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Funicular - History

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In 1870, when Vesuvius was climbed on foot, on horseback or by sedan-chair, the Hungarian engineer Ernesto Emanuele Oblieght entrusted the engineers Galanti, Sigl and Wolfart with the task of devising a system that would allow visitors to reach the summit sitting in comfort.


The sedan chairs were the more comfortable transport before the funicular

The three men, who had already worked on similar projects in other parts of Europe, proposed a funicular railway solution, the realization of which was assigned in 1879 to engineer Emilio Olivieri from Milan.
In the meanwhile, on 21st December 1878, the State granted Mr Oblieght 9.700 square metres for 30 years at a rent of 150 liras/year, and the Provincial Deputation of Naples gave him the authorization to realize the project and manage the funicular. By the contract drawn up with the State, Oblieght reserved to himself the right to found later on the "Sociètè Anonyme du Chemin de Fer Funicolaire du Vèsuve" to which he could cede the funicular management. He encountered opposition from the local community that claimed their rights on the tourists visiting Mt.Vesuvius. Mr Oblieght bought them off by means of an annual payment of 900 liras plus a tax levied on every passenger.
The Oblieght company assigned works to the contractor Alvino. The cost of works, which finished on 1880, totalled 435.000 liras. On 6th June 1880, at about five in the afternoon, the Vesuvius funicular was inaugurated. The Company Chairman, the Senator for Piedimonte and the Mayors of Resina and Naples took part in a champagne celebration.

Authorities at the champagne for the new funicular (Funiculì funiculà - Gamboni, Neri)

On 10th June 1880 the new funicular was opened to the public, beginning the regular service, managed by Mr.Treiber. There was much enthusiasm, as evidenced the famous  "Funiculì-Funiculà" .
On 13th December 1886, Oblieght ceded, as he had reserved the right to do, the granting and the management of the funicular for the amount of 1.200.000 liras, to the French Company "Sociètè Anonyme du Chemin de Fer Funicolaire du Vèsuve", which opened an office in Naples, Via S.Brigida, 42. Three hundred tourists experienced the elation of the slope, every day. However , the company, indebted by the high maintenance cost and the relatively small receipts was forced in its turn to cede the concession to the Thomas Cook and Son Company, already famous in the world, for 170.000 liras on 24th November 1888.
The new owner faced problems. It had to deal with the demands of local guides to continue to pay them extortionate sums. They burnt one of the stations, cut the track and cast a carriage down the abyss. John Mason Cook, who succeeded his father Thomas (who died in 1892), came to an agreement on the basis of taxes to be paid on each passenger carried.

Thomas Cook

John Mason Cook

The new light railway from Pugliano to Vesuvius, built in 1903, contributed to a doubling of the number of tourists carried up to the crater. This forced the company to increase the funicular capacity, demolishing the old installation, replacing it by a more modern functional and electric-traction one, and putting into use two new carriages.
But the improvements in the first years of 1900 were negated by the terrible 1906 eruption. On 4th April 1906 the first tremors were noticed; Cook staff and their relatives were evacuated and transferred to Pugliano. On 7th and 8th April the lower and upper station, the restaurant and the two carriages were destroyed and covered with an ash blanket 20-30 metres thick. The eruption ended on 21th April and caused a loss of volcano height, the destruction of the funicular, damage to the Vesuvius Railway and loss of life. Professor Matteucci and other brave men were eyewitness of the event. They did their duty heroically.

Brigadier Migliardi, Professor Matteucci, Engineer Perret, and Station Master Mormile

But the owners didn't give in and by 1909, damage to the railway had been repaired, supervised by Enrico Treibert, an engineer. On 12th March 1911 a new eruption destroyed the upper station again. Workmen needed less than a year to reconstruct what nature had destroyed. After 1911 the installation worked at full capacity and fortunately remained intact during the 1929 eruption. In the meanwhile, in 1928 Cook brothers retired from business, so that the Vesuvius funicular and railway were handed down to the "Anonymous Italian Company for the Vesuvius Railways" associated with the parent company "Thomas Cook and Son". In 1937 the above-mentioned company became the "Vesuvius Railway and Funicular Company". But after seven years Mt.Vesuvius awoke; it was the last eruption to date. The funicular, under the control of the Allies from 1943, was irreparably damaged and wasn't rebuilt.

The 1944 eruption buried partly the funicular Lower Station

The construction of a new funicular was programmed in 1988. The architect Nicola Pagliara, already known for similar projects, won the tender for the construction and the realization of the new Vesuvius funicular. Approvals from local and central managements were obtained and works started on September 1991. However they were stopped after some months and never began again. During works, the excavations have brought to light remains of a 1909 carriage.

Sincere thanks to Philip Taylor for his English translation. Please visit his blog.

One of the new carriages built by Ansaldo and Ceretti-Tanfani in 1990


Remains of a 1909 carriage


New carriage

New lower station

New upper station


Correlated news (only italian):

12 Febbraio 2002: Funiculì funiculà, ora la regione ripensa l'opera




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