Built in the 1st century BC, it has been abandoned since the 19th century

The Crypta Neapolitana: an impressive Roman tunnel with an important Spanish legacy

Ancient Rome was known for carrying out truly prodigious engineering works, many of which still exist today.

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Without a doubt, among the most famous Roman engineering works are the roads. To carry them out, Rome had to open tunnels in some places. One such tunnel is preserved in Naples, Italy, and is known as the Crypta Neapolitana, the Posillipo Grotto (after the name of the hill on which it was excavated) and as Virgil's Grotto, since it is believed that the tomb of the famous Roman poet Publius Virgil Maron (70-19 BC) is located there.

Access to the Crypta Neapolitana through the Piedigrotta neighborhood, in western Naples (Photo: Miguel Hermoso Cuesta).

The exact date of the construction of this tunnel is unknown, although it is estimated that it was started at the dawn of the Roman Empire, specifically in the 1st century BC, its builder being the Roman architect and engineer Lucio Cocceio Aucto.

The function of the tunnel was to give way to the road that linked Naples with the Phlegrean Fields, located to the northwest of that city. Specifically, the tunnel goes from Mergellina, a Neapolitan neighborhood located by the sea, to Piedigrotta, in the west of the city.

Christian iconography inside the Crypta Neapolitana (Photo: Miguel Hermoso Cuesta).

In addition to its function as a tunnel, it is believed that its interior was used for acts of worship to the god Mithras, a Roman deity of Persian origin, and to Sol Invictus. As a curiosity, the cave was designed in such a way that the interior, usually dark, sunlight penetrates its entire length during the equinoxes, illuminating its walls.

During medieval times the crypt was used for the Christian cult of the Virgin Hodegetria. By the way, the tunnel preserves an important Spanish legacy from that time, since in the mid-15th century, King Alfonso V of Aragon, a native of Medina del Campo (Valladolid), ordered the height of the cave to be increased in order to lower its slope. The ground was lowered by 2 meters at the western access and 11 meters at its eastern access, giving the tunnel its curious elongated appearance.

The coat of arms of the Kingdom of Aragon inside the Crypta Neapolitana, testifying to the expansion works ordered by King Alfonso V of Aragon (Photo: Miguel Hermoso Cuesta).

Another Spanish nobleman who left his mark on this tunnel was the Viceroy of Naples Pedro Álvarez de Toledo y Zúñiga (born in Alba de Tormes, Salamanca), who during the 16th century ordered the tunnel to be paved and reinforced. In the mid-18th century, King Carlos III of Spain consolidated the tunnel, allowing it to continue to be used for two more centuries.

Unfortunately, the tunnel was closed at the end of the 19th century, due to the problems that the gallery presented. Today it is still closed to the public and with a part of its section in poor condition, although there are plans to reopen it. The tunnel is 705 meters long, 4.5 meters wide and up to 5 meters high.

Access to the tunnel through Parco Vergiliano (Photo: Mentnafunangann).

If you want to see what the inside of the tunnel looks like today, Tattooed Traveler posted an interesting video on Tuesday showing it:


Main photo: Gianfranco Vitolo.

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