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Campo Braca

The Neverending Story

Chapter four

The cover is from Larry Ray and Jeff Matthews

Translated Jeff Matthews


Chapter four

As I've mentioned, we are basically from a background of “urban speleology”. As for the rest, a city such as Naples has a cultural heritage of hypogea (artificial cavities) scarcely to be equaled, but also a total lack of natural grottoes (at least in the immediate area); thus, starting one's speleological adventures inside a latomia [trans. note: in ancient times, an artificially expanded natural cave or quarry that served as a prison] is the most natural thing in the world. Add to that the circumstances that led me to meet Clemente Esposito and his CSM (Southern Speliological Center), and there you have it. You're not going to escape being catapulted into that underground world with its 4500 years of history (the first Parthenopean [i.e. Neapolitan] excavation is an “oven” tomb from those years). The mystery of it will grab you.

I had my first personal underground experience on my own when I was a kid (see The First Time), but my encounter with the top-of-the-line urban speleology of Naples was electrifying. I had tried for some time to get accepted into that aristocratic group (aristocratic, so to speak—their language was more like what you might hear in a port-side dive of ill-repute during a fight among drunken sailors). The aristocratic members were highly protective of their own extreme confidence and mutual trust and not at all willing to have a rookie come sailing in on a gust of youthful euphoria to shake their rules. I did manage to go out with them a couple of times but, to my regret, those occasions were few and far between.

Obviously, that did nothing to dampen my enthusiasm. And so I learned the basics of how to use speleological gear, how to handle myself underground, how to take photos underground. I got organized independently and started forming a small group; little by little we all got better at it.

Our relations with the CSM remained cordial but reciprocally indifferent until the year 2000. That was the year in which a fatal accident struck our city (a sudden cave-in at a construction site engulfed and killed a surveyor). Clemente (in the meantime estranged from his friends) approached me about forming a group to give new life to the CSM. Obviously we accepted: working with “the Pope” was something you could be proud to boast of.

They were great years! We explored new cavities in quick succession; in about three years we found and mapped about 150 of them. We had learned well and everything went smoothly. We were strong in the euphoria of our new group and we felt we were the best!

In that period, however, because we were so heavily engaged we had to abandon our excursions to Campo Braca, but it remained dear to our hearts. The activity had one result (besides a few others I am not going to tell you about!) and that was that we mastered the use of the gear perfectly. We went down shafts that were 50 meters deep like they were nothing; we lost those first fears that come over you when you're on the rope and you feel your life is dangling from a thread, and we lost that fear of the darkness of caves. We all trusted one another, and with their encouragement you could dare anything!

But... (yes, there's always a “but”) all good things come to an end. I'm not even sure I can explain exactly how it happened. It was slow but sure. At a certain point we all had to go our separate ways. I remained, and still remain, bound by profound friendship to Clemente. The Pope founded a new association called AssoTecNa, and I felt it was time to pick up where I had left off some years earlier on the slopes of the Matese.

At the same time, I told myself that the right thing to do would be to disseminate as freely as possible the things that I know, get it all out there to those who wanted to listen. That's how the idea for a web site was born, where we could discuss, inform, or maybe just yell out to the world and tell it of this passion that has taken up and still takes up my free time.

I never imagined that when we—with the indispensable help of Sirio—created Napoli Underground, that it would have become as successful as it has.

(to be continued)...

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18 January 2019

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