Hearing about the ancient resort city of Baiae, located on the Mediterranean coast near Naples, and you’d think it’s something made up for a dramatic narrative.
The city was designed as a spa and resort for Ancient Rome’s wealthy elite, and was rumored to be full of decadence and scandal.
The city itself was built on a volcanic plain called the Phlegraean Fields, a barren, ashy place where sulfuric gases would shoot from the ground, and was considered by many to be the entryway to the underworld. There’s even a legend about a future-seeing sybil and secret underground tunnels.
But Baiae was a very real place, and today, it’s a popular place with people who like their traveling destinations a little less … expected.
The volcanic activity has drastically altered Italy’s coastline since the Roman days, and because of this, Baiae today is completely submerged in the Bay of Naples.
Like the ancient Egyptian city of Heracleion that lay underwater for 1,800 years , not many people know about Baiae anymore. The once popular, luxurious resort town simply doesn’t exist anymore.
But if you’re willing to put on a wetsuit and dive beneath the bay, you are able to see echoes of Baiae’s beauty and culture. If diving isn’t your thing, merely read on to see what’s lurking under the water!
[ H/ T: Atlas Obscura]
Looking out over the Bay of Naples, you might never guess that all this water, centuries ago, was land. But it was!
And it was also home to one of the most exclusive resort cities in Rome: Baiae.
Baiae was founded in the second century BCE, and was used for centuries by the Roman aristocracy.
Roman monarches Julius Caesar, Nero, and Hadrian all had villas at Baiae.
Its ruinings captured the imaginations of artists and writers for centuries after Baiae was abandoned and sunk into the water.
This 1822 painting by Englishartist J.M.W. Turner imagines what Baiae might have looked like in its heyday.
Today, though, the city is submerged in the bay, due to volcanic activity that caused Italy’s coastline to recede.
Baiae is preserved underwater as an archaeological site, one of merely a few in the world, and can be seen by snorkeling or scuba diving, or by glass-bottomed barge for those who prefer to stay dry.
Divers can swim through the ruinings and take in sights like this beautiful marble statue.
There are also brick houses and foundations, many of them blanketed over with corals and seaweed.
The floor mosaics of what were once luxurious vacation villas are also intact.
The mosaics, along with many of the statues, are cared for by local archaeologists, and the site is visited by both adventurous tourists and scientists conducting studies.
Many of the mosaics are protected by tarps, and uncovered only when people come to see them. This keeps them free of excess plant growth and damage.
Swimming along, you can actually follow along what were once Baiae’s streets, and check out the bathhouses, fountains, homes, and shops.
The partly submerged Temple of Echo, as the name indicates, has amazing acoustics. It’s also one of the largest domes constructed in Rome.
This amazing time capsule is a rare glimpse into a distant past, and reminds us that no matter how ordinary something might look on the surface, there’s always something fascinating waiting to be discovered!
If you know anyone who loves the stranger side of traveling, or merely love concealed gems, be sure to SHARE Baiae with them!