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Lake Averno: the gate to the Underworld

Lake Averno (or Lake Avernus) is an ancient volcanic crater located in the Phlegraean Fields region. Its formation dates back to about 4,000 years ago, when a volcanic eruption created a deep cavity that over time filled with fresh water. This unique place, with a depth of over 30 meters, is surrounded by tuff walls covered with lush vegetation.

The door to the Underworld

Since ancient times, Lake Averno has been associated with numerous legends and myths. The ancient Romans believed that it was the entrance to the Underworld, the kingdom of Pluto and Proserpina. The name derives from the Latin “Avernus” which means “without birds” probably due to some gas exhalations from the subsoil that kept the birds away from the waters.

This place has inspired numerous authors over the centuries. Virgil, in the Aeneid, describes the lake as the place where Aeneas meets the Cumaean Sibyl to obtain guidance in Hades. This epic image aroused the interest of many subsequent writers. The forest surrounding the lake is instead associated with the “Selva Oscura” mentioned by Dante Alighieri in his masterpiece “The Divine Comedy”.

Explanation of the myth

There are several reasons that can explain the mythological reputation of Lake Avernus:

The lake is located in the Phlegraean Fields region, a volcanic area that in ancient times was associated with the Underworld. Its remote location and dark, mysterious atmosphere fueled beliefs that linked it to the world of the dead.

The Cumaean Sibyl was a seer of antiquity who was believed to reside near Lake Avernus. The Sibyl was said to provide prophecies and advice to heroes seeking answers from the gods and the Underworld. Her presence in the context of the lake contributed to strengthening the association between Lake Avernus and the kingdom of the dead.

The lake is surrounded by hills and often immersed in a humid atmosphere. These conditions can create temperature inversions, where colder air is trapped above warmer air. This layer of cold air can act as a sort of lens which, by refracting light in an unusual way, creates the optical phenomenon known as Fata Morgana causing visual distortions and optical illusions.

Near Lake Averno there is also Lake Fusaro which the ancient Romans considered the “Acherusia Palus” originating from the Acheronte river.

What to see at Lake Averno?

Today, Lake Averno is an oasis of tranquility and natural beauty. Its deep, dark waters reflect the sky and surrounding vegetation, creating an idyllic setting. It has become a place of naturalistic interest, attracting keen hikers and nature lovers. The surrounding area is characterized by rich vegetation, which includes holm oaks, oaks and maritime pines.

On the north-west side of the lake is the archaeological site of the Temple of Apollo, an ancient place of worship dating back to the 4th century BC. The temple was dedicated to Apollo, the Greek god of music and prophecy, and was often associated with divinatory rituals.

Temple of Apollo near Lake Avernus

Along the western shore it is possible to visit the Cocceio Cave, an underground tunnel dug under Mount Grillo which connects the lake to the ancient city of Cuma. The cave was designed and built around 37 BC. by Lucio Cocceio Aucto commissioned by Marco Vipsanio Agrippa. The cave was built for military purposes to connect Cuma with the Portus Julius, an important military infrastructure located on the basins of Lake Averno and Lake Lucrino.

Finally, Lake Averno is part of the Phlegraean Fields Regional Park, a vast area characterized by volcanic phenomena, such as fumaroles and thermal springs. This park offers numerous opportunities for hiking and nature walks.

Whether you are passionate about mythology, a nature lover or simply looking for a place of tranquility, Lake Averno welcomes you with its timeless charm and its timeless magic.