Article and photos by Isabella Dalla Vecchia - email@example.com
Translate by Daniele Gabrielli
The subchapters of this page are:
• The negative town and the positive town
• The use of caves during the Second World War
• What is their origin?
The initiation path of the 7 Temples:
• 1st Temple: The "Camerone" and the cult of Mithras
• 2nd Temple: The Trionfi Cave
• 3rd Temple: The sun and the moon cave
• 4th Temple The Corraducci Masonic Temple
• 5th Temple: The Egyptian Ankh room
• 6th Temple: The "twin" churches and the bread and wine
• 7th Temple: The church facing east, the church facing north
• The bulging belly of the "gradina"
The negative town and the positive town
"That which is below is like that which is above and that which is above is like that which is below to do the miracles of one only thing" this is what we read in the Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus, sentence which has always been open to interpretations. We quote it to introduce the theme of the "negative cities" that can be found in different parts of Italy, ridden with mysteries. This time we are in Camerano, whose name is rooted in its nature, because it might mean "big room", or large and dark room. Perhaps the mysteries begin with its name?
In this village, located in the Marche region, lies a labyrinth of caves, only partially explored, because new caves come out from time to time. Walking through the streets of the city, you walk above underground halls, burrows, temples and branched tunnels. They are arranged in three levels and are all connected. These caves have been dug in the sandstone and used in different ages as dwellings, shelters, storage rooms and ritual places.
Halls filled with niches, domes, barrel vaults, groin vaults, columns and circular rooms, as well as symbols, carvings and engravings, form a real underground city. A hidden but real world, whose origin and purpose are unknown.
There are of course pragmatic functions, often used to explain these underground: storage rooms and shelters. However, some rooms are real temples and cannot have been intended for such simple functions. Although they seem to be located randomly, they are always in specific places; as in the case of the impressive underground church of the Ricotti cave, which was connected to St. Apollinaris church, an example of perfect harmony between the surface and underground cities.
The use of caves during the Second World War
According to oral traditions caves "have always been there" and were exploited during the Second World War as a refuge. Without knowing it, by living in them the inhabitants rediscovered their own obscure origins. They lived underground, walking the tunnels as they walked the streets of the town, because through these tunnels one could easily reach every corner of the city (like we do today through the subway).
The inhabitants moved their belongings and objects of daily life in the caves, employing them as real homes; the ancient temples were used for the Eucharistic celebrations, while arge rooms such as the "Camerone" became hospitals. By a curious twist of fate, the underground city magically came back to relive; those who built it came back to life through the people from the first half of '900 in which they activated unconsciously a collective memory, reversing the state of things: the surface, and not the undeground, was deserted.
At the end of the war the cavesr were abandoned again, but no one could ignore them, since now everyone questioned the ancestral temples, the alcoves, and all the mysteries were now public knowledge.
What is their origin?
The town of Camerano was inhabited between the 11th and fourth century BC by the Piceni (A necropolis of the 11th century was found in the city).It was then inhabited by Romans and later became part of the byzantine dominion (the "Pentapoli) in the early middle ages. There are records of the Castle of Camerano from 1177 and already in 1198 it was mentioned as a free township. Although past history is well documented in many documents there are no sources or references about the caves.
The oldest document dates back to 1759 and is a report of some consolidation work of a cave that already existed, a restoration that only proves that the caves were already there. There is also a date, 1327 engraved on a column. This year however cannot be the year of origin of the caves.
In pre-Roman times the Monte Conero was considered a beacon for its height on of the sea, and it can be seen from great distances. It was thus used as a landmark by ships sailing along the Adriatic coast. The hills around the mountain were adapted by the ancient inhabitants of the place, the Picenes. They flattened these hilltops, modelled them as "pyramids", planning the town on these flattened hills.
At times these hills had two levels, one for the village itself and the top for the places of worship. Within this "Gradina" (Slavic term meaning "fortified city", underlining the ties with the other side of the adriatic sea) the first caves were built. They were 50 cm wide and 1.60 m high built for three main purposes: hiding when under attack, storage rooms and burials sites.
