The "Academy of the Secrets" … Nov 30, 2009 14:27:26 GMT -5
Post by NeandertalMan on Nov 30, 2009 14:27:26 GMT -5
The "Academy of the Secrets" … ancient underground mystery still alive today
Posted by Larry Ray & lili November 29, 2009
The underground beneath Naples, Italy, is a source of endless fascination. One of the most tantalizing and puzzling mysteries is a little known series of passageways leading to a bizarre ritual meeting room known as “The Academy of the Secrets.” First a word about the ancient city of Naples. Founded by the Greeks around 680 B.C., made a Roman municipality in 90 B.C., Napoli from "Neaopolis," Greek for "new city." So the city is, in a word, old! Myth and legend are sometimes hard to separate from truth, but up in the hills above the city, legend lives.
Let's zip forward to the late1500's and a Naples that had grown with roads snaking up the hills overlooking the original city center below. One of those roads, basically laid out from eroded gullies washed out my centuries of rain, is Via Carlo Cattaneo, and it is still very much in use today. The narrow road with sandstone block retaining walls on each side, overgrown with gnarled roots, begins at a the little Piazza of the Two Gates, an unusual sight with with two narrow streets leading from two archways side by side. They have been there for more than 500 years. The narrow, dark alleyway leading up and away from the arch on the left was known as "Via delle Fate" or "Street of the Fairies" for the many good and hard working washer women who took in laundry from the wealthier families in the nearby Vomero quarter.
It was in this very neighborhood that tales of witches, witchcraft and strange alchemy are said to have taken place. At the end of the 18th century, Tommaso Fasano in his book, "Lettere Villaresche . . ." after extolling the virtues of the neighborhood's wonderfully clean and fresh air, also mentioned that the quarter was upset over the presence of a witch. Residents described her as a "… stingy old widow, with weeping eyes, drooling from a putrid mouth, … who used revenge on those who avoided her by casting spells upon them, then forced her victims to pay her to remove them."
Just 300 or so feet from the Twin Gates down Via Catteneo was the splendid, ornate Villa of Giovanbattista della Porta (1535-1615). From the age of 15, he had studied "natural magic" and in 1558 he published a book on all sorts of dark arts which gained great notoriety across Europe but also brought strong accusations of witchcraft and his engaging in strange experiments, rituals and rites. The negative reports in Naples were quickly hushed up.
"The Academy of the Secrets" is said to have been a members-only ritual chamber, and is believed to have been somewhere beneath the area of della Porta's villa. It was open only to those who had discovered the "natural secrets." Among those was Girolomo Ruscelli whose writings were published in Venice in 1567, a year after his death, and his preface included "New secrets of marvelous virtue." Those to be initiated were brought in through a wooden door from grounds outside the villa, and then down a long underground corridor into a fantastic chamber where della Porta, the Master, would already be seated, having descended down a secret stairwell from above. It is known that della Porta was interested in a variety of paranormal 'sciences' and in 1589 he republished, in twenty volumes, a second edition of his "Magia Naturalis" with treatises on demonology, witches, magnetism, chiromancy or palm reading and even a camera oscura . Another reference in the late 1500's by a nobelman in the neighborhood makes reference to the intervention of the church and royal court in the rituals and experiments taking place beneath Della Porta's villa.
Flash forward to 1980 when a young Fulvio Salvi, working for the City of Naples Department of the Underground, was doing a routine inspection with two other speleologists conducting surveys of known or reported underground cavities. Near the ancient piazza of the Two Gates he had been given access by an old farmer and his son into a chicken coop, at the back of which was a steel gate opening into old descending stairwell. The steep steps were littered with trash and debris thrown down into it over many years. Making their way through discarded furniture, bathroom and kitchen fixtures, old mattresses, the stairwell eventually became free of debris but ended where an entrance at the bottom of the stairwell had been walled over. Fulvio noticed a hole off one side of the stairwell, just large enough for him to squeeze through.
Since they could go no further through the stairwell, he drove an anchor spike into the sandstone, rigged up his climbing gear and, feet first, shinnied and wiggled his way through the hole into inky darkness. He descended for some distance before contacting a floor beneath him. He had only the small lamp on his safety helmet, and as his eyes adjusted, he swiveled his head slowly to survey the large cavity around him. The light hit a huge floor to ceiling sculpted skull with teeth, its mouth wide open! Fulvio's eyes went wide with the surprise of seeing such a thing underground. "Hey you guys have to come down here and see this!" he yelled to his buddies above. They all came down to join Fulvio and for the next hour or so they marveled at the puzzling skull made of smoothed tuffa stones used to model the imposing image.
Ornate columns with square tops and decorated bases had been sculpted from the sandstone. A short tunnel had been dug with a wide rounded top half and a rounded bottom half in an hour glass shape, or as some now speculate, the figure eight figure used horizontally to represent infinity. Other similar designs have been carved into the columns. An ornate fresco with strange designs and images topped an arch above a straight wide passageway leading out to a wooden door opening to the outside world. This corridor had large niches dug into both sides where statues or large vases would have been displayed, and one was a psuedo-burial niche. The three young city surveyors and speleologists were astounded and fascinated.
It was clear that originally there had been much more decoration and detail in the mysterious chamber, but modern day use as a crude storage area for building materials, ceramic tiles and such as well as piles of trash and debris had taken a toll. After Fulvio's first discovery in 1980 to a second visit five years later with Clemente Esposito, the dean of exploration of the Naples underground, a wooden doorway inside the back of the 'mouth' of the huge skull had walled closed with large concrete blocks. The large area behind it is used today as a garage for parking cars. Whatever the door might have originally led to, perhaps an alchemy laboratory, and more ornate decorations tied to magical rites, is left to our imaginations because the entire original area behind the wall with the huge skull has been excavated with no trace of what was there in the late 1500's.
The end to this story, so far, came in June, 2009, when a commander of the Vigili Urbani, or city police, had read about the mysterious room at the end of the long strange tunnel on the Napoliunderground web site, and decided to take a look with a couple of other city officials. After gaining entrance to the ground level entry door, they were astounded and called Fulvio to announce that they had 'discovered' something he had to come see! Fulvio assured them that it had been discovered years earlier, but went down and joined them, explaining what had been there back in 1980, compared to its present state, with even more litter and now stuffed with building materials. He showed them an opening in the chamber that leads to a huge cistern on another upper level in the sandstone. It was originally a fresh rainwater cistern for the original villas above. All new construction now is built upon the ground where the magnificent Villas once stood five centuries ago. But surface run-off water and today's polluted seepage still drains into the cistern which contains some three feet of black, malodorous liquid. After initial plans by the police to have this all inspected as a possible pollution hazard, and as a historical site and on and on, in true Naples form, nothing ever happened.
The owner of the property, however, after all the perceived threats from city beuracracy has now forbidden any further entrance by anyone, so "The Academy of the Secrets" once again drifts in time. What remains may once again be 'discovered' in another few hundred years. Who knows?
Meanwhile, take a visit of your own with the old photos from Fulvio's early and later visits and a video from his last visit at the links below. And bear in mind that this is but one of countless other mysteries yet awaiting to be discovered in the Napoli Underground!
PHOTOS - VIDEO
For a fascinating, in-depth look at Giambattista della Porta, check out our friend, Jeff Matthews', fine article in his "Naples Encyclopedia."
by Napoli Underground