The Great Antrum
Normally shrouded in darkness, even very powerful lamps do not penetrate far in pitch blackness. This photograph, shot with a high quality in camera raw format, allowed the shadow detail to be brought out and enhanced to display the detail.
Doc Paget named the main entry tunnel the ‘Great Antrum’ and also sometimes referred to in combination with 270, because of its compass direction. In other words exactly east-west. What probably mattered is that the descent tunnel broadly faced the volcano across the bay – Vesuvius. Recent recalculations have a slightly different bearing, but not much. Doc Paget was a naval man, used to broad approximations of direction. 270 and Doc’s other directions are given to the nearest 10º.
By way of contrast, this second extraordinary picture with a golden hue was taken with considerable difficulty by Michael Baigent in 2001, with the assistance of Robert Temple, who simultaneously fired a flash gun from the opposite end of the Great Antrum as Michael took the picture. Here the cocciopesto can be seen flaking off the walls. But even here both these pictures only show a small section of the Great Antrum.
As any miner will tell you, you have to have some through ventilation to be able to breathe easily, Clean air in and stale air out. This means an entrance and an exit Yet here we have a long tunnel and no through ventilation. Breathing is still possible, but how can this be so?
The white line we can see visible halfway up the tunnel is a result of convection currents depositing condensed vapour on the wall, where it evaporates and crystallises. What is thought to be happening, and indeed can be felt within the Great Antrum, is that cool air, which naturally sinks to the bottom is drawn in along the floor through suction from warm air escaping along the roof, hot air rises and goes up. This only happens because the hottest point is at the water source – an unusual situation.
The Great Antrum
Niches for Oil Lamps
Doc Paget counted in excess of 550 lamp niches in the walls of the tunnels. They haven’t been counted again since the 1960s, but the quantity is considerable.
This typical example of an oil stain down the wall betrays the original usage. Some niches still bear imprints, where oil lamp bases once sat.
There are lamp niches every 2.65 metres (8 feet 8 inches) on alternate sides, increasing as we reach the underground water course – we shall call it the River Styx, as that is what Doc Paget named it.
For the film made in 2003, Olivia Temple placed about 150 night-lights in the niches. Olivia tells this website she went in alone to do this and it took her well over an hour to place and light them all. A brave lady indeed. Below is Robert Temple enjoying the fruits of Olivia’s monumental effort.
It’s a Crime
Clearly unauthorised access has been gained by someone irresponsible enough to desecrate this unique and really extraordinary feat of archaic engineering.
Whoever this Marino is, shame on you.
To walk through the Great Antrum is to lose all sense of time and space – was that twenty paces or thirty that passed? There is no sound, except for one’s own breathing and footsteps. The cave crickets flit about. Bats hang from the roof and scorpions walk on the floor.
After 195 paces one arrives in trepidation at the Dividing of the Ways.