Quotes & Snippets

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In the hills of Baiae, …sites are excavated for sweating-rooms. In these, hot vapour rising from deep down perforates the soil by the violence of its heat, and passing through it rises in these places, and so produces striking advantages in sweating-rooms.

Vitruvius 2.6.2, 1st century BC

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“No bay in the world outshines lovely Baiae.”

Horace, Letters 1.1.80–5, 1st century BC

“No bay in the world outshines lovely Baiae.”

Horace, Letters 1.1.80–5, 1st century BC

“There are warm baths, heated not by brick-work flues and smoky balls of fire, but by Nature herself. The pure air supplies the steam and softly stimulates perspiration, and the health-giving work is so much the better done as Nature is above Art. Let the Coralli boast their wonderful sea, let the pearl fisheries of India vaunt themselves. In our judgment Baiae, for its powers of bestowing pleasure and health, surpasses them all…”

Cassiodorus, writing on behalf of King Athalaric to a Primiscrinius (Departmental chief).

Neapolis has springs of hot water and bathing establishments that are not inferior to those at Baiae, although it is far short of Baiae in the number of people, for at Baiae, where palace on palace has been built, one after another, a new city has arisen.

Strabo

[Nero] also began a pool, extending from Misenum to the lake of Avernus, roofed over and enclosed in colonnades, into which he planned to turn all the hot springs in every part of Baiae to form a canal from Avernus all the way to Ostia, to enable the journey to be made by ship yet not by sea; its length was to be a hundred and sixty miles and its breadth sufficient to allows ships with five banks of oars to pass each other.

Suetonius, Life of Nero

Whenever he sailed about the Gulf of Baiae, booths were set up at intervals along the banks and shores, fitted out for debauchery, while bartering matrons played the part of inn-keepers and from every hand solicited him to come ashore.

Suetonius, Life of Nero

“I would rather that some toy boat, propelled by tiny paddles, be amusing you upon Lake Lucrino… than you be free to hear the seductive whispers of another, comfortably couched on a beach that tells no tales.”

“…depart with all speed from corrupt Baiae: those shores will cause many to part, shores which have ever been harmful to virtuous girls: a curse on the waters of Baiae, that bring reproach on love!”

Sextus Propertius (47–15 BC) The Love Elegies

Of course, in times when there is no entertainment, one tends to pay an interest in the distaff (a spinning spindle) and in weaving, because one organises one’s life according to the circumstances, when deprived of distraction: but even the proximity of Baiae could not distract you from the care of such an arduous undertaking.

Symmachus (4th century AD), to his daughter, in which he praises her for the fact that she is making him a birthday present.

Baia as Roman spa resort

Baiae was renowned in Roman times as a popular spa resort for the élite: Roman socialites had to be seen at Baia and the power base of Rome spent their summers there. Baia also gained a reputation for decadence and immorality, although its reputation as a quality and healthy resort persisted well into post-Roman times.

Seventeenth and eighteenth-century travel accounts of the nobility considered the Bay of Naples to be the seat of European civilisation, steeped in Greek and Roman culture. Of course they would have read the classics at school and knew the conventional mythology, legends and history associated with the various places.

Information on Baia throughout the ages is fragmentary.

In the 8th century BC, settlers from the Greek region of Euboea founded Kyme (Cumae, today’s Cuma) the first Greek colony on the Italian peninsula. Its economic and cultural influence spread over the entire Bay of Naples and beyond extending to form Magna Graecia.

From the 4th century BC onwards, it gradually came under Rome’s political and cultural influence.

In the 1st century BC, Livy describes the earliest visit to the mineral waters of the Phlegraean Fields, when Scipio Hispallus was sent to take the ‘Aquae Cumanae’ in 176 BC. Scipio suffered partial paralysis as a result of falling off his horse. His infection grew worse, and he died shortly after.

In 88 BC, almost a century later, the Roman people implored the statesman Gaius Marius to retire to Baiae for reasons of his old age and rheumatism. Sources state that Marius owned a luxurious villa in the Baiae neighbourhood.

Most of the resort’s expansion seems to have taken place at the end of the 1st century BC and during the first two centuries AD.

In the 1960s, Alfonso De Franciscis has suggested that the Baian site’s exceptional character can only mean that we are dealing with an imperial palace. Besides its irregular form, he added that the high artistic quality of the paintings and sculptures found there strengthened its identification with an imperial palace: “All these pieces are worthy of a place in an imperial palace rather than in a bath complex, no matter how pretentious.”

Baiae’s popularity declines after the fall of the Roman Empire in 476. 

The Gothic Wars of the 6th century.

The Lombard invasion in the 8th century.

Raids of Arab pirates and assaults of the Saracen fleet in the 9th century.

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