The Tunnel Discovery
Baia had occasionally revealed Roman sculptures, such as the ‘Aphrodite of Baiae’, which was supposedly excavated there sometime before 1803.
The site on the volcanic hillside at Baia was first extensively excavated by Amedeo Maiuri, an Italian archaeologist, famous for his archaeological excavations at Pompeii and Herculaneum.
From what had originally been a hillside covered in vines, with the remains of Roman ruins still visible here and there, a set of opulent Roman baths were uncovered between 1956 and 1958, in clearly defined different sections separated with staircases ascending the hill. Whether these were privately owned areas, or open to the public in some way, is not known and the use of some areas is disputed to this day. In Roman times, from 20BC onwards, fresh water from the mountains was freely available from the Aqua Augusta, known locally as the Serino Aqueduct, which once ran above the site.
The visible ruins of these baths had acquired the reputation of being temples and those names continue to be used: temples of Diana, Mercury and Venus.
Plaster moulds of Greek sculptures were discovered in the cellar of the Baths of Sosandra at Baiae and are now displayed in the museum at Baia Castle.
They include Athens’s Harmodius and Aristogeiton and the Athena of Velletri. A workshop mass-producing copies of Greek art for the Italian market.
Amedeo Maiuri ventured a short way into the tunnel entrance found adjacent to Le Piccole Terme in the south-west corner of the site, but declared it unsafe and dangerous, due to toxic volcanic fumes. He forbade his workmen from venturing further.
The entrance to the Oracle of the Dead, or a simple steam channel for the Roman Baths?
If the tunnels are providing the steam for Roman baths, they cannot be toxic or the bathers would presumably have died. In reality these tunnels never were full of toxic fumes, as we shall show, but this reason continued to be used in later years when renewed interest in the tunnels was shown.
So it was that the entrance tunnel laid overgrown, forgotten and forbidden, until the 1960s.
Dr Robert Ferrand Paget &
Keith Jones of the US Navy
Dr Paget now enters our story, for it was he who had thought he had discovered the way to a Greek Oracle of the Dead, the Underworld and abode of Persephone and Hades.
Dr Robert Ferrand Paget, who liked to be known to his friends simply as ‘Doc’ (although his wife always called him Ferrand), retired to Baia fully intending to lead a peaceful life with his Italian opera singer wife Ada Immacolata. As Doc described it, doing ‘dolce fa niente’ – sweet nothing.
Doc had a great interest in the local archaeology and he had read all the historical tales of an Oracle of the Dead, traditionally said to be in the area of Lake Avernus, which is not very far away from Baia.
Doc Paget had met a kindred spirit in a much younger man, Keith Jones of the United States Navy who was working for NATO near Naples. Together they explored the region. The more they read about stories of the Oracle of the Dead, visiting libraries in Naples and reading extensively, the more they realised that people seemed to be talking about an actual place that existed; that the Oracle was no fairytale location.
So Doc Paget and Keith Jones set out, like Schliemann discovering Troy a century earlier, to find the actual place where the Oracle of the Dead might be found in this region. Together Doc Paget and Keith Jones searched every tunnel they could find, within a wide radius of Lake Avernus.
Greek Blockwork Among Roman Remains?
The dry-jointed stone block-work encased in Roman masonry in front of Doc Paget didn’t seem to match the various Roman cement styles at Baia and it started him wondering – perhaps it was not a Samnite temple, but Greek and if so, could his Oracle of the Dead be here, staring him right in the face?
Doc & Keith’s Discovery
While idly sitting on a fallen column, looking at the Roman ruins of Le Piccole Terme in the Archaeological Park of Baia, close close to his home in Bacoli, Doc Paget fell into conversation with a site custodian, who offered the remark that some large blocks in front of him might be the ruins of a Samnite temple.
As the map shown here shows, Samnite territory encircled in red, it never extended as far as the coast of Italy, being confined to the mountainous central regions.
After investigating a more modest tunnel on the higher terrace above, Doc Paget and Keith Jones eventually discovered the location of the extensive tunnel complex at Baia on September the 21st, 1962. The story of this will evolve in the description of the individual features which Paget and Jones documented for the first time.
In 1967, after much measurement and research, Doc Paget published a book about his findings, called “In the Footsteps of Orpheus”.
When Doc Paget and Keith Jones first made their discovery, the first person to be informed was J. B. Ward-Perkins CMG, CBE, FBA, Director of the British School at Rome. It was due to his encouragement and influence that researches at the site continued. Permission was kindly given by Professor Alfonso di Franciscis, the Superintendent of Antiquities for the Campania region, to allow Doc Paget to continue his work at Baia.
The original attempts at dating the stonework were greatly helped by M. W. Frederiksen and after 1965 a detailed study of the surface buildings was undertaken with the help of Colin G. Hardie, who later provided the inspiration for Robert Temple’s interest in the tunnels.
A team of interested parties is in place today, which includes historians, archaeologists and speleologists. We would love to continue research and if any benefactors could come forward to help provide funding to do this, please do get in touch.
The result of Doc Paget’s research and work is in his book ‘In the Footsteps of Orpheus’, originally published by Robert Hale, London, in 1967, with a reprint issued by the Scientific Book Club, London.
Retired US naval Commander Tory Failmezger showed great generosity in presenting me with a signed copy of Doc Paget’s book when we met in London in May 2013.
Doc Paget continued this work until his death on January 8th, 1973. He was also working on a book about the Great Goddess, the nurturing mother that was behind many ancient matriarchal religions. This unpublished book is in my possession, through a gracious donation by Peter Knight.
In addition, Paget wrote an article on the tunnels, which he had named ‘The Great Antrum’ for the British School at Rome and another which was published in Vergilius.
Doc’s co-researcher Colin Hardie also published an article to the British School at Rome under the title ‘The Great Antrum at Baiae’. I am grateful to Peter Knight for providing documentation on the above publications from his personal archive.