The Phlegraean Fields

The Greeks in Italy

Long before there was an Italy united by the Romans, the Greeks had settled in various areas of Italy. Historians agree that the earliest Greek settlers colonised Ischia, which they called Pithecusae, and the area of Kyme, which later became Cumae to the Romans and the Cuma of today.

Baia does not feature in any historical records, however the persistent notion of an Oracle of the Dead in the region, often said to be somewhere on the shore of Lake Avernus, goes back to the time of Homer, who is thought to have written his book ‘The Oddysey’ around 800 BC.

The Greeks settled here in one of the most volcanic regions in the world, dominated by the once massive bulk of the volcana Vesuvius in the distance.

More locally the seismic activity extends from an epicentre at Pozzuoli, which rises and falls dramatically over the centuries. The landscape is pock-marked with large and small volcanic craters. The most recent crater appeared on 29th September, 1538. In two days a steep crater appeared at the edge of Lake Avernus, obscuring what was called in Roman times the Lacus Lucrinus.

 

 

Volcanic activity centred on Pozzuoli

Greek and Roman features,
compared to the present day

The diagram on the left is based on Robert Paget’s own sketch, with the Roman coastline drawn from data provided by divers. The one on the right is the present appearance matched from Google Earth. As we can see, the coastline has dropped, so that much of what was once there is now under the sea. The old coastline corresponds to the three fathom line today.

Monte Nuovo, a completely new volcano, appeared in 1538, adjacent to Lake Avernus. The Roman Lacus Lucrinus, the Lucrine Lake, was largely filled in with volcanic débris.

Volcanic activity in the area is
centred on Pozzuoli

The Greeks in Italy

Long before there was an Italy united by the Romans, the Greeks had settled in various areas of Italy. Historians agree that the earliest Greek settlers colonised Ischia, which they called Pithecusae, and the area of Kyme, which later became Cumae to the Romans and the Cuma of today.

Baia does not feature in any historical records, however the persistent notion of an Oracle of the Dead in the region, often said to be somewhere on the shore of Lake Avernus, goes back to the time of Homer, who is thought to have written his book ‘The Oddysey’ around 800 BC.

The Greeks settled here in one of the most volcanic regions in the world, dominated by the once massive bulk of Vesuvius in the distance.

More locally the seismic activity extends from an epicentre at Pozzuoli, which rises and falls dramatically over the centuries. The landscape is pock-marked with large and small volcanic craters. The most recent crater appeared on 29th September, 1538. In two days a steep crater appeared at the edge of Lake Avernus, obscuring what was called in Roman times the Lacus Lucrinus.

Autumn equinox sunrise

Furthermore, as this quick exercise using Google shows, at the autumn equinoctes the sun appears to rise behind Vesuvius, as viewed from the Oracle entrance at Baia.

There are other orientations within the tunnel complex that also appear to have astronomical significance and these will be noted elsewhere. This fact may well account for the change in direction within the hillside tunnel and the orientation of The Sanctuary and the River Styx

The site at Baia

In Roman times the bay and associated town was called Baiae. It became the most important summer resort in Roman Italy and remained so for about 350-400 years.

The complex of Roman buildings at Baia which seems to conceal the Oracle of the Dead has mystified many experts. Undoubtably there are many thermal baths in the complex, but were the various sets of buildings public, private or palatial residences? It depends which current day expert you read.

Unlike many other Roman bath complexes this site has a curative and health aspect related to the volcanic mineral baths, so the usual components may differ. Yet there is no palaestra here for sporting activities.

In Roman times there was a lake around which there was much more land on which to build. There are few traces of buildings to be found in the bay itself, although the surrounding area features a huge quantity of Roman buildings under the sea.

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Sally Morris

    This is a fascinating site – I notice no one has made comments for a couple of years and wondered if any excavation was planned for the tunnel complex at Baia?

  2. This is an extremely interesting site. I am working on a series of novels and find your research and wonderful site may be of use in one of the volumes. I lived in Italy for 24 years but was not aware of the tunnels and knew little about the general story surrounding them. Thank you!

  3. sheila

    excellent website.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.