How many firemen…

How many firemen does it take for two grown men to go down a hole?

This isn’t the start of a bad joke, I promise. It was a question that posed itself to our President, Dr Michael Scott, when he and Alexander Armstrong were stood contemplating a 45 metre vertical shaft in the Neapolitan countryside and several fire-engines, containing almost twenty officers, drew up alongside them.

Photo courtesy of BBC One

Thankfully, a larger entrance to the centuries-old tufo quarry was discovered down the valley and, as Michael informed 200 members and visitors to the Lytham St Annes Classical Association, the firemen actually spent longer getting kitted out than performing a rescue operation, but nonetheless they, especially Xander with his dislike of enclosed spaces, were very grateful that they were on standby – just in case!

This cavernous quarry, which produced the building blocks of ancient Italy, was ‘a portal and a taster of what is to come’ – when state-of-the-art 3D laser technology uncovers and recreates some amazing spaces, including underground tunnels where frightened citizens sheltered during the Allied bombing and entire villas lost to the seabed.

Each January, we start the New Year in style as our President, the author, academic and broadcaster Dr Michael Scott, returns to Lytham St Annes for his annual lecture and this year the timing was perfect as his visit came just one day after this first episode in his latest documentary series, Italy’s Invisible Cities, was aired on BBC One.

We were not only treated to a behind-the-scenes look at the secrets of Naples’ famous buildings, squares and sea but also given a preview of the upcoming features on Venice (Jan 11th) and Florence (Feb 1st).

It was fascinating to hear about the delights and the difficulties of filming underground and underwater, from seals and scorpions to oxygen tanks and oil flasks, whilst enjoying sweeping scenery of the Amalfi Coast, some tasty looking pizza and amazing graphics which traced the remains of the Augustan aqueduct that stretches for miles and miles through Campania, both above and below ground.

Since the success of Invisible Rome last year, Michael has gained a reputation as something of a ‘drains expert’ but, by relishing the epithet, he has also shown how getting your hands dirty really is the way to discover some of the world’s most exciting places and the secrets that lie invisible to the naked eye.


Did you know that the Rialto bridge is held up by an incredible 30,000 wooden stakes, or that there is still a full sized and largely intact Roman theatre hidden 20 metres beneath the ground at Herculaneum? What is more, did you know that you can actually visit lots of these places yourself (and not just if you have a scuba diving qualification!). More details can be found on the BBC website and Michael’s blog here.

After the lecture, we also took the opportunity to celebrate our third season (and our 333rd member!) with a lovely meal for our President and 74 of our members and guests held at Ego Restaurant in Lytham.

There was a great atmosphere, with lovely food and service enjoyed by all, as we thanked all our hard-working volunteers and Michael himself for his continued support, kindness and enthusiasm which allows the branch to carry on flourishing. Congratulations to Tony, Olga, Ged and John who won the table Classics Quiz – here’s the classics-quiz if you’d like to have a go yourselves but beware – you’ll have to come to one of our lectures to get the answers!

Thank you Dr Scott and Ego for a wonderful evening which everyone will remember for a long time. Here’s to 2017!

©Katrina Kelly