A road to the right at the end of the Chiaja, leads to the mouth of the Grotto of Posilipo, above which those who do not wish to leave their carriages may see, high on the left, close above the grotto, the ruined columbarium known as the Tomb of Virgil. A door in the wall, on the left of the approach to the grotto, and a very steep staircase, lead to the columbarium, which is situated in a pretty fruit-garden.
Virgil desired that his body should be brought to Naples from Brundusium, where he died, B.C. 19, and there is every probability that he was buried on this spot, which was visited as Virgil’s burial-place little more than a century after his death by, the poet Statius, who was born at Naples, and who describes composing his own poems while seated in’ the shadow of the tomb. If further confirmation were needed of the story that Virgil was laid here, it would be found in the fact that Silius Italicus, who lived at the same time with Statius, purchased the tomb of Virgil, restored it from the neglect into which it had fallen, and celebrated funeral rites before it.
The tomb was originally shaded by a gigantic bay-tree, which is said to have died on the death of Dante. Petrarch, who was brought hither by Bing Robert, planted another, which existed in the time of Sannazaro, but was destroyed by relic-collectors in the last century. A branch was sent to Frederick the Great by the Margravine of Baireuth, with some verses by Voltaire. If from no other cause, the tomb would be interesting from its visitors; here Boccaccio renounced the career of a merchant for that of a poet, and a well-known legend, that St. Paul visited the sepulcher of Virgil at Naples, was long commemorated in the verse of a hymn used in the service for St. Paul’s Day at Mantua.
The tomb is a small, square, vaulted chamber with three windows. Early in the sixteenth century a funeral urn, containing the ashes of the poet, stood in the center, supported by nine little marble pillars. Some say that Robert of Anjou removed it, in 1326, for security to the Castel Nuevo, others that it was given by the Government to a cardinal from Mantua, who died at Genoa on his way home. In either event the urn is now lost.
It is just beneath the tomb that the road to Pozzuoli enters the famous Grotto of Posilipo, a tunnel about half a mile long, in breadth from 25 to 30 feet, and varying from about 90 feet in height near the entrance, to little more than 20 feet at points of the interior. Petronius and Seneca mention its narrow gloomy passage with horror, in the reign of Nero, when it was so Iow that it could only be used for foot-passengers, who were obliged to stoop in passing through.
In the fifteenth century King Alphonso I. gave it height by lowering the floor, which was paved by Don Pedro di Toledo a hundred years later. In the Middle Ages the, grotto was ascribed to the magic arts of Virgil. In recent years it has been the chief means of communication between Naples and Baiae, and is at all times filled with dust and noise, the flickering lights and resounding echoes giving it a most weird effect. However much one may abuse Neapolitans, we may consider in their favor, as Swinburne observes, “what a terror this dark grotto would be in London!”