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About diving Phlegrea

After having dived and snorkeled many places around the world including Hawaii, Japan, California, Texas Gulf Coast, Florida, Colombia, Spain, Greece and Italy, I must say that few places can compare in enchantment to this "obscure" little place known as Baia.

Its unique life-style, environment, and features are one of a kind. Of course, if you're an archaeology buff, there's just that much more excitement "beneath the surface".

You aren't a complete archaeology diver until you've explored this submerged marvel of the Roman Empire. There is so much to see and so much yet to find in this small inlet located on the shores of Pozzuoli Bay. It's an experience you'll never forget!

Exploring the underwater archaeological sites at Baia is a marvelous adventure, particularly if you have had some experience in underwater archaeology and also have some knowledge of Roman history. The warm, clear blue waters reveal astonishing remnants of a glorious past that was once the social center of the Roman Empire.

Here, in relatively shallow, calm waters you will discover the original foundations of temples, palaces, Roman ports, thermal spas, and small communities. These remnants have escaped destruction or burial by modern construction because they submerged with the entire shoreline. Together, these facilities constituted a most splendid center for the diversion of the early Caesars of the empire.

Classic Roman writers described this pleasure zone in their poetry and writings. Richly detailed accounts alluded to Baia's romantic allure, the fabulous character of the buildings, and the eccentricities of its Roman personalities.

History and Background

The modern-day communities of Pozzuoli, Baia, Bacoli, Miseno, and Cuma experienced dramatic natural and man-made challenges through the ages. Geologically, the area has been shaken, twisted, distorted, submerged, and burned.

Vertical oscillation of the land surface caused by volcanic activity below the plates at Pozzuoli Bay is known as Bradyseism. It is this phenomenon that has caused continuing submergence and emergence of the coastline through the centuries. The most notable transformation of recent times occurred in 1538 when Monte Nuovo erupted from the ground below ancient Laco Lucrinus. The Baia area was totally destroyed. Then, subsequent cooling of the ground over the next two years caused the shoreline to submerge slowly. This shoreline holds vast treasures of Roman architecture, art, and other cultural relics.

Baiae, as the bay area was known in antiquity, encompassed several small communities along these white, sandy shores including Pozzuoli, Arco Felice, Baia, Bacoli, and Miseno. All were nestled inside the bay along the promontories and cliffs. Baiae held many attractions for Romans whose home city was a scant 120 miles to the north. The distance was easily covered in good time either by boat or by land.

The climate of Phlegreaen Fields is consistently warm and sunny, with calm seas. The area's balmy weather combined with the fertility of its mineral-rich volcanic soil made for excellent farming which produced as many as four bumper crops per year.

Since cleanliness was godly to the Romans, natural springs and thermal baths were a significant draw to the area. Much of the Romans' leisure time was spent in steam rooms and fresh water pools offered at local facilities. Seaside property owners had merely to dig caves randomly into cliff walls to have their own private thermal bath. Thermal activity beneath the ground at Baiae caused numerous sulphur steam vents and water springs at different temperatures. From its earliest beginnings, Baia was renowned in the Mediterranean world for its fine thermal baths.

Seafood and shellfish produced at Lake Lucrino by fish farmers was also famous in the Mediterranean world because of its reputed high quality. Fish from Lucrino were deemed by medical professionals to possess healing and therapeutic qualities as well. Local doctors prescribed their fish to patients for a variety of ailments. Lucrino seafood products were sold locally and also exported to other areas of the Mediterranean.

Pliny the Elder witnessed the eruption of Vesuvius in A.D. 79 from his Miseno home located on the cliffs facing Vesuvius. As he watched billowing fire and smoke consuming Pompeii and Herculaneum, Pliny wrote a now-famous account of what he witnessed. Drawn by emotion at the apparent impending doom, he took sail on a small boat to the shores of Herculaneum in in hopes of helping threatened residents. His effort was in vain. Unfortunately, he was overtaken by fumes and died while still on his boat.

Baia was an ideal playground for the wealthy. It also became a center of political intrigue where families and rivals plotted against each other for power and influence. Conspiracies were conceived and often carried out in these surroundings. It was in this bay that Nero had Agrippina killed in order to gain her estate. It was here where Nero, in a fit of rage kicked his wife Poppeia to death, also killing his unborn child. Manuscripts of classical writers and scholars provide clear descriptions of locales and historical events that occurred within these narrow corridors.

Caesars and the Roman elite invested great time, effort and funds to make improvements and new constructions at Baia. New utility plants, installations, roads, temples, palaces, and thermal facilities sprang up over a very short span of time. Additionally, naval support installations were constructed at Baia.

Though of lesser magnitude than their Roman counterparts, buildings and facilities were designed and erected by the most skilled engineers and artisans of the Roman empire. The dome roof design of the Pantheon was first tested in Baia on the Temple of Mercury structure. The first Roman dome was at Baia and remains intact today.

Julius Caesar was the first person of high position to construct what was a sprawling luxury palace on the promontory where the Aragonese Castle stands today. The residence was described as fortress-like and overlooked the bay. It featured its own private docks from which Caesar enjoyed sailing his little boat around the bay. Construction of the castle by the Viceroy of Toledo during Spanish rule completely buried Caesar's palace foundations.

Caesar Augustus built a fabulous palace for himself in Capri then a second residence was gifted to him at Cape Miseno by a local real estate mogul. Augustus had fought to gain his position of power in Rome and feared increasingly aggressive opposition from the triumvirate. In a view toward establishing previously non-existent coastal defenses, he commissioned Agrippa to design and build a navy support base which was named Portus Julius. The base was constructed on a jut of land attached to the shores of modern-day Arco Felice. Portus Julius is commonly called "the sunken city" since it is entirely submerged and its foundations are largely intact. It is easily explored by snorkeling.

Augustus died at his Miseno residence and his adopted son Caligula took over the coveted title of emperor. Caligula's first impulse was to make himself seen by the people of the town. He took his first stroll as emperor on these cobblestone streets.

Caligula wasn't about to be outdone in personal achievements and had a score to settle with a statesman. Since a member of the Roman senate had once commented that "Caligula could not be an emperor any more than he could ride a horse across Pozzuoli Bay", Caligula would now return the "compliment". Immediately after becoming emperor, Caligula had old transport ships strung across from the village of Baia to the port of Pozzuoli in a double file. The ships were sunk in place then filled with stone to form a causeway. Of course, Caligula wasn't concerned by disruptions he caused to shipping and maritime operations. He rode his white horse across the bridge called "Caligula's Folly" on two occasions, and held wild parties that lasted days and nights on the bridge. At night the causeway was lighted by thousands of oil lamps. Immediately following Caligula's short-lived reign, the causeway was destroyed in order to free the shipping lanes.

Claudius inherited a historically renowned villa and erected a magnificent nymphaeum just across the bay from Julius Caesar's palace on a promontory known as Punta del Epitaffio. It was the site of many banquets and was appropriately designed. The nymphaeum was monumental in style, adorned with precious white marble statues of his family. A marble group was set at the inner end of the grotto-like chamber that depicted Ulysses and his companions struggling with Polyfemus. All statues were recovered during underwater excavation campaigns in the 1980s except one. The 9-foot high statue of Polyfemus was never found. The unique complex featured a full-length pool (now at 20' of depth) with circulating water that entered from the bay.

Like many before him, Nero adored the Baia life-style. True to his sinister character, he saw no wrong in killing his mother in order to take her fabulous villa for himself, which had previously been Claudius's residence. This villa was situated on a crest atop Punta del Epitaffio. Nero diverted a great deal of public funds from Rome tax revenues to build new facilities in the Baia and Pozzuoli communes, and simultaneousy to enhance his own newly acquired residence.

Hadrian was so enamored with Baia that he established a permanent home there. He is credited with many new construction projects and improvements that included temples, palaces, and government buildings. Hadrian died at Baia.

Getting the most from your Phlegrea diving experience

If you dive at the right locations (and there are many already mapped for you in this site), you'll see a wide variety and quantity of archaeological material.

Building foundations are found clustered and in greater abundance on the seabed of Portus Julius. A series of buildings were constructed near and against each other. There are many floors finished in ceramic and marble tile. Some richly decorated mosaic floors can also be seen.

There are several pillars constructed in mortar and stone bricks that served as breakwaters and wharf supports all along the seabed fringing Phlegrea.

But also there is infinitesimal number of shards scattered all along the bay seabed. These include terra cotta pottery, amphorae, oil lamps, marble tiles of various colors, marble mosaic pieces, ceramic fragments, and ancient anchors. Occasionally, if you should be so lucky, you might also spot a fair piece of marble or stone sculpture. The rule and law is, as always, look but don't take. You can take all the photos you want but the rules also say that the photos you take won't be used for profit.

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