Tourists enjoy the underwater ruins of a Roman seaside resort.

Fish traverse mosaic floors and into ruined villas, where vacationing Romans once drank, conspired and flirted in the party town of Baiae, now an underwater archaeological park near Naples.

The statues that once decorated luxury residences at this beachside resort are now crabbing areas off the coast of Italy, where divers can explore ruined palaces and domed bathhouses built for emperors.

The nobility of Rome was first attracted in the 2nd century BC. C. to the thermal waters of Baiae, which is located on the coast within the Campi Flegrei, a supervolcano known in English as Phlegraean Fields.

Seven emperors, including Augustus and Nero, had villas here, as did Julius Caesar and Mark Antony. The poet Sexto Propercio described the city as a place of vice, which was “an enemy of virtuous creatures.”

It was where “old men behave like boys and many boys act like girls,” according to the Roman scholar Varro.

But by the 4th century, porticoes, marble columns, shrines, and ornamental fish ponds had begun to sink due to bradyseism, the gradual rise and fall of the land due to hydrothermal and seismic activity.

The entire area, including the neighboring commercial capital of Pozzuoli and the military headquarters of Miseno, was submerged. Its ruins are now between four and six meters (15 to 20 feet) under water.

‘Something unique’

“It is difficult, especially for first-time visitors, to imagine that they can find things that they could never see anywhere else in the world in just a few meters of water,” said Marcello Bertolaso, director of Campi Flegrei. diving center, which takes tourists around the site.

“Divers love to see very special things, but what you can see in Baiae Park is something unique.”

The 177-hectare (437-acre) underwater site has been a protected marine area since 2002, after decades in which antiquities were found in fishermen’s nets and looters had free rein.

Divers must be accompanied by a registered guide.

A careful sand sweep near a low wall uncovers an impressive mosaic floor from a villa that once belonged to Gaius Calpurnio Pisoni, known to have spent his days here plotting against Emperor Nero.

Explorers follow the ancient stones of the coastal road past ruins of spas and shops, sunlight on a clear day piercing the waves to illuminate statues. These are replicas; the originals are now in a museum.

“When we investigate new areas, we gently remove the sand where we know there might be a floor, we document it and then we cover it again,” archaeologist Enrico Gallocchio told AFPTV.

“If we don’t, the marine fauna or flora will attack the ruins. The sand protects them,” said Gallocchio, who is in charge of the Baiae park.

“The great ruins were easily discovered by moving a bit of sand, but there are areas where the sandbars can be meters deep. Without a doubt, there are still ancient relics to be found,” he said.


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