The underground of Naples hides a maze of tunnels, quarries and halls dug into the tuff.
This strange world is home to one of the city’s most impressive museums, one of those you absolutely cannot miss visiting. It is the Museo del Sottosuolo.
One of the most peculiar thing about this Museum is that the entrance is a small and anonymous door, just a few meters from the subway line 2 at Piazza Cavour. It really looks nothing special, but once you enter and go down the tuff stairs, things change completely.
At 25 meters deep under the streets, the chaos and beauty of Naples disappear. Now you are in a world made of silence, rock and darkness. It seems unbelievable that only a few minutes before you probably were in a crowded bar enjoying a good Neapolitan coffee!
Not an usual one for sure! The guide of the Museo del Sottosuolo is disguised as’ O Munaciello (the little monk), a spirit, or a demon, small and deformed, whose legend is part of the folklore of Naples.
This spirit behaves kindly with those who treat him well and spitefully with those who mistreat him.
The Munaciello, mixing poetry and humor, takes visitors through the rooms of the Museum. He tells the story of the caves, the Greco-Roman aqueduct and how the tuff rooms were used as an air-raid shelter during the WWII. Blending history with legends and superstitions of Naples, this guide will make you feel really captivated.
The rooms are exactly as they originally were.
In the air-raid shelter there still are some objects used by refugees during their daily life and their writings on the walls. It is easy to imagine their fear while listening to the roar of bombardments.
In the other rooms you can see tools, oil lamps, amphorae for water and medical equipment used by the ancient Neapolitan tuff quarrymen. All objects are original and found during excavations on the spot.
I must say that walking through the dark caves of the Museo del Sottosuolo made me feel like Dante living his journey into the Hell.
Maybe it is because of this resemblance that the Museum is also the set for the theatrical representation of Dante’s Divine Comedy.
I’m not talking about a typical show where the audience is passive. Nope. In this case visitors are part of the show. You walk through the Museum with the actors and it’s really a strong experience. You are IN the plot. The magic is given by actors, costumes, music and, of course, the natural set of the tuff caves.
The show takes place in 3 different rooms of the Museum. In the first, the White Hall, visitors meet Dante and Virgilio at the beginning of their journey. In the second one, the Hall fo the Riggiole, they face Cerberus, Pluto and the Furies. In the third one, the Hall of War, Dante Virgilio and visitors meet Ulysses, Count Ugolino and Lucifer in person!
The visit to the Museo del Sottosuolo is so captivated that once you return to the surface the experience seems unreal. You were underground with a folklore spirit or following Dante, while on the surface life continued as usual…
My opinion is that the Museo del Sottosuolo is perfect if you are looking for a little adventure or you want to discover an original side of Naples. Just remember that visits are by reservation only!
A final note: this Museum is suitable for children and also for those who suffer from claustrophobia. The environments are not as narrow as in other underground sites, like catacombs.