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Translated Jeff Matthews

I was looking at a section of our galleries dedicated to the grottoes of Naples as seen in art through the centuries, and it brought to mind events of some decades ago.

It started a while back during a Skype call with Larry in the United States. We were exchanging comments on the images when my attention was drawn to the two entrances of large excavated cavities in the background of a watercolour entitled “Posillipo from Palazzo Donn'Anna.”

Through the arch, along the flank of the hill that drops down towards Mergellina, at the base of the cliff, there are two dark spots that clearly show entrances to two ancient underground tufa (or tuff) quarries.

It took a second: “I know those grottoes! I've been in the one lower down and I made a chart of it!”

Larry stared at me incredulously through his webcam and then wanted to hear all about it. He didn't have to ask me twice:

Some years earlier a friend had asked me if I had information about a grotto or quarry that was said to exist within the tufa cliff face behind the small square, Piazzetta del Leone, at Mergellina. That information would serve, he said, to inform a friend who was trying to determine the feasibility of building a service elevator (lift) within the grotto up to the upper stories of a very old factory along the cliff and looking out over the small square. I was indeed attracted by the idea of exploring such a little-known area of the city.

After an initial investigation we found that you could go from one of the rooms in the upper stories and pass through a couple of others dug into the cliff and gain access to yet another room of unknown size. In the days that followed we returned with ropes and gear and lowered ourselves down the 20 meters or so to the floor of the chamber and drew our charts. We noted that it was, in fact, connected to the opening that you see in the cliff face looking up from the first turn as you move up via Orazio.

At the end of it all, we got a kick out of the idea that the artist who had painted the watercolour, Swiss painter and engraver, Abraham-Louis-Rodolphe Ducros (1748-1810), could never have imagined that two persons, two centuries later and a thousand kilometers away, would spend so much effort looking into the grottoes that he had painted. Even further, consider what events these same grottoes may witness in ages to come after we, ourselves, will have long since passed from consideration.

The image above shows the entrance to the lower cavity as seen today, the view partially blocked by cement.

This is the link to that section of our forum that discusses The grottoes of Naples in art through the centuries – Ancient art and grottoes

The watercolour of Abraham-Louis-Rodolphe Ducros

Details of the two grottoes

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