Cuma - Antro della Sibilla

The Grotto of Sibyl


The replica of the antique city Cumae.

Useful Information

Location: Northwest of Napoli (Naples). Naples bypass to Pozzuoli, exit #13. By subway to pozzuoli, busses to Cuma.
Open: All year daily 9 to 1 hour before sunset.
Fee: Adults (18-25) ITL 2000, (25+ yrs) ITL 4000, Children, Seniors free.
Classification: SubterraneaEnigmatic Cavern
Light: none, electric torch useful.
Dimension: L=131m
Guided tours: possible by arrangement
Photography:
Accessibility:
Bibliography:
Address: Cuma, Parco archaeologico (Archaeological Park of Cumae), 1, via Acropoli, 80078 Pozzuoli, Napoli. Tel: +39-081-8543060.
Antro della Sibilla, 5 Strada Provinciale Cuma Licola, Monte di Cuma, 80078
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.
The entrance to the Antro della Sibilla.

History

750 b.C. the city of Kume was founded as the first colony of the Greek in Italy.
1932 discovered by Amedeo Maiuri and interpreted as the place of the oracle.
1960s explored by Dr. Robert Ferrand Paget.

Description

The main part of the Antro della Sibilla.
The rear part has a round ceiling.

The city of Cuma or Kyme was the first Greek settlement on the Italian peninsula. The Antro della Sibilla is a long passage, about 131 m long and with a trapezoid shape. This passage was cut into the soft tufa by hand. It is lighted by multiple openings to the surface which gives the the place a unique look on sunny days.

When Vergil wrote his chronicles of the adventures of Trojan warrior Æneas in 19 BC, he described this place as the location of the oracle scene. Æneas landed in Cumae, visited the Sibilla oracle and descended into Hades at the nearby Lago d'Averno. Virgil described a cave with a hundred openings and this is a long trapezoid tunnel with many openings on one side.

There are many legends about the Sybil, starting at least 600 BC.

Sibyl approached the last Roman King, Tarquinius Superbus, around 500 BC with nine books of prophesy, collected from the wisest seers. She offered them to the king for a very steep price. The king haughtily refused her price. In response, the sibyl burned three of the books, then offered the remaining six books at the original price. Again he refused. Of the remaining six books, she threw three more into the fire, and repeated her offer of the final three books, at the original price. Afraid of seeing all the prophesy destroyed, he finally accepted. The books foretold the future of Rome and soon became a famous source of power and knowledge. They were stored on the Capitoline Hill in Rome in the Temple of Jupiter. In 82 BC the temple burned and the books were destroyed. In 76 BC envoys were sent around the known world to rebuild the books of prophesy. The new books were lost in 405 AD, at the end of the Roman Empire.

Ovid tells the sad story of Sibyl in his Metamorphosis (book 14).

The god Apollo sought her virginity, offering her a wish in exchange. She pointed to a heap of dust and replied "As many birthdays must be given to me as there are particles of sand". He gave her the long life and offered changeless youth for her virginity. As she still refused his wish she lived a thousand years without eternal youth. When Æneas met her, she was 700 years old and still a virgin.

Amedeo Maiuri discovered the Antro della Sibilla in 1932. He was convinced this was the cave of the Sibyl as described in Virgil's Æneid. It is possible, but not sure, that this is the true place of the oracle. But it does not really matter, it is definitely an impressive sight and well worth a visit.

Dr. Robert Ferrand Paget explored the cave in the 1960, and in his oppinion it was part of a Necromanteion, a temple where people could go to consult the dead. To speak with the dead it was necessary to undertake a dangerous ritual. Keepers of the temple would help the visitors with the preparations by purifying them with food and narcotic substances and sacrificing an animal. Then the participant would move through corridors and gates simulating a descent to the underworld (Hades).