UK Caving

WHERE THE CAVES ARE - The Caving Regions => Rest of The World => Topic started by: BCA Secretary on April 30, 2018, 04:39:44 pm

Title: Italian enquiry
Post by: BCA Secretary on April 30, 2018, 04:39:44 pm
I have had the following enquiry from Lorenzo Grassi in Italy:

Quote from: Lorenzo Grassi

Dear friends,
I am an Italian researcher who is studying the history of an important cave near Rome.

The cave is called "Voragine di Monte Spaccato" (also Mons Scissus") and is located in the municipality of Tivoli. It's a big slit about a hundred meters deep.

I found references about an English explorer (archaeologist?) who in 1867 or 1877 tried to go down to the bottom of the cave with a kind of metal cage.

But we could not find the name of this ancient British explorer.

Can you help us?

Kind regards,
Lorenzo Grassi

If you can help Lorenzo, please drop me a line and I will put you in touch with him.


Title: Re: Italian enquiry
Post by: Pitlamp on April 30, 2018, 09:13:49 pm
Wasn't that roughly (or just after) Birkbeck's era? It's certainly well before the Yorkshire Ramblers got caving. There were very few attempts at descending British potholes in those days, let alone mounting an expedition to do it overseas (especially when rich pickings such as Gaping Gill were still waiting to be descended).

This isn't much help for you Lorenzo. Are you sure the explorer was from the UK?
Title: Re: Italian enquiry
Post by: yrammy on May 01, 2018, 01:33:28 pm
I am onto this for the British Caving Library.
Title: Re: Italian enquiry
Post by: yrammy on May 02, 2018, 02:49:05 pm
I checked with Lorenzo and his references are unfortunately only local stories translated orally. So far I have drawn a blank  - with not much to go on.
Title: Re: Italian enquiry
Post by: alastairgott on May 02, 2018, 03:55:45 pm
The dates would put it before Martel, on the YRC website it gives a run down of some of the timings of Martel's life.

So far I have found no note of caves done in 1894, but Martel probably climbed in the Alps as in 1895 he published with Lorria Massif de la Bernina. This same year 1895 he attended a Geographical Congress in London to read a paper, and took the opportunity to make his famous British campaign, visiting first Peak Cavern and Speedwell, then going over to see the three subterranean rivers of Ireland mentioned in Kinahan's book, the Cladagh (Ulster), Cong, and Fergus (Clare). Here he made the first exploration of the Marble Arch, the descent of Noon's Hole two pitches, and finished by surveying Mitchelstown New Cave. Then on 1st August he made the amazing descent of Gaping Gill (see A.J., Vol. XVIII.), 270 ft. rope-ladder below 60 ft. of double rope, with a knot in the life-line, and his only experienced support his wife at the telephone, yet read his paper in London next day.

The Geological congress in London seems to be prior to Martel's attempt on Gaping Gill and visit to Peak cavern, so he may have been influenced by someone at the Geological Congress in London (1895)?

Might be worth a shot?
Title: Re: Italian enquiry
Post by: alastairgott on May 02, 2018, 04:02:23 pm
The programme from the 1895 congress can be found here.
"...practically a high-class club with reading-rooms, smoking-rooms, dining-rooms and gardens". They knew how to do armchair caving back then ;)
Title: Re: Italian enquiry
Post by: Martin Laverty on May 02, 2018, 05:09:41 pm
The answer may be lurking in one of Trevor Shaw's books on visitors to caves in Slovenia in the nineteenth century. (c.f. latest edition of Cave and Karst Science) An English gentleman with an interest in caves touring Italy in 1867 or 1877 might well have wandered over there too...

PS Martel was French, so hardly likely to be mistaken for an Englishman by Italians..
Title: Re: Italian enquiry
Post by: alastairgott on May 02, 2018, 05:18:39 pm
Agreed, but his exploits in Gaping gill could have been influenced by an English caver perhaps?
 I've tried to tease out some of the info in the Geological Congress, but some come to dead ends, particularly the guy named under the Manchester Geological Society.
Title: Re: Italian enquiry
Post by: Martin Laverty on May 02, 2018, 08:35:26 pm
I see your point Alastair. It seems very unlikely that such an influence would have remained hidden, but you never know what might turn up.

