A Cooler, Wetter Way to Enjoy Roman Ruins This Summer

This recent entry on Blogging Pompeii is a good reminder that tramping around a dusty, dry forum or the streets of Pompeii under a hot mid-day sun is not the only way to get to see a bit of history this summer. How about visiting some Roman ruins in a rather cooler, shadier location but you’ll need your snorkelling mask and flippers.

Naples is full of tourists at this time of year – most of them head to the crowd magnets of Pompeii, Herculaneum, the historical centre of Naples with its museum and the island of Capri. But to the west of Naples there is an area that attracts significantly fewer visitors – despite its wealth of Roman ruins. Part of the reason is that the archaeological sites on the Phlegraean Fields are mainly underwater. In fact a lot of the interesting archaeological activity in the area goes on out of site – below the waves. There are up to 24 scuba diving locations in the Bay of Naples, and the Underwater Archaeological Park of Baiae in the area of the Phlegraean Fields offers seven underwater sites where Roman villas, pillars, a port and thermal baths can be seen. For example there is Portus Julius, which now lies at a depth of 3-5m underwater. It was built in 37 BC during the civil war between Pompey and Octavian. Structural ruins and several mosaics can be seen today.

Other sites include:

Snorkelling, scuba diving and, for the less water-confident, a glass bottomed boat are all ways of getting to see some of these Roman ruins
  • Secca delle fumose several underwater pillars at a depth of about 12m, with some fumaroles, where volcanic gas is released from the ground.
  • Villa dei Pisoni built in the first century BC and inhabited by the Piso family, who later staged a protest again Nero. Today the garden area and thermal baths are visible.
  • Villa Protiro one of Baia’s most impressive villas. Some well-preserved black and white Roman mosaics are visible.
  • Villa antistante il castello Aragonese another underwater villa, with arcades and a fish-breeding pool.
  • Villa marittima di marina grande again, this villa’s remains are still visible under the sea.
  • Torre del faro di Miseno several 18m high columns of stone covered in reticulated brickwork.

This video on Youtube shows some of the mosaics on offer to the adventure tourist:

The Phlegraean Fields (Phlegraean meaning burning in Greek), is a caldera 13km wide, just west of Naples, which was declared a regional park in 2003. The Underwater Archaeological Park of Baiae is part of this area, which is all subject to the natural phenomena known as bradyseism meaning that, due to volcanic activity, land either subsides (negative bradyseism) or is raised (positive bradyseism) over time. The once prosperous Roman towns of Baia, Miseno and Puteoli (now Pozzuoli) were all built on the caldera that subsequently subsided, leaving them all under several metres of water.

Snorkelling, scuba diving and, for the less water-confident, a glass bottomed boat are all ways of getting to see some of these Roman ruins. Guided tours with equipment provided can all be arranged through the Napoli Diving Centre for as little as 30 euros, while other heritage locations nearby include the Park of Gaiola, where you can dive to visit another submerged Roman villa.