The Underground Tour: When his slave broke a vase, Publio Vedio Pollione condemned him to death by being dropped into a pool of eels. But Pollione's friend, Emperor Augustus, begged the self-made ga-gillionaire to spare the slave's life -- and it was done.
Pollione was described as a very cruel equestrian Roman. He was also so wealthy that he owned a private grotto 770 meters long. People and horses could pass through the tunnel by invitation only. It led to his villa perched on a cliff. Inside, he had his own amphitheater for gladiator fights as well as an odeon for theater spectacles. After Pollione's death, the notorious minister of Tiberius, Sejanus, bought the villa. Hence, today the tunnel is known as the "Grotto di Seiano".
Today, three side passageways provide air ventilation while walking down the grotto. One leads out to a view of Nisida. The hallway to the view has the remains of toilets used during WWII when people used the tunnel as a bomb shelter.
The Grotto leads to a pathway filled with vegetation, where the tips of modern-day houses and apartment complexes peek out from the posh district of Posillipo. The trail bends this way and that, about five minutes walking, and the path plunges into a villa, known as Pausylipon, which means ending pains.
The amphitheater and odeon are still well-preserved. Broad steps also take visitors up to what could have been additional rooms, but today provides a breathtaking outlook point. While perched off a cliff, the villa can't be seen from any angle within the city or by boat -- its construction tucked into the stones.
Behind the villa, another pathway meanders to an outlook point where three small islands dot the water. On one island, an eighteenth century villa sits abandoned. Our guide tells us that the owners left during the twentieth century because it was haunted by ghosts. Other folklore says that a woman lived there in complete solitude for many years until her death and the villa remained uninhabited thereafter.
Getting There: The Grotto di Seiano is only minutes away from the Science Center and two blocks from the island of Nisida. The address is Dicesa Coroglio 36 and parking is available along the sidewalk. When is it open? Answer: Unclear. The men at the front say they are at the desk Monday through Saturday from 9am-1pm and their tours are free. You must only call this number: 081-2301030 (which after three rings goes to a fax machine). Another number available is: 081-5754465 (which goes to someone who gives private tours, with an extensive history for an unknown fee). Someone answers this number only off and on. My advice: be persistent and get someone on the phone to find out when the gates are open. (I tried to call regularly from September to April when I finally got someone over the phone and raced over.)