Bellacicco Hypogeum

E-CLIL project: discovering Magna Graecia.

Historical Background

Hypogeum or hypogaeum (plural hypogea) literally means "underground", from Greek hypo (under) and gaia (mother earth or goddess of the earth). It usually refers to an underground temple or tomb.
The term "hypogeum" can be used as an adjective or as a noun; if we use it as an adjective, it denotes something underground such as hypogea flora, whereas hypogeum as a noun denotes only artificial caves like catacombs or tombs. Hypogeum Bellacicco is located in the old town of Taranto and, with hypogeum Delli Ponti , it forms the complex structure of underground Taranto which covers 2,720 years of history. What is special about this underground structure, a unique feature in Apulia, is that in it, are documented all the ages and the historical periods from the founding of Taranto by the Spartans (VIII sec. B.C.) to the seventeenth century, when palace De Beaumont Bonelli, was built. Palace De Beaumont Bonelli witnesses the artistic richness of Tarantine nobility in XVII and XVIII century.

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Hypogeum Bellacicco

The Hypogeum, privately owned and managed without any public subsidies, is currently the seat of the Cultural association Philonides which organizes guided tours in the hypogeum. At present the hypogeum museum ranks highly among the tourist sites reviewed by TripAdvisor in Taranto and Apulia. Although it is difficult to establish with certainty when the hypogeum was built and to follow the historical evolution of the hypogeum, all the archeological, geological and the historical studies have reported a connection between the first construction date of the hypogeum and the period of the foundation of Taranto (706 B.C.), when Parthenius, guided by Phalantus, dug into the rock in order to build the first fortifications and buildings for the new city. During the following period the area of the ancient acropolis came to be known "Fogge (caves) area". The restoration of the structure, which lasted for six years, was made thanks to the funds of the current owners (Bellacicco Family). In 2007 the hypogeum was recognised by the Ministry of National Heritage and the municipality of Taranto as an important place of interest. The hypogeum is the subject of several graduation theses in Italy and the United States; it is also the place where several cultural and art events of different kinds take place. It is the only underground site in the old town to be reviewed by the Apulian Speleological Federation and it is officially included in the regional cadastre for artificial caves.

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Tourism

The Bellacicco hypogeum is the third most visited place in Taranto after the Marta museum and the Aragonese Castle. In 2004 more than 40,000 visitors had seen the hypogeum since its opening, in 2015 the number increased to 45,000. The majority of visitors comes from Northern Italy.

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Rooms

The Bellacicco hypogeum is the only hypogeum restored in the old town of Taranto and it is divided into four rooms. It has an extension of approximately 800 square metres and a depth that reaches the lowest levels at 16 metres below the road surface and 4 metres below the sea level.

Etra's room

Named after the wife of the founder of Taranto, the room shows several wall structures dating back to different ages and showing different styles. At the southern end of the room it is possible to see the remains of the boundary walls dating back to the Greek period, which separate the hypogeum from Mar Grande. One of the side walls of the room shows a building made of "opus incertum" (typical of the Middle Ages), while on the opposite end of the room and on the North-East corner it is possible to distinguish different blocks of limestone (dating back to 175,000 years ago) used by the Spartans as a base for the building of the first housing areas, in which there are fossils proving their ancient dating and their position under the sea level in ancient times. The barrel vaults under the palace are supported by four reinforcement columns.

Phalanto's room

It is situated next to Etra's room. Named after the founder of Taranto, the room shows different important structures in the lower level which are visible through metallic grilles across the whole room. There it is possible to detect the ruins of a Greek road, a medieval water collection system and a water piping system connected with the wells of the entire palace, which may be dated to the 17th century (date of the building of the palace). Moreover the room is provided with a tunnel which connects the hypogeum to a coastal outlet directly into Mar Grande.

Philonides' room

Philonides' room is orthogonal to the other rooms. This is made possible thanks to the trapezoidal structure of the palace. The room, the largest and tallest (8 metres) of the four historic rooms has a stratified structure in "opus incertum" which allows to see the evolution through the ages. The structure also has six niches; two at the street level (used to collect rainwater) the other four six metres above, overlooking Via Paesiello. In the room you can see also a Greek column, one of the six wells of the palace, lots of fossils and a series of stairs leading to Phersephones' room.

Persephones' room

Named after the most important goddess of Taranto in the Greek period, Persephones' room is the oldest one in Bellacicco hypogeum. The room, parallel to Philonides', is 16 metres deep from the street surface and - in its lowest point - it is four metres below the sea level. It is completely carved out of the rock; there are walls dating to the Greek period and a complex structure on the southeast side. The pecularity of the room is to be found underneath, where there is an underground river, which collects the water coming from the Murge area around Taranto. The water passes under the old town into the Mar Grande and Mar Piccolo, forming water springs called "Citri".

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Content source: http://www.filonidetaranto.it
Researches and English translation by Catania Mariacristina, Di Mira Claudia, Rapetti Ilaria.
Website and 3D Model created by Collocola Flavio and D'Onchia Domenico.