The Greek Temple

Phase 1 – A Greek Temple

This is the most important building on the terrace, although today it looks like a perplexing jumble of ruins. Before exploring some photographs, some diagrams may help to explain a possible sequence of events.

Phase 2 – Roman occupation

The Greek Temple is now in a ruinous state. Rockfalls have buried the entrance and Roman masonry and arches now provide access back into the Great Antrum. It is uncertain what role the features in the hillside had.

Phase 3 – Roman Baths

The health benefits of the natural steam sources local to Baia had been known since the Greeks first settled the area. The final phase that was excavated shows Roman bath use with a suite of very small baths, Le Piccole Terme.

An Overview

Access to the upper terrace was granted in 2014 for limited investigation. This rare picture from above shows the layout of the Greek Temple today. We can identify large old Greek blocks with bow tie joints sometimes incorporated into the walls of the adjoining hot room and sometimes free standing within a mass of Roman masonry.

The start of the Great Antrum is in a trench below us, with the remains of vaulting over the narrow passage. The trench is at an oblique angle, leaving very little useable space remaining. Covered over it would be cramped and claustrophobic. There may be some steps down into the trench at lower right, but these have not been investigated. Nothing is visible in the trench below to suggest that there was any access into the tunnels. A few steps lead up to where there was once a side opening to the stairs on the outside of the building.

Now back to the diagrams…

It is likely that a free-standing stone structure existed forward of the cliff face, its front in line with the entrance to the tunnel system, the Great Antrum.

A chance remark to Doc Paget by a custodian at the site mentioned that the massive blocks which in this area could be part of a Samnite temple, but the Samnites were never here.

The Samnites were confined to the central area of Italy
The Samnites were confined to the central area of Italy



Livy gives the earliest Roman account we know of, when Scipio Hispallus was sent to the Aquae Cumanae in 176 BCE to find a cure for his partial paralysis as a result of falling off his horse.

The second reference is almost a century later in 88 BC. The Roman people implored statesman Gaius Marius to withdraw to Baiae for reasons of his health, since he was worn out with old age and afflicted by rheumatism.

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

The popularity of the spa resort of Baia continued over a span of perhaps 600 years.

The Pollena volcanic eruption of 472 AD  finally left the area devastated. The water supply was cut off to all the towns within a wide region except for Nola and Acerrae. 

It couldn’t have happened at a worse time – the Roman Empire was collapsing. The poor administrative and economic situation in Campania and Italy in general prevented major repairs. Baia was abandoned, leaving much of the city submerged under the sea, with some ruined remains on the hillside.

Identifying the Cella

Paget called in an expert, Martin W Frederiksen, Fellow of Worcester College, Oxford, England. Frederiksen was the author of a weighty book on the region, simply called ‘Campania’.

Frederiksen visited the site and opined that the bulk of the cemented brickwork is Roman – late Republican or Augustan. There is also a large amount of Neronian work, often seen as repairs to the earlier Augustan brickwork after earthquake damage.

Frederiksen further stated that in his opinion the large blocks are Greek. They are fastened together with metal clamps of double swallow or dovetail form. In Greek architecture these are archaic, dating to the 6th and 5th century BC.

Isn’t this a bit small
for a Greek Temple?

Early Greek Cella evolved into stone edifices with pitched roofs from simple wooden huts
Greek Cellas evolved from simple wooden huts

This structure pre-dates the classic era of monumental Greek architecture. The first huge Greek Temple, the Heraeum at Olympia, would be at least 100 years later. 

A comparable feat of engineering to the building here and the tunnels, the aqueduct at Samos, would be 100 years after that.

In about 500 BC shaped blocks started to be laid in horizontal rows. More formal than polygonal masonry, it was used in temples and important civic structures.

With the metal used and the time it took to finely shape the stone, this sort of masonry was expensive and saved for only the most prestigious structures. 

Masons would secure the blocks with horizontal metal clasps. Sometimes vertical metal dowels were used to prevent lateral shifting. Additional seals of poured molten lead – important in areas hit by earthquakes.

The metal is now missing from the exposed dovetails, but plenty of stone courses remain in situ and an examination could be made.

Contemplating the huge blocks at Baia
Contemplating the huge blocks at Baia
Even where the Greek blocks are missing it is possible see the imprint of them in the encasing Roman construction.
Tracing out the Cella

Even where the Greek blocks are missing it is possible to trace the imprint of them in the encasing Roman construction. Existing Greek blocks are outlined in red, with missing courses shown as horizontal red lines. Later stairs and an entrance to the side steps outside break the continuity of the wall. At ground level courses of the jointed blocks still remain.

There is another passage entrance to the left of the Grotto. It may once have been in a small separate room between the temple and cliff. A narrow access space perhaps accessed from behind the steps on the other side of the wall.

In the picture above The Grotto is the large arched opening on the right. Underneath it can be seen an opening which is just just above the actual tunnel to the oracle, which lies under ground level in a deep slot and extends in either direction. Going to the left of the picture, the tunnel has an opening to a room on the level below, further down the hillside.

If we peer over into the temple area from the original entrance as seen here we can start to see a little of what is there. One of the large Greek blocks is still in situ. In the foreground we can see where the Romans placed supporting clay pillars for their hot bath floor.

The passage to the left of the Grotto is blocked due to a landfall some way in. It appears to continue to a point above the main tunnel, at the point where the passage from the back of the Tholos meets it, where there is a Roman tile set in the roof. Its purpose is unknown, perhaps smoke or something was poured in from there to block the view back to the entrance, once a person had entered. Perhaps noises were made through the hole.

A reconstruction – maybe?

The top of the remaining buttress at the end of the trench appeared to line up with the floor of the Grotto in this view from above. It may be a trick of the eye –  it needs checking on site. Swipe left and right to hide /reveal the idea.


The Entrance to Hades?

Finally we can look down into the trench below the Greek Temple and see the tunnel entrance. Is the the way to the underworld, the abode of Hades and Persephone? Where Aeneas went to consult the Oracle of the Dead? To make our minds up about that we need to venture deep, deep down into the bowels of the earth to find out…

The Grotto

Directly above the entrance is a feature Doc Paget called ‘The Grotto’. It extends for about 12 metres (40 feet) into the hill. At the back is a set of four tiles arranged into a square niche.

We shall meet a similar feature once we have reached the inner regions of the tunnel complex.

Why is the tunnel at such an angle?

It would hardly seem to be coincidence that the tunnel faces the volcano Vesuvius across the bay. In addition, the sun would appear to rise from behind Vesuvius at the equinoctes.

The red outline shows Vesuvius as seen from the Grotto above the Great Antrum entrance.

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