Over the years, they were considerably modified and expanded, opening entrances, exits and links where needed, in parallel with the expansion of the city above. They are in fact very refined in some spots, while heavily damaged in other places, and some areas are rather raw and square-shaped, an evidence of the different periods of construction. Perhaps the oldest area, is the one near the corner tower of the castle: it is rich in trapezoidal niches, irregular and raw, probably used as Picene tombs.
We always have to keep in mind that such a complex work required effort and risk, with no possibility of error, following specific architectural techiques to prevent collapse or lack of fresh air. But is it possible that people who lived in huts made of straw and mud could build such tunnels?
The researcher Alberto Recanatini, who has been studying the caves since the 70's, stated that these people did not need anything other than a simple huts on the surface, since all they needed was in the underground city, guarded from heat, cold and weather.
Recanatini published an interesting report in the proceedings of the conference on the history of Camerano where, following a precise timeline, he identified the oldest caves and those expanded afterwards according to the needs of the time. For example, in times of war people sought shelter, in times of peace and prosperity people built warehouses. The caves were expanding within the town walls. As the city expanded, so did its underground portion: "that which is below is like that which is above."
The initiation path of the 7 Temples
1st Temple: The "Camerone" and the cult of Mithras
The Camerone is a very large room, about 100 square meters, covered by a barrel vault. It was used in different manners, including as a hospital and in the 60s, as a "ballroom".
It lies within the Sassone cliff, under the castle, and communicates with the outside through a door facing the sea, once used to observe the incursions of enemies.
The riddle of the Camerone lies in its northern wall, where there is a niche with two columns on both sides, elements that recall a sacred area of an ancient temple (what purpose would it serve in a hospital?). It might have been an ancient temple dedicated to the god Mithras, whose cult always took place underground or inside caves.
the niche with the two columns on the sides
In the caves of Camerano there are many other temples and this is just the beginning of a dark journey that may lead the wise ones to enlightment.
2nd Temple: The Trionfi Cave
In the Trionfi cave there is a small temple with a circular shape and 10 columns, Doric capitals and 9 niches within which there is only one seat, identified as the "seat of the Magister", related to the tradition that indicates the room as a place of meeting of the members of the ancient knightly orders.
At the center of the dome there are two concentric circles carved in stone. At both sides of the entrance there is a cross.
It is called the "Cave of the Warrior friars," where pilgrims spent the night in prayer before moving to the nearby Loreto at the next dawn.
It was the last stop of the route to Loreto, whose "quarters" were in the Hospice of the pilgrims, which stood beside the ancient church of Saint Peter (in front of the tourist office) and that has been run by the knights of Malta since the 14th century.
If indeed rituals were held 12 meters below the street level, probably no one would have noticed.
the seat of the Magister
It should be noted that in Camerano lived the noble family "Corraducci", linked to the Carboneria, a masonic society. The Carbonari gathered around this family, and above all in the privacy of the caves, during the period of French occupation and later the unification of Italy.
3rd Temple: The Cave with the sun and the moon
Even more fascinating is the next temple. Above our heads stands a sun or a star symbol, carved in basrelief at the center of the dome. It has 8 points, from which emanate 16 rays running down the wall.
Inside the sun there is a circle, identified as the moon.
This room has amazing sound effects. Experiments were carried out by the people at the tourist office, to understand the acoustics effects that the room generates.
When speaking from the center of the room, under the symbol, the speaker's voice is amplified, the sound wave rises towards the sun and then goes down through the rays transformed into vibrations and invest the people standing inside the niches.
the sun and the moon
A few small shelves, alternating with niches, served to carry the candles that diffused light through the carved beams, lighting up the sun which looked like it shone of its own light.
Further engravings are on the walls: crosses with rays, radiant crosses. Perhaps they are other stars accompaning the sun?
The deep symbolism of the sun and the underground can be attributed again to the Mithras cult, of which the sun was the main symbol connected to its mysteries.
This room is connected to a small space of 4 x 5 meters comparable to the "Salle des Pas Perdus", the door between matter and spirit, the commencement of the Masonic initiatory path.
Suddenly, everything starts to make sense and these temples become fundamental steps on an adept's path of discovery, towards fascinating mysteries.
