Erebus) just as did Aeneas.

Strabo tells us, citing Ephorus, that the Cimmerians lived in subterranean houses called Argille [from 'clay'] interconnected by labyrinthine tunnels; they had an underground temple, living on what they took from the mines and from the offerings they lavished on their Oracle. Even Cucceius, it seems, built the Neapolitan Crypt according to customs of the Cimmerians, who walked beneath the surface.

Bochart tells us that the name of the Cimmerians is Phonecian in origin (cammar or cimmer, covered by darkness), while Martorelli, staying with the Phoenician origin derives the word from cim-eri (place of oracles)...but the controversy is really lost in time and myth.

In De bello Neapolitano Pontano says that a Cimmerian quarter existed in Naples and that one of the many exits along their underground trails was near the church of Sant'Agostino alla Zecca. Near that church there is even today a street named via dei Cimbri. And D'Engenio recalls that the church of Santa Maria di Portanova, one of the oldest in Naples, was called “a Cimmino” because of the presence there of “that Cimmerian nation.” And so it seems that there was in Naples a legendary people, bound to rock and its secrets from "Napoli esoterica" by Mario Buonoconto But quite aside from myth there were those who earned their daily bread from rock; what might those strange symbols mean that we see, quite clearly, for example, on the tuff blocks of the Greek walls of the city or in the Greek quarries at Poggioreale, or the ashlar surfaces of the church of Gesù Nuovo (fig.1), or in the winding tunnels that lie beneath us.


The Parthenopean stone cutters worked in place; that is, first they excavated the raw material, the tuff, in the immediate area of where it was going to be used for construction: they dug below and built above, practically speaking. The resulting excavated pits then became cisterns for the water reserves of the structures built above them. You just needed to treat the surfaces of the cisterns with plaster to make them impermeable and connect them with tunnels to branches of the aqueduct that passed through the city. The citizens were quite undisturbed by sounds of hammers, picks or other tools, since the work was being carried out deep below.

At the various construction sites, workers needed marks to identify themselves, proper trademarks that said they belonged to the profession and that would also help them get paid for their work. But those “signatures” also had a deeper meaning, marks born of the compass, straight-edge and plumb line, as Ferdy Hermes Barbon writes. Their geometric shapes were linked to religious worship of the day, and as worship changed so did the signs, following the inspiration of homo religiosus. But rather then bespeak change, those markings seem to hide a fascinating aspect of continuity.

In his Estudes sur le marques des tailleurs de pierre [Study of stone-cutter markings] (1880) Franz Rziha documented around 9000 markings divided into two groups: signs of usage (made up of letters, numbers, geometric figures, figures of tools; they might indicate place, position, assembly, depth...) and signs of personal identity. To explain the various marks, he devised 14 matrices, of which the four main ones were: the square, the triangle, the trilobe, and the quadrilobe. (fig.2)


(fig.2)   (fig.3)

Some months ago, during of our excursions beneath Naples, following the Greco-Roman aqueduct beneath via Tribunale, we came across various marks in the tuff, among which were a number of crosses, placed near the side tunnels (now blocked off) that most likely were directions to the quarry (partially collapsed) used for the construction of the church of Santa Maria Maggiore alla Pietrasanta. We noticed that these markings left by anonymous stone cutters, these ancient representations of the cross, fit into Rziha's matrices (fig.3) and bespoke a deep and timeless sense of the divine. The quadripartite cross became a symbol of Christ around the 5th century, replacing the Chrismon or Christ Monogram.


During the Middle Ages the Signaculum Domini (such as the Cross Crosslet and the Jerusalem Cross) was particularly widespread. It became not just a symbol of ecclesiastical authority but also an emblem of guilds and chivalric orders, emblems that appeared on insignias, standards, jewelry and ceramic objects (see, for example, the ceramic fragments found during the excavations of San Lorenzo Maggiore in Naples). We find the emblem in the lay-out of churches and monastic gardens. The Cross Crosslet (fig.4) as Louis Charbonneau—Lassay says, “...evokes the five sacred wounds and was considered a precious emblem of the Redeemer's shed blood, expressing the natural image of the entire body of the crucified Saviour.” It is the cross of the consecration, uniting within itself the five crosses of the altar stone, a true and proper seal to designate that persons and places belonged to the Kingdom of God.

Another symbol that we found during our exploration is the Latin Cross, a crosslet of three arms, from the sharp base as if it were to be planted in the earth (or does it represent the lance the pierced the heart of Jesus?). We should not forget that these symbols condense the moment of the mystic crucifixion. In tradition the so-called lance of Longinus that pierces the heart of Christ represents the axis mundi that by its sacred center joins Heaven and Earth. Cross and lance are united in a single meaning...(fig.5).

(fig.5) photo by Zool   (fig.6) photo by Zool  


Masaccio, 1426
Capodimonte Museum

The other sign that we found can be described as follows: a Latin cross, the lateral arms of which are joined to the lower section such as to form an inverted triangle (which is right at the center of the composition), the cross rests on a base that is the same length as the aforementioned arm, on the sides of the base and at the top of the cross there are rays or branches (fig.6). In the Book of Genesis we read that in the earthly paradise the Tree of Life is at the center of Eden (2:9) as is the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil(3:3). There is the source of the “four heads” (great rivers) of the four corners of the world. As Guénon reminds us, the inverted triangle is the geometric representation of the heart, is the vase or cup that holds Soma, the elixir of immortality, and the fount of all waters (remember that the symbol of Water in alchemy is an inverted triangle).

The cross of the Saviour is identified with the Tree of Life, which represents rebirth and eternal life and is often symbolized by branches extending from the top of the cross (fig.7). The other two branches at the bottom might be meant to evoke the double nature of the Tree of Good and Evil, united with the Arbor vitae through the roots (the base of the cross in the emblem we are analyzing). The ancient pact is thus reestablished. The Serpent and the Cross reunited again and accessible to all mankind: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:14-15).

It is important to remember that the church absorbed ancestral symbols as Dom Henri Leclercq describes in the Manuel d'archeologie chretienne (Manual of Christian Archaeology): “Christians in those days, thanks to their interpretations of old mythological emblems, imposed new meaning and baptized the most venerable of the pagan symbols; the Sun God, for example, became Christ who ascends from the earth in the splendour of the sun.” All of these symbols flow through human history like an immense primordial river and reach us along subterranean and hidden ways that indicate the Place where everything had its origin...it is important to search!

by Selene Salvi and Daniela Marra ("Alessandra" study group)


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