Napoli Sotterranea

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Napoli Sotterranea

Fascinating 90-minute tours of a portion of Naples's fabled underground city provide an initiation into the complex history of the city center. Efforts to dramatize the experience—amphoras lowered on ropes to draw water from cisterns, candles given to navigate narrow passages, objects shifted to reveal secret passages—combine with excellent English-speaking guides to make this particularly exciting for children.

A short descent delivers you to a section of a 400-km (249-mile) system of quarries and aqueducts used from Greek times until the 1845 cholera epidemic, including a highly claustrophobic 1-km (½-mile) walk with only a candle to light your way. At the end of the aqueduct, you come first to a Greek and then a much larger Roman cistern. Near the entrance is the War Museum, which displays uniforms, armed transportation vehicles, and weapons from World War II. Returning aboveground your guide leads you to a small house built above an amphitheater where Nero famously performed three times. During one of his performances an earthquake struck and—so Suetonius relates—the emperor forbade the 6,000 spectators to leave. The rumbling, he insisted, was only the gods applauding his performance. A room at the end of the tour contains examples of that most Neapolitan of art forms, la presepe (the crib). Be prepared on the underground tour to go up and down many steps and handle a few narrow corridors. Temperatures in summer will be much lower below than at street level, so bring a sweater.

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