Posted by: Debra Kolkka | July 20, 2018

The Bourbon tunnel, a must do in Naples

In turbulent times in Naples, Ferdinand II wanted an escape route from the royal palace. Errico Alvino was commissioned in 1853 to construct a military passage for troops and his family.

A tunnel was dug through the volcanic rock underneath the hill of Pizzofalcone and connected to other tunnels and aqueducts, including the Carmignano Aqueduct (1627-1629). Two years after it was begun the fall of the Bourbon dynasty stopped the work and it was forgotten until WWII when it was put to good use.

In the last few years a team of volunteers has cleaned the tunnels of rubbish and now it is possible to venture underground and find an amazing part of Neapolitan history.

We entered the tunnel at the Via Morelli entrance. (There is another one in Vico Del Grottone). We eventually found the entrance which is inside the Morelli Car Park. (Signage is not a priority)

Bourbon tunnel


Bourbon tunnel

A delightful guide took us on a walk through the tunnel.

Bourbon tunnel

Just past the entrance is a huge Art Deco style marble statue of Aurelio Padovani, an early Neapolitan Fascist trade unionist who participated in Mussolini’s march on Rome in 1922. The statue was dumped into the tunnel in 1943 as the allies closed in on Naples…nobody wanted to be seen to be profascist.

Bourbon tunnel

Art Deco was very stylised. The poster beside the broken statue shows what Aurelio actually looked like.

Bourbon tunnel

After the war this part of the tunnel became the place where impounded vehicles were stored until the practice stopped in the 1970s. Beyond Aurelio is a collection of old vehicles, still sitting where they were left all those years ago.

Bourbon tunnel

Bourbon tunnel


Bourbon tunnel

There is a row of “Ginori” toilets in this area of the tunnel. We saw much more basic arrangements further on.

Bourbon tunnel

You can see war relics and see the alarm that was set off when bombs were about to fall.

Bourbon tunnel

Bourbon tunnel

As we walked on we could see the huge water storage cisterns that form part of the tunnel. Naples is a city built largely on tuff, or tufa, a light, yet strong rock formed from volcanic ash. It is an excellent building material so it was quarried and brought up through shafts.

Bourbon tunnel

The caverns formed from the process were later used as reservoirs into which water was diverted from aqueducts.

Small men, called Pozzari, were employed to maintain the cisterns. They had to be small to get through the tiny entrances. Their job was extremely dangerous as they had to climb down perilous ladders formed by holes dug in the walls of the cisterns with only candles to light the way.

Bourbon tunnel

Bourbon tunnel

Pozzari were also called Munaciello, little monk, named for the bizarre spirit who was the source of urban legend. Sometimes the Pozzari/Munacielli were not paid and it is said that they used to creep into the houses of their employers and steal or create mischief. (What kind of idiot would not pay someone who was looking after their water supply?)

The system was used until 1885 when a cholera epidemic forced the closure. With  the cisterns no longer being used they became rubbish dumps. Residents would throw their rubbish down the wells into the spaces below.

The cleaning of the tunnels goes on and it is possible to see the work in progress.

Bourbon tunnel

During WWII the tunnel served as an air raid shelter and military hospital providing aid and protection to up to 10,000 Neapolitans. There was no time to clean out the debris dumped in the tunnel, so soil was thrown in to cover it.

The walls were whitewashed to help brighten the area and make it look a bit cleaner.

Bourbon tunnel

We came to the saddest part of the tunnel where the evidence of this dreadful time is there to be seen…the remnants of the hospital and toys and every day items left behind by those who sheltered there.

Bourbon tunnel

Bourbon tunnel

People interviewed years later recalled that the times they spent as children in the tunnel were happy times. Their parents were free from the worry of bombs falling and the children were allowed to play.

Bourbon tunnel

Some of the highlighted graffiti on the walls shows the positive spirit of the people who sheltered in the tunnel.

Bourbon tunnel

Bourbon tunnel

We live.

Photos show a sad story.

Here are the other toilets, in the area reserved for poorer Neapolitans…just a hole in the floor.

Bourbon tunnel

After the war the tunnel was forgotten again until 2007 when geologists working on a nearby tunnel discovered the extensive system.  The Associazione Cultural Borbonica Sotterranea opened the tunnel to the public after years of cleaning and restoration work.

The tour is excellent. Our guide was very knowledgeable and enthusiastic and had some wonderful tales to tell.

Don’t miss this if you go to Naples.

As well as the walks through the tunnel there are rafting and Cave tours  for the more adventurous…perhaps another time.

Tickets for the guided tour cost €15.

Phone…(39) 366 2484151


  1. THIS is amazing! Poignant, given it’s history. But, as you’ve pointed out; it kept people safe, gave them a degree of ‘freedom’, children might have thought it an adventure! You continue to surprise, with your lovely and interesting posts….hope, as we’re sweltering in Eastern Canada, that the coolness of your Winter is enjoyable. Must go back and ‘re-look’ at the post of your sister’s vineyard. Another very interesting one as well. What a Life you enjoy!! Thanks (again) for sharing.

    • We were amazed and dismayed by this place. How lucky are we who have not been caught up in war?
      Winter in Brisbane is delightful. Today we are expecting blue sky and 22 degrees.
      I am very lucky that I am able to travel as much as I do. Buying our apartment in Bagni di Lucca 15 years ago has opened up a whole new world for us.

  2. Dear Debra, Thanks for the informative history lesson. This is a revelation to me, and as I know I will not make it to see them in my lifetime, I am now aware of their history. You will soon be a living national treasure in both countries if you do not watch out. Regards Kevin Palmer Bangalow

    • Thank you for your kind coments. We were fascinated by this tunnel, a true insight into how people suffered during the war.

  3. This is so fascinating Debra, thanks for taking us into yet another layer of Italian history.

    • Thank you! I have done the other underground tour in Naples, but this one is better.

  4. What fascinating history, and not a little chilling. The discarded vehicles look ghostly. It’s really not possible for us to imagine how it was for the people who lived and worked in those tunnels – in our lives we really don’t have a reference point for that kind of privation and fear. I should like to do that tour.

    • It is fascinating and upsetting at the same time. We went very quiet as we looked at the toys and messages left behind.

  5. It must have been terrifying times. Awful and depressing, but it was a shelter in times of war. Thank you for sharing your experiences.

    • Having not lived through a war I can’t imagine how horrible it would be to have everything around you destroyed.

  6. Looks fascinating…

    • It is an excellent guided tour.

  7. Fascinating!

    • We were very impressed with our visit.

  8. Definitely a sad story – and definitely no Bourbon barrels that I was expecting. 😉 Thanks for sharing.

    • Even the stories of the impounded vehicles was sad. In many cases the people who owned the vehicles were just trying to make a living, but the police impounded the vehicles for fairly minor offences.

  9. Great post, I completely agree about the signage and finding places bit, I went looking for the entrance to the tunnels a couple of years ago and actually had to give up, I just couldn’t find it. I’m inspired to try again.

    • It was not easy to find the entrance. We made several wrong turns.

  10. Great reading and photos. thanks Debra

  11. Wow that is really fascinating! And interesting that they have happy memories of being there too. I guess being on ground level would have been terrifying.

  12. Thanks for sharing another interesting find on our Italian travels.

    • Sorry Deb should have said…on your Italian travels.

  13. Fascinating! I’d never heard of this. Thanks.

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