The Surface Buildings
Five ruined buildings sit on a terrace against the steep volcanic hillside. Above these are the even more ruined remains of more rooms, to which public access has never been allowed. It is agreed that they form the oldest buildings seen at the Archaeological Park of Baia. Together they are called ‘Le Piccole Terme’, the small baths. They are formed by Roman brickwork of various styles and show signs of multiple repairs or adaption.
These five buildings formed what Doc Paget somewhat fancifully called ‘The Sacred Area’, imagining that they served some kind of ritual function as a prelude to entering the tunnel system behind the hill. What later became a set of small Roman baths may indeed have had a former use. Numerous sections of Roman pillar litter the forecourt in front of the buildings. These seem to lack foundations although a few capitals are there. One pillar is impaled into the ground at an angle of about 45º. The conclusion might be that they have fallen from an un-excavated region, higher up the hillside.
By convention, the person who first names an archaeological feature establishes that name, however erroneous it may turn out to be. Thus, this website will stick to the names that Dr Robert Ferrand Paget, ‘Doc’, used.
The Ruined steps
Large fallen rocks prevent access today to the terrace and buildings above.
There is an opening from the stairs into the ‘Greek Temple’.
The Greek Temple
So named because of the large Greek style dry-jointed blocks that are encased in later Roman masonry and mortar of various ages.
The large black opening is ‘The Grotto’ – a chamber which sits directly over the entrance to the tunnel complex below.
A dividing wall separates this area from the other rooms to the right.
The Original Entrance
From within the tunnel behind there is a human-height opening that was later bricked in.
Today there is just a small rectangular opening into the tunnel that a man can just crawl through.
Doc’s naming of this feature is hazy. Sometimes he suggests an entrance into the Greek Temple, while elsewhere he suggests an entrance into the tunnel complex.
Its final use was clearly a hot Roman bath.
The Tholos is a bottle-shaped structure with a hole at the top. This is considered to be one of the oldest structures anywhere so far excavated at Baia.
In its present form it is a room heated by hot steam – a sudatorium or sweat room. But a tunnel leading from the back into the tunnel complex suggests it may have had a prior purpose.
Big D is named because a recessed D-shaped hot bath exists in the back wall, complete with its hypocaust floor supports.
A small statue niche to the left of the D bath disguises evidence of a former wall separating it from a small corridor.
Behind the niche Doc found a staircase, now bricked up and forgotten.
The Painted Room
This room has been partially restored – covered over to protect some wall paintings.
It has been variously described as a dressing room or a latrine, presumably because of a shallow recess in the floor where it meets a wall.
It seems odd to suggest men urinating against such fine mural painting.
Understanding the Site
Overgrown and forgotten, the area of Le Piccole Terme has been closed off for some years now, due to lack of staff funding and public attendance.
For may years a train station at the site made this a popular destination by tourists from afar and weekend visitors from Naples. A rockfall in the tunnel at Baia caused the track to be re-routed to Lake Fusaro behind the hill. Visiting the archaeological site by public transport became more difficult.
Reading the Sign
Even if one could visit Le Piccole Terme today, you will get no help in understanding them from the signage at the site because the rooms are wrongly identified.
The Baia Guide
The guide to Baia sheds more clues on the identity of the buildings. The map is broadly the same as the site sign, but the identity of the buildings’ usage is different.
Historical Plans of Le Piccole Terme
‘The Phlegraean Fields – from Virgil’s Tomb to the Grotto of the Cumaean Sibyl’.
Doc Paget’s plan was printed in his book: ‘In the footsteps of Orpheus’.
Doc’s plan is somewhat crude in execution, but he was working from his own measurements. Doc had conveyed his sketches to another for redrawing.
Doc records several features not included by anyone else: North and South tanks, the curved passage from South tank behind the Tholos, from the back of the Greek Temple and the wall and staircase adjacent to Big D.
Fikret Yegül appears to have been working from Maiuri’s plan. A feature that Yegül copied was Maiuri’s wrong north sign direction (not shown here).
For some reason Yegül has decided to draw a small rectangular chamber a short distance into the hillside. This does not exist.
Yegül’s other similar chamber to the right is another fiction.
Yegül appears to have taken his cue from a written description of Doc’s ‘Tomb Tunnel’.
Maura Medri published a plan in her paper ‘In Baiano sinu: Il Vapor, le aquae e Le Piccole Terme di Baia’.
Maura Medri is now a full professor at the Università Roma Tre.
This plan appears originally to have come from the Superintendency for Antiquities, but I have come across no other versions so far. The tunnel entrances have been marked by me in red.