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Near Naples, the archaeological treasures of the city of Baiae are open to the eyes of scuba diving enthusiasts. This ancient spa town, highly prized by the Roman nobility more than 2,000 years ago, was submerged by water. Its remains today attract tourists.
Fish swim above mosaics and enter the tavern where residents used to come to have fun in the town of Baiae, a popular resort in Roman times and now an underwater archaeological park near Naples, in Italy.
The statues that once adorned luxurious villas have become playgrounds for crabs from the sunny coasts of this part of southern Italy, where divers can now explore the ruins of palaces and thermal baths built for the high society of the Roman Empire.
From IIe century BC, the Roman nobility flocked to take advantage of the hot springs of Baiae, located in the Phlegraean fields (a name coming from the Greek and meaning “burning fields”), a volcanic region northwest of Naples .
Seven emperors, including Augustus and Nero, had villas there, as did Julius Caesar and his rival Marc Antoine. The poet Properce (47-14 BC) described Baiae as a place of vice “enemy of virtuous creatures”.
A “unique” visit
Here, “older men behave like adolescents, and many adolescents behave like adolescent girls,” noted the writer Varro (116-27 BC).
But gradually the porticoes, marble columns, altars and ornamental basins sank due to Bradyseism, a phenomenon resulting in a slow drop in ground level caused by the volcanic activity inherent in this region.
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The entire area, including the nearby town of Pozzuoli and the military port of Miseno, was submerged by the waves, and their ruins now lie at a depth of 4 to 6 meters below the sea.
“It is difficult, especially for those who come for the first time, to imagine that one can find things that one could never find elsewhere in the world a few meters below the surface of the sea”, explains to the ‘AFPTV Marcello Betoslaso, director of the Phlegraean Fields Diving Center, who guides tourists to this exceptional site.
“Divers like to discover very special things, but what you can discover here is something unique,” he says.
A layer of sand for protection
The site, which covers 177 hectares under water, has been a protected maritime area since 2002, a decision that put an end to the golden age of looters still in search of precious remains. It was not uncommon for fishermen to also catch a few in their nets.
Underwater, one can easily discover under a thin layer of sand a superb mosaic of a villa that belonged to Caius Calpurnius Piso, known to have plotted against Nero there.
By exploring further on the traces of the old coastal road recognizable by its cobblestones, we pass by old thermal baths or shops. Sun rays pierce through the water, lighting up statues. However, these are only replicas, the originals being now housed in a museum.
“When we explore new areas, we gently remove the sand where we think there is soil, we identify it and we cover it,” says archaeologist Enrico Gallocchio.
“If we do not do this, the marine fauna and flora will attack the remains, while the sand protects them,” he says.
“The important ruins were easily discovered by removing a little sand, but there are places where the sandbars could be several meters thick. There are undoubtedly still many remains to be discovered”, rejoices -he.