Arts & Entertainment

Baiae, the ancient Roman city engulfed by the sea

Pozzuoli, Italy, Jun 27 (EFE).- Just beneath the waves just off the coast of Naples in southern Italy lies an archeological treasure: the remains of Baiae, an ancient holiday resort for the most powerful Romans whose villas, baths and mosaics ended up at the bottom of the sea because of an inexorable volcanic phenomenon.

The remains of this real-life Atlantis of the Mediterranean are a mere five meters under the surface of the water, but still require visitors to don scuba gear to view them up close.

“These structures need constant attention. We are talking about the largest submerged site in the world in a delicate context” because of the sea and volcanic activity, the director of the Park of the Phlegraean Fields, Fabio Pagano explains to EFE.

At the end of the Republican era in Rome, in the first century BC, Baiae was the most important site of the Roman Empire.

One of the Roman elite’s favorite holiday resorts, Baiae was built in a crater in an area with intense volcanic activity that the Greeks called “Phlegrean” (fiery).

The town, lying in the shadow of Vesuvius, the volcano that in 79 AD razed Pompeii, attracted ancient Roman aristocrats for its “two souls”: Baiae was irrigated by precious thermal waters and a benevolent climate, while Pozzuoli was one of the most prosperous ports in the Mediterranean.

In the middle of the 4th century AD, the inhabitants of those “beachfront” mansions began to notice that, for some reason, the ground was sinking and the sea was rising.

Baiae actually suffered from “Bradyseism”, a phenomenon typical of volcanic areas that causes the height of the ground to vary according to the magma underneath, as if the earth were swelling and contracting.

This inexorable sinking forced the patricians to abandon their properties which, by the time the “Bradyseism” stopped, around 650 A.D., were already lying in the sea.

The area, about five hundred meters from the coast, is currently protected to prevent the transit of ships and can only be accessed by a few companies authorized to practice diving among the ruins, such as SuBaia, which accompanies EFE on this tour.

Underwater, the first building to emerge from the seaweed is an old villa with a magnificent long mosaic that is almost intact and decorated with fish – the same kind that now swarm over it.

The place still preserves part of its walls as well as marble pavements, columns and the remains of the pipes of what were once baths. Most of the mosaics are covered in sand, because this is the only way to protect them from bacteria, but a few meters further on, another enormous mosaic emerges like a carpet of black and white tesserae and circular shapes on the bottom of the sea.

The Baiae Submerged Park, which was first discovered in 1969, is an exceptional site that, due to its location, requires constant monitoring of the telluric movements that continue to be forged in its subsoil.

The Phlegraean Fields are made up of 24 volcanoes, many of which are underwater and extremely active.

But, paradoxically, the phenomenon that flooded Baiae could, one day, make it resurface.

“The land is rising, in less than ten years it rose by one meter,” Pagano says. EFE


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