Lair of the Cumaean Sibyl


In ancient Roman times the sybilla were a chaste of virgin priestesses of the god Apollo. Their main function was of oracles  and fortune tellers, inspired by the god himself. They resided in various temples in southern Italy, the most important of which was located off the city of Cuma, close to modern Naples.

Sybilla traditionally only gave very vague answers, full of double meanings and lacking any certainty. In the case of the Cumaean Sybil, the form of her responses heavily depended on the place she performed her task in. The Sybil’s Lair was a long underground tunnel ending with a small room. Here the priestess wrote her prophecies in sections on palm leaves, which were then scattered and mixed up by the strong wind blowing in the lair. The lair was uncovered in 1932 during a routine archeological survey. It consists of a 131-meters long tunnel with several side openings, a large room and several minor nooks.  

The passage has a particular trapeze shape – used as an anti-seismic precaution – and very dramatic natural lighting, contributing to its spooky atmosphere. It can be visited in a guided tour, and it is a major local attraction. While the tunnel may well have been used initially as a temple, it was expanded and modified during the Byzantine occupation to serve as a military defense, and then as a burial site. The changes deleted any actual proofs (if any) of its actual association to the Sybil, although the place corresponds to several historical descriptions.