The Inner Sanctuary

Facing us at the top of The Rise is a bricked up archway, with a solid tufa stone wall on our left containing some brick infill where the archway meets the wall.

Within the archway is an alcove comprised of four Roman tiles, set on edge.  This alcove is the depth of the tile and so quite deep. The soil and stones seen at the back are rammed solid and not at all loose.

What was the purpose of this feature? If the intention was simply block off the arch, why go to the trouble of leaving this alcove? We meet a similar way back at the Greek Temple, at the back of the Grotto.

The Inner Sanctuary

Doc's team exploring the Sanctuary

Victor “Tory” Failmezger”, a member of Doc Paget’s archaeological team, at the sanctuary circa 1970.

As can be seen from the person emerging from behind, there is a passage to the right here. If we pass around the corner, there are a further two more doorway arches, originally carved out of the solid tufa, but now bricked in.

“At first appearance all that could be seen was a rough wall with what appeared to be a blocked-up door on the left. On the right the wall and a passage continue round to the north and west.”

Doc Paget – In the Footsteps of Orpheus.

Sanctuary Plans

It is here that we run into some serious problems with Doc Paget’s plans for the Sanctuary. As can be seen in the picture above, Doc published five versions of his plan for the Inner Sanctuary area and all of them are wrong. These diagrams are taken from his book “In the Footsteps of Orpheus and his report to the British School at Rome “The ‘Great Antrum’ at Baiae”.

Doc’s diagrams appear to show no less than six archways. In fact there are only three, the archway with the niche we have already seen being the first. In his book Doc claimed that he had shone a torch, a flashlight, into the space behind one archway, above the soil, and seen pillars that he said were reminiscent of those seen in Etruscan tombs. These are presumably the square pillars he shows in the diagrams. These are a complete figment of Doc’s imagination.

Was Doc being deliberately deceitful? Was this the imagination of an old man’s memory playing tricks on him. Did he take any photographs? Probably, so he must have known it was wrong. Another possibility is that Doc never climbed the difficult Dogleg and Rise and was relying on hearsay. Perhaps somebody else was being mischievous and feeding him false information. Peter Knight knew Doc very well and inclines to the view that Doc was deliberately embroidering the truth for the sake of a better story. This is quite sad, because in essence what he discovered really is something special that deserves more archaeological research.

Doc’s published elevations of the archways are equally perplexing and difficult to follow. The red exclamation marks show that the niched archway has moved from one document to the other. This is very poor work and seems to show a modicum of confusion in the mind of Doc himself. If he thought nobody would ever check it, at least until his life was over, he was correct.

Reducing one of Doc’s diagrams, it is possible to show what is really there, just three arches. It looks rather less grand, yet still worthy of our attention.

Archway 1

Having got the technicalities out of the way, we can enjoy the view. Here again is Archway 1, with the niche. It faces the top of The Rise.

Detail of the niche and brickwork dressed into the wall. Presumably some kind of void made this infill necessary.

Archway 2

Archway number 2 has had a few stones pulled out of its top since the early 1970s, as the comparison below shows. 

The inset picture from 2014 shows that stones have been removed, but when and by whom? 

Archway 3

Some exploration has been made into the hole we can see here. for the most part it is filled almost to the roof with soil and rubble.

The picture shows speleologist and archaeologist Ivana Guidone inside the hole. Space is extremely cramped and tight.

An Impossible View

The above picture is a composite of three images, combined in Photoshop. It’s not possible to take a single view like this because of the confined space and the wall that is behind you. It allows us to see that the corner support for the archway is also man-made rather than carved out of solid rock. The archway with the tiled niche is around the corner to the left. Some investigation has been done into the hole we can see in the third arch, as the picture of Ivana Guidone shown above shows.

Doc Paget mentions that there were two basket casts sitting in this area. The ball-shaped object seen in this picture is one of these casts, but the other one has disappeared. It may be lying under the débris somewhere. Is this a sign that the workmen bricked up the Sanctuary and left in a hurry?

“We found nothing inside the tunnels except two lumps of congealed mortar still bearing the imprint of the weave of the baskets in which they were carried. These were just outside the east ‘door’ of the Inner Sanctuary.”

R. F. Paget: The ‘Great Antrum’ at Baiae: A Preliminary Report

This picture shows workmen at an archaeological site across the bay from Baia in 1947. The straw baskets they are using are very similar to the Roman basket cast shape which is 2,000 years older.

Persephone’s Back Passage

Colonel Lewis confirmed on two occasions, having dived The Styx, that there is a passageway leading up from the back of the underground water course.

From the Sanctuary end at the top, we can see that this passage curves to the left. It will almost certainly meet with the other end of the passage that Colonel Lewis saw. This passage is another that has been filled with soil to the extent that as the passage slopes down its roof descends to meet a solid level of soil fill.

Before the descent to the far end of the Styx
Before the Styx descent

This is the only place in the entire tunnel system with a vertical height this high. Note the lamp niche in the right wall.

In space no one can hear you scream, but in hell you can always text
In hell nobody can see you text
Approaching the Sanctuary
Approaching the Sanctuary

This is the view Aeneas would have had entering  the Inner Sanctuary from Persephone’s back passage from the far end of the Styx.

The Entrance to Persephone's Back Passage
The Entrance to Persephone’s Back Passage
The roof descends to meet the level of the soil
The roof descends to meet the level of the soil

A lamp niche is visible in the top right of the picture. To fill this tunnel with soil would be an enormous effort, but slave labour was cheap in Roman times. Still not easy, because two people cannot pass each other in the Great Antrum.

There appears to be some kind of cement fill, not natural tufa rock, on the roof. Further investigation may possibly reveal there was a door frame here of some kind.

The Golden Bough

Whether this series of tunnels is really the underworld of Greek mythology or not, we can reflect that in Vergil’s Aeneid, before entering Hades, the Sybil of Cuma tells Aeneas he must obtain a golden bough (probably mistletoe) as a gift to Proserpina (Persephone).

After they start their descent into the Underworld, the Sibyl shows the golden bough to Charon the ferryman, who only then allows them to enter his boat and cross the river. Aeneas is told to put the golden bough in a niche by the arched door as he enters the Sanctuary.

It is a curious fact that there is indeed a small niche carved into the rock at the entrance to the Sanctuary from Persephone’s Back Passage.

In 2001 Robert and Olivia Temple, together with Richard and Jane Baigent, made a small bouquet of myrtle and placed it in the niche.

When Robert Temple made his film, ‘Descent into Hell’ in 2003, he repeated the exercise, this time prepared with the correct offering of a sprig of local mistletoe.

The bottom picture shows the mistletoe, now dead and reduced to a kind of jellified state, in the high humidity. One speleologist was overheard to remark that it was a dead giant spider.


This Post Has One Comment

  1. dave

    Fascinating stuff, I watched Forbidden History with Jamie Theakston who went into these tunnels with a camera crew. It’s a shame that people aren’t spiritual these days, like they were in the past.

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