A Brief History of Baia, Ancient Rome’s Las Vegas

The ancient Roman city of Baia was situated on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea, and was one of the most important port cities in the Roman world. It was also the place where Emperor Nerva was born. In the 16th-century, it was a popular destination for the wealthy.
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In one of the world’s few underwater archaeological sites, visitors can see the ancient remains of Baia today. Paved roads, magnificent palaces owned by aristocratic Roman families, dozens of marble statues, and spa facilities fill the streets of this ancient city. Emperor Claudius’ ornamented dining room, with sculptures and mosaic floors, enables divers to have an unforgettable underwater experience. Baia, a once-famous Roman city located on the coast of the Gulf of Naples, now rests quietly submerged beneath the waves.

Baia’s hedonism was famous, rivalling that of modern-day Las Vegas in terms of hedonistic excess. For centuries, the resort town served as a popular vacation destination for the Roman aristocracy and socialites. Villas constructed for prominent Roman figures such as Julius Caesar, Nero, Caligula, Augustus, Pompeius the Great, Marcus Antonius, and Septimius Severus were the city’s draw.

These Powerful men built magnificent houses on the beach, complete with warm baths and mosaic-tiled pools, where they could indulge their wildest desires and escape reality. They hosted and attended the most exclusive beach parties and drank only the most outstanding wines while surrounded by attractive women. “Unmarried ladies are common property in Baia,” ancient Roman scholar Marcus Terentius Varro observed, “old men behave like young boys, while many young boys behave like young girls.”

A Brief History of Baia, Ancient Rome's Las Vegas The Witty Poet

The city of Baia was surrounded by mysterious and contentious events, as was the case in every area with questionable morals. Nero killed his mother, Agrippina, in the villa he had built for her on the outskirts of Rome. Following Hadrian’s death in Pozzuoli, Caligula constructed his legendary pontoon bridge connecting the two cities. Cleopatra is said to have been in Baia when Julius Caesar’s died in 44 BC.

The golden times lasted until the eighth century when the wheels of fortune came crashing down. Barbarian invasions and Muslim incursions caused devastation to the once-thriving metropolis, bringing it to its knees. The city then sank for the sixteenth time beneath the surface of the Tyrrhenian Sea. The same volcanic eruptions that had previously aroused the public’s interest put the final nail in the coffin of this once-opulent metropolis.

A Brief History of Baia, Ancient Rome's Las Vegas The Witty Poet

In 2002 the Archaeological Marine Park of Baia was created with an unequalled historical and cultural significance. With eight underwater sites ranging from five to thirteen meters in depth, snorkelling, scuba diving for certified divers, and scuba diving for beginners are all otherworldly experiences. Fascinating sites include the thermal baths of Lacus, a spa complex, probably of a private residence, which overlooked the ancient port of Baia, the Lacus Baianus.

The recently discovered and restored site opened to the public in the summer of 2020. The ruins of multiple polychrome mosaics and marble floors are spectacular, and it’s fascinating to see the different levels of flooring created by layering mosaics on top of one another. There are three apse walls, which previously had massive windows looking out over the Lacus Baianus, seen in addition to the perimeters of other rooms and the warm baths.

Fast Facts

A Brief History of Baia, Ancient Rome's Las Vegas The Witty Poet

Getting to Baia: 

Take Metro number two towards Pozzuoli-Solfatara from Naples Central Station. The journey takes approximately 40 minutes, and numerous public buses depart from Pozzuoli metro station. You can also take the local train “Cumana” towards Pozzuoli – Torregaveta from the centre of Naples, Montesanto plaza, and get off at Fusaro station. This train leaves every 20 minutes and takes approximately 35-40 minutes. Baia is within 15-20 minutes’ walking distance from these stations.

 

Diving in Baia: 

SuBaia Campania divers is a diving centre in Baia, near Pozzuoli (Naples) in the famous Campi Flegrei area. They organise guided dives and snorkelling excursions to the incredible Submerged Archaeological Park of Baia, the Gulf of Naples, the islands of Procida, Ischia, Capri and the Sorrento Coast. They also offer recreational diving courses from beginner to instructor level and technical diving. Visit them at subaia.com.

A Brief History of Baia, Ancient Rome's Las Vegas The Witty Poet

Staying there: 

Villa Luisa, located 20 meters from the Pozzuoli Gulf and 100 meters from Lake Lucrino, has a magnificent spa centre, a rooftop terrace and neighbouring attractions such as Baia Archeological Park (1.3 mi) and Sibyl’s Cave (Antro della Sibilla) (1.8 mi). Prices start at €85 per night. Call (39) 081 8042 852. Visit villaluisaresort.it

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