Grotta di Masaniello

Useful Information

Probably a portrait of Masaniello, circa 1647, Attributed to Onofrio Palumbo (*1606–✝1656). Public Domain.
Location: Via Case Sparse, 84010 Atrani SA.
(40.6369533, 14.6056010)
Open: no restrictions.
Fee: free.
Classification: SpeleologyKarst Cave Explaincave with a view. SubterraneaCave House
Light: bring torch
Dimension: A=145 m asl.
Guided tours: self guided, St=750.
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: no
Address: Grotta di Masaniello, Via Case Sparse, 84010 Atrani SA, Tel: +39-334-665-8898.
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.


2020 terracotta items and some 50 oil lamps discovered in the cave.


Presumed portrait of Masaniello, circa 1647, by Domenico Gargiulo (*1609–✝1675). Public Domain.
Illustration for Storia d´Italia by Paolo Giudici. Public Domain.

The Grotta di Masaniello (Masaniello Cave) is a cave ruin, a shelter formed by a remaining wall of a karst cave with huge stalactites on the ceiling and wall. This shelter is quite spectacular as it is located 140 m higher than the village Atrani, at the upper end of a steep slope with houses, gardens, and vineyards. Atrani is a typical coastal town of the Amalfi Coast, facing south with a 100 m high almost vertical coast, the villages were built into the gorges of the uncountable rivers, which cut deep into the peninsula. Here is a small, narrow lower part where the valley offers enough space for maybe 50 houses. The Strada Stadale Amalfitana follows this coast, high above the sea in the vertical cliffs, then makes a turn into the valley and down to the harbour, just to return to th cliffside after the village. This road is definitely not for the faint-hearted, especially as the narrow road is used by busses and trucks.

To reach the cave, it's necessary to park in the village, which is quite difficult. There is only one small car park at the harbour, which is always full. The village is so narrow, it only allowed for locals to enter, and they know why they have either a bike or a tiny car. There are actually two different trails, and they are both not easy to find. On the left side of the cave is the Santuario di Santa Maria del Bando, and right above the Torre dello Ziro with its spectacular outlook, which is almost 200 m above the sea. It is reached at the end of a very long staircase which starts at the church Maria Santissima del Carmelo in the Via dei Dogi. But while this trail offers numerous great views, including the cave, it does actually not lead there, it is on the wrong level, and while separated only by 40 m, those 40 m are vertical. The actual way to the cave is named Via San Nicola, and it is necessary to navigate the narrow alleyways from the Piazza Umberto to the west, uphill. At the last row of houses the alleyway turns north and leads to the Casa di Masaniello, a rather enigmatic building which was erected in front of the huge cave entrance. On the left side the trail to the Santuario di Santa Maria del Bando branches off and from the Casa di Masaniello it's only a few steps across a natural terrace to the cave.

The way to the cave is an ascent of 145 m, with some 750 steps. The walk is quite interesting, with narrow alleyways, tunnels through medieval houses, rugged stairs and gardens and vineyards. And finally, the church is interesting, as it is a catholic church, it is normally open for the believers. The Casa di Masaniello, on the other hand, is private property, and we were not able to find out if it is a residence or has some other purpose. It seems to be abandoned currently. There are two trails into the cave, a lower, and an upper, and they are public footpaths.

The cave was named after Tommaso Aniello de Fusco (*1620-✝1647), better known as Masaniello, who was a fisherman in Naples. His maternal grandparent’s owned the house at the cave, his mother grew up here. He was intelligent and rebellious, and was initially known to be a smuggler. He was arrested for tax evasion, and in prison he met Giulio Genoino who spoke to him about his revolutionary ideas. This inspired him to rise against the tax burden of the Spanish viceregal government after he was released from prison. He inspired other citizens of Naples, and soon was appointed captain of the Neapolitan people. So he became one of the most famous personalities of the Neapolitan revolution of 1647. However, his new power went to his head and due to his increasingly despotic behaviour he lost the trust of the people again. He was hunted by the soldiers of the Spanish viceroy, and was forced to flee the city. So he remembered the cave, where he hid behind the lush vegetation. Finally, the revolutionary was brutally killed in an ambush by the soldiers, and his head was carried through the streets of the city as a trophy.

Most of this is actually legend, his connections to the Amalfi coast is more or less based on the fact that his father was named Francesco (Cicco) d'Amalfi. However, Masaniello was baptized in Naples and lived there his whole life. The name seems to be actually just a name, not a denotation of his origin, probably the origin of his ancestors though. Also, he actually met the "Grand Admiral" and Doctor of Law Marco Vitale in prison, not Giulio Genoino. Later he became a pupil of the writer Don Giulio Genoino. The revolution was actually successful, for a single week, the viceroy ended by granting all the concessions demanded. On 13-JUL-1647, a convention was signed between the Duke of Arcos and Masaniello as "leader of the most faithful people of Naples,". In this convention, the rebels were pardoned, the more oppressive taxes were removed, and the citizens were granted certain rights. The Duke of Arcos then invited Masaniello to his palace, where he unsuccessfully tried to bribe him. Why he actually became weird only three days later is unclear, he behaved irrational and denounced his fellow citizens and was blaspheming during a mass held by the Archbishop. Some say he was poisoned at the palace of the Duke of Arcos. But he was arrested and taken to a nearby monastery, where he was assassinated by a group of grain merchants. There were rumours, the Duke of Arcos had hired them. The people were so angered by his strange behaviour, his head was cut off, and he was buried outside the city. But the next day all the abandoned taxes were reinstalled, and the angered people dug up his body and gave him a splendid funeral. While the real story does not mention the cave with a single word, it seems to us it is even weirder than the legend.

There is little published about the cave, so we actually do not know much. It is not signposted and not mentioned in guidebooks. Nevertheless, it is definitely worth a visit, with the great view, the spectacular speleothems, and the weird legends. It is quite popular actually among history buffs who visit the place due to the legend about Masaniello. And actually, there seems to be a lot of stuff on social media, a sort of underground popularity.

The cave is, as we said, a karst cave. It formed in dolomitic limestone, while the peninsula was much bigger than today, probably it was also lower. The cave was later eroded by the river, which cut the deep valley into the limestone. The cave was popular during the stone age and until the Middle Ages, as a shelter, lookout, and hideout in times of danger. There are archaeological remains in the cave, which were never excavated. But during a cleanup of the cave by the association which maintains the Sanctuary of Santa Maria del Bando in 2020, they discovered a lot of pieces of terracotta. Among the findings were some 50 terracotta lamps with green glaze of Canaanite or Punic style, which were dated to the 6th century BC, the Bronze Age. As a result of the discovery, there are now plans to excavate the cave. When officials learned of the discovery, the cave was closed to the public, but that was just blind activism. Walking on the existing paths cannot disturb the archaeological remains any further. This is why the closure was quickly lifted again.