The Bourbon Tunnel

April 4, 2011 / Places
Naples, Campania
1848 was a year of riot and revolution across Europe. The Bourbon king of the Two Sicilies, Ferdinand II, beset by challenges to his absolutist rule, made contingency plans.

The idea was a tunnel from the royal palace in Naples to Piazza Vittoria allowing rapid access to the palace of soldiery from nearby barracks and, uppermost in the king’s mind, giving him a useful escape route. Work began in 1853 under architect Enrico Alvino but faltered two years later as political events began to sweep away the kingdom and ultimately Ferdinand himself. Impediments to the work played their part – the tunnel intersected the 17th century cisterns and wells of the city devised by Carmignano – vast spaces carved out of the tuff and dotted with hand and footholds for the pozzari, maintenance men for the aqueduct.

In 1939 the city was in desperate need of air-raid shelters; a second entrance to the tunnel was opened in modern day Via Morelli; toilets and sinks, ancient electrical wiring, folding beds, a gas mask and heartfelt graffiti remain as witnesses to many long hours endured by Neapolitans in these damp surroundings. Here too are sections of fascist statuary that once stood in a piazza above ground (at the end of my street).

From the war till the 1970’s the tunnel was used to store confiscated vehicles, creating a sad parade of decaying classic motorbikes and cars.

Last October after 5 years’ work carried out by a brave team of cavers and enthusiasts – clearing out debris and installing lighting – the Bourbon Tunnel was opened to the public. No visitor can fail to be moved by the story the tunnel tells of wartime suffering, nor the efforts of today’s Neapolitans who want to make sure the story continues to resonate.

Thanks to the Associazione Culturale ‘Borbonica Sotteranea’ for kind permission to use their photographs. website is Grazie!


Penny Ewles-Bergeron

by Penny Ewles-Bergeron

Author, artist… celebrating the many good things in Naples.

7 Responses to “The Bourbon Tunnel”

  1. Leslie

    Naples has such a unique history and culture. The idea of use and reuse resonates in all things here. Wonderful article – thanks for sharing this with us.

  2. giuseppe spano (jojo)
    giuseppe spano (jojo)

    These stories cause your heart to cry, not only for Neapolitani but for mankind that endures these things and mankind that causes such horror

  3. I remember hearing in the late 60-early 70s that holes were opening in the road or airstrips and the Italians were trying to fill them in by dumping old cars into them. Gossip, but now there does seem some thread of credibility there. Bless their hearts–the drama!

  4. Helen Ruchti

    What’s underneath Italian cities is sometimes as interesting as what’s above ground! Naples has it share of surprising places. Thanks.

  5. Penny Ewles-Bergeron
    Penny Ewles-Bergeron

    It is a fascinating place to visit, somewhat creepy too in terms of the mouldering vehicles and the sad detritus (inc. children’s toys) from wartime. I find the dedication and passion of the restoration team exemplary, all done on a shoestring but to the highest standards. Hats off to them! (Hard hats, of course!)


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