Baiae: The City Under the Sea

Photo: Pasquale Vassallo

Baie was once a great and popular coastal city in the Roman Empire that drew the likes of Nero, Caligula and even the famous Julius Cesar. This ancient city, located on the Northwest side of the Gulf of Naples was liked by the wealthy and powerful not only due to its location and therapeutic mineral springs, but mostly because of its women, wine and beach parties.

Marcus Terentius Varro, a Roman scholar, describes Baiae as the city where single women are common property, where young boys behave like young girls and old rich men act like young boys. Other scholars at the time also described Baiae as a “vortex of luxury” and a “den of licentiousness and vice”. Today Baiae could be compared to Las Vegas.

Photo: Roberto Serani

Much of this famous city today lies underwater. Baie sank almost 6 meters below sea level when the underlying magma chamber that was responsible for formation of the land mass which Baiae was built on was emptied in a natural process referred to as Bradyseism. When this event happened, in the 16th century, Baiae’s popularity had declined and the coastal city had already lost its place as the city of the wealthy and powerful.

Baiae was originally built as a port city but slowly evolved into a luxury resort getaway for the Roman elite. Augustus, Marcus Antonius, Julius Caesar, Septimius Severus, Caligula, Nero and many other famous leaders of the republic and empire had their own villas in Baiae.

The resort town has it place in history with notable events including the death of Hadrian and the murder of Agrippina, Nero’s mother on a villa he had built in Baiae. This murder was done under the orders of Nero himself. It was also in Baiae that Caligula built the famous pontoon bridge that extended from Pozzuoli to Baiae. At the time of Julius Caesar’s death, it is believed that Cleopatra was residing in Baiae.

Photo: Pasquale Vassallo

In the 8th century, raids by neighboring Islamic rulers and eventual invasion by barbarians brought Baiae’s glory days to an end. The city was eventually lost on the map when it vanished under the Tyrrhenian Sea.

Today, one can get a close view of the ruins of the once famous coastal city by taking a glass bottom boat from the nearby harbor. You will see the ruins of magnificent villas owned by roman elite, numerous marble statues, paved roads, bath complexes and numerous buildings with collapsed walls. Some rooms, though covered by seaweed still have their mosaic floors intact. This once great and famous city is now home to a number of marine species.

Apart from the underwater ruins of the city, there is a lot above water including the temples of Mercury, Venus and Diana.

Photo: Pasquale Vassallo