4th Temple The Masonic Temple of the Corraducci Cave
Among the Corraducci caves is a large circular room with 12 niches and columns, with neoclassical style capitals.
The decorations, with lesenes and crescents, probably dates back to the late 1700s. In 1972 the room was heavily damaged by an earthquaek and a large central concrete column was built, together with four lintels. Therefore the central decoration of the vault has been lost, though a strange design with semicircles can still be seen.
What was depicted in the center of the room?
5th Temple: The Egyptian Ankh room
The next cave (Burchiani) is shaped like a "key of life" or the Egyptian "Ankh", ancient symbol connected life; as such it is depitcted on the chest or in the hands of ancient gods and pharaos.
It has a deep spiritual and symbolic bond with the masonic initiation path; connected to the Egyptian cults; in addition to that, it represents the sun rising on the horizon - the horizontal line - and the path of the sun - the vertical line.In addition to having a deep spiritual relationship with the symbolic Masonic init
But the most amazing fact is in the very circle of the room, representing the "head" of the Ankh, there is actually water, gathered here by the inclination of the floor. This underlines the magical significance of the room. Not by chance, the "head" is almost facing east.
6th Temple: The twin churches, bread and wine
In the Mancinforte caves there is an octagonal room divided into two identical spaces by a central pillar.
Two altars of black alabaster, a valuable material from Montepulciano, enrich the place. Montepulciano was the hometown of the noble family Mancinforte, the last noble house that still has an heir in Camerano.
On the column are two damaged bas-reliefs damaged, one depicting a circle; withing the circle the letters "IHS" are carved, and the three woodnails representing the Passion. The other is a cross with a chalice, that was carved out and stolen. Symbolically interesting the duality of the room: on one side the communion bread, on the other the chalice, representing wine.
the host bas-relief with IHS
7th Temple: The church facing east and the church facing north
Long time ago, in the highest part of the city, stood the Romanesque church of St. Apollinaris, the castle chapel, one of the oldest in the Marche. It was demolished to make room for a market, a shameful event that makes one shudder at the thought (just like tearing down the Coliseum to make way for a shopping center, who would do that?).
Unfortunately, nothing is left of this church, nothing but its underground twin, oriented perpendicularly to the disappeared basilica. Seen from above, the two would almost form a cross (though not overlapping).
This twin church is the Ricotti Cave and is an underground church dating back between the IX and X centuries. It has an apse with 9 niches and an additional small crypt with 5 niches. It is a spectacular and breathtaking site, a single nave with 9 niches on each side; at the centre, close to the presbyterium, on the vault, there is a large patent templar cross.
The presence of the Knights of the Order is documented bythe Templar commanderies present in Osimo, Loreto, and in various areas of the hinterland. The unique feature of this breathtaking underground church, is a rare, if not unique, orientation.
While the above S. Apollinare pointed eastward, as is typical of the Romanesque churches, this underground church points northwards, which is unusual for a religious building, since also pagan temples "gazed" eastwards.
Why a sacred environment, already in darkness, should seek further north, towoards a dark and unknown afterlife? We started on a journey with a series of mysteries and now we end with the most inexplicable enigma.
The bulging belly of the "gradina"
"The Sun is its father, the moon its mother, the wind hath carried it in its belly, the earth is its nurse." continues Hermes Trismegistus, recalling the importance ofcaves in stone as a sacred place for ancient civilizations. Its primary use as shelter, is similar to the protection that can give a mother, a Mother Earth. The cave is a womb, it becomes natural incubator resurrecting the buried bodies.
Going into her uterus man becomes an immortal child, because he has always been surrounded by this perfect machine that is our planet; and thus has always wondered about the meaning of life.
Today we build skyscrapers and explore space because we want to physically reach the divine, but if only for a moment we walked in silence of these passages, we would understand that God has always been there, in the darkness of this world, where even a small glimmer of light becomes important and thus the right direction to take. We must follow the light only where it is dark, so that we can see it.
Article and photos by Isabella Dalla Vecchia - firstname.lastname@example.org
Translate by Daniele Gabrielli