The ancient Romans were much like us in that they enjoyed a few days or weeks on vacation in pleasant surroundings. Chief among the Roman holiday resorts were Capri, Pompeii and Herