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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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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