The Elysian Portal

An Exclusive

Doc Paget claimed to have searched all around the back of the hill at Baia, towards Lake Fusaro, looking for another entrance into the tunnel complex. He’d asked every small boy he met whether he knew of any tunnels, but drew a blank and concluded that the likelihood of finding anything new was highly unlikely.

In 2013 Peter Knight confided that he’d discovered a new tunnel a few years previously, but that it was on private land and inaccessible to the public.

Peter Knight subsequently obtained permission from the landowner for a brief investigation. 

Most of the old buildings in this area have Roman remains in them somewhere, so finding a tunnel among all the Roman structures brings to mind the needle and haystack problem.

Entrances can be entrancing
Entrances can be entrancing

A Robber’s Hole

Venturing into the entrance finds us in one of a row of vaulted stone rooms. Possibly horse stables or cattle sheds, perhaps store rooms. The floors have been screeded in concrete in more recent years.

Seen to the right of this picture is a battered hole in the wall.

Opus Reticulatum

Diamond patterned walls are created by hammering elongated pyramid-shaped tufa blocks into wet cement.

Observing the hole, it is clearly of opus reticulatum”, net work. It was used from the 1st century BC onwards.

Robbers seem to be enterprising in the area and have found their way into many places.

Whether this was done in antiquity or more recent years is impossible to say.

Should we step inside the hole and see what is there? Of course we should.

Just another
Brick in the Wall

Directly opposite the hole in the wall is an arched Roman doorway. It has clearly been bricked up in antiquity. We are now in a small square chamber with no clue as to how anyone could have entered here except by way of the bricked up archway, before the battered hole was made. It’s a little secret room.

…and another hole

If we turn to our right though after entering into the small chamber, we find that there is yet another hole in another wall. The robbers have been in here too. The débris is still lying on the floor.

Peter Knight’s Sketch

Peter Knight measured and drew up a plan. He later found exactly the same plan documented in Baiae-Misenum by A Borriello & M D’Ambrosio, published in 1979.

Boriello & d’Ambrosios sketch

A Borriello & M D’Ambrosio plan of 1979. Although documented, no mention was made of the tunnel exiting to the right of the sketch, through the robber’s hole.

To explore any further will take some considerable organised effort in the future. The Superintendency for Antiquities has its hands full, managing and maintaining its huge catalogue of sites in the area on a tight budget.

The end of the tunnel, filled with soil and rubble
The end of the tunnel, filled with soil and rubble

Deliberate Soil Blockage

As with all the other local tunnels, where the material is unstable above, arched tiles or in this case stones, lean on each other to support the weight of what is laid on top. This location is quite near the surface. the walls are, again, lined with opus reticulatum on one side.

Venturing into the tunnel, as with the tunnel complex on the Baia side of the hill, this tunnel is filled with soil. Surely this is deliberate and no accident, because the entrance was bricked up. This was no natural occurrence.

Why block up a tunnel like this, with immense effort, when heavily cementing up the entrance would surely put it out of operation? It is highly suggestive of superstition and ritual.

It is to be hoped that a university project or private benefactor might be able to allow further research to happen, both in this tunnel and through the bricked up arch in the antechamber.

The Elysian Portal

The honours must go to Peter Knight for naming this new tunnel the ‘Elysian Portal’ – Elysium, or the Elysian Fields, is a place where those worthy of it depart to after death. This region of Italy is inextricably linked with Homer, Aeneas’s adventures and the location of the Elysian Fields. Mythology will be discussed elsewhere. For now we shall continue to investigate the tunnels.

While taking a top-down plan view of the 3D model that was developed for this website and overlaying it on a Google map, it seems uncanny that the Elysian Portal tunnel is in a direct line to the Dividing of the Ways. It is one of those ‘goose bump’ moments.

Uncanny Coincidence or Deliberate Intent?

Now if it turns out that this tunnel connects with the rest of the tunnel complex that may be accessed from Baia, then what does any of this have to do with a tiny Roman bath at Le Piccole Terme? Something else is surely going on, isn’t it?

Divided Opinions

The next step must surely to be have another look at the Dividing of the Ways. The wall opposite the one that leads to the Inner Sanctuary.

Nothing much suggested to date has made any sense of the twin tunnels at the Dividing of the Ways. If, as the mythological story tells us, a choice is made on exiting, either to the Elysian Fields via the Elysian Portal, or back to earthly realms through the way we came in, then the routing is well defined and an exit direction could easily be forced.

Doc Paget suggested that a door was here. The swing door idea doesn’t have much traction, physically or mentally. But someone standing in the way could force a direction out, or could simply hold something up as a barrier. North 120 provides a perfect place for those orchestrating proceedings to reside, as necessary. They can use the slot behind the Roman tiles to feed sounds, smells and obscuring smoke to the drama. 

No matter what, all this is a simple steam channel for a tiny Roman bath a long way away. Isn’t it?

What are the chances of finding another tunnel here? It would seem a fair bet. Ground penetrating radar would give a very rapid answer to the question, in a non-invasive way.

A tunnel was once on the left?

Close observation indicates some kind of junction modification, as indicated by the red lines. The wall here has an anomalous and awkward shape on the left of this picture which would support the idea that there is a blocked tunnel entrance at this point. Elsewhere the walls are well defined and consistent in appearance. 

The junction to the Elysian Portal?
The junction leading to the Elysian Portal is on the left
A possible junction leading to the Elysian Portal is on the right
The junction leading to the Elysian Portal is on the right
Compelling Evidence?

Close up views of both the left and the right sides of the wall here show signs of modification on the floor. There has surely been some adaptation here. It is hoped that future exploration of this area will reveal its secrets.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Vlad V

    This is goosebump-enducing! I’ve a question though: has it been checked that the Elysian tunnel is at the exact same depth as the dividing of the ways? What about the other tunnel, the one perpendicular to the Elysian tunnel? If we assume there is a tunnel behind that bricked archway, and of we assume it goes in a straight line, where would it emerge from the cliff face? What is there?

    1. Persephone Hades

      No official research at all has been made into the Elysian Portal tunnel. Informal permission from the landowner for a brief non-invasive investigation was obtained in 2013, or perhaps it was 2014. Some of the local archaeologists are aware of the tunnel and I thank local archaeologists Ivana Guidone and Gervasio Iliano for their interest. The Superintendency of Antiquities for Campania is under huge financial pressure, having to maintain and manage existing sites, such as Pompeii. Much work undertaken is voluntary and unpaid.

      As for the where the bricked archway leads to, it’s uncertain. There are a number of openings visible on the Baia side of the volcanic cliff, on an upper terrace not accessible to the public. Permission was granted for investigation in 2014 and at that time I received rare photographs from this area. You remind me that I should create a web page documenting the features of the upper terrace. In addition there is the blocked tunnel that is accessed from the north side of Sosandra to consider. I myself ventured down this tunnel from the central Triplet room, which is not currently off-limits to the public. So much more remains to be discovered at the site at Baia and some of what is known has been covered up and since hidden, to the extent that those currently responsible for the site do not even know of its existence.

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