I find that Shaw notes that G.A.Henty (journalist and prolific author of adventure stories) visited the caves around (now) Postojna in autumn of 1866, before moving on to Venice, and there is a write-up of his enthusiasm for the underground in a biography of his life - (

Nothing about Rome, but it would be worth checking for newspaper and magazine stories...

Title: Re: Italian enquiry
Post by: yrammy on May 09, 2018, 10:07:04 am
I am going to check that book out now.
Title: Re: Italian enquiry
Post by: yrammy on May 09, 2018, 10:44:20 am
I too read the piece about Henty in Shaws book. He certainly seems to be a contender.
Title: Re: Italian enquiry
Post by: ZombieCake on May 09, 2018, 11:19:46 am
I've some old Victorian era cave / travel books - I'll have a look when I get home.  Probably bit of a long shot though.

Is this the place?:  Links place it south of Tivoli and east of Rome.

Google translation of article in text is:
"Gray sky and a strong wind blew as we walked along the path that led us to the cracked mountain chasm. Fortunately we decided to change in the vicinity of the machines before starting the walk of about 20 minutes. It was quite easy to find the chasm also because on the mountain there are only very low shrubs and the view was excellent. In front of us a real crack of the rock that stretched for about fifteen meters and fell for 90; the first 20 meters vertically the other more oblique. The first thing we did was to create a handrail useful for the ascent by drilling a hole on a rock a couple of meters away from the chasm with a bolt. At the entrance we used a tree for anchoring and with a 25-meter rope we went down until you get to a ledge already armed with rings and a lanyard. From here a rabbit was armed on the upper wall and, in a second moment, also a diverter because the rope descending about sixty meters slightly touched the inclined wall. As we descended a strong emotion and the feeling of entering another world. Arrived at the fractionation a bit 'inconvenient for the slanting and slippery floor down to get to the bottom. Many ruts of pickaxe left by slaves in ancient times and some traces of the precious mineral that was extracted: the alabaster that Piero told us reported barefoot on the surface and using only hemp ropes and wooden scaffolding. From the bottom a 6-meter ascent armed with a lanyard reached an armored stairway also with a handrail by Piero himself fifteen years ago. Here on the hope of finding a continuation that we have not found instead. With some surveying instruments we made measurements about the degrees of radioactivity and the various distances from the ascent to the most extreme point. In this corner of history we ate and joked before going down the cockpit and start the ascent. As we went back we all expected on the ledge and retired the rope one by one we started to climb the last stretch. Outside the sky is always gray and a storm coming in fact the walk back was not really pleasant in the rain not to mention the change of clothes, but it is really worth it to enter this enchanted world full of history. Author Federica Cocchi"

Latin translation of Scissus is:

scindo, scindere, scidi, scissus

conjugation: 3rd conjugation
voice: transitive

rend, cut to pieces
tear in rage/grief/despair
tear, split, divide

So Mons Scissus as something like 'Torn or Split Mountain' kind of fits.
Title: Re: Italian enquiry
Post by: ZombieCake on May 09, 2018, 11:52:49 pm
Unfortunately after a good rummage most of the stuff I have published around the 1880's mainly covers things like the various Roman Catacombs and the odd villa.  Only thing near Tivoli (or Tibur as it used to be called) I have is a section in 'Famous Caves & Catacombs' by W H Davenport Adams 1886 which describes the Grotto of Neptune (with a nice engraving) and mentions that an engineer called Folchi in 1834 messed around with the course of the river Anio and mucked the cave up a bit! They also used to light it with 'torches and Bengal lights.' Probably more on the tourist trail more than wilder stuff (cf. Cheddar and Wookey rather than Goatchurch & Swildons).
Maybe there's some old mining for travertine, tufa, and alabaster or archaeological references lurking somewhere?  Certainly looks like a nice part of the world to visit.
Title: Re: Italian enquiry
Post by: ZombieCake on May 14, 2018, 11:03:18 pm
Put a few searches in the library search engine at work but have drawn a blank.  Could be that I typed the wrong things or didn't delve deep enough though.  Maybe local Italian press archives may have a lead?
Title: Re: Italian enquiry
Post by: yrammy on May 15, 2018, 12:27:08 pm
If you mean the caving library search, I have dug deep in there and drawn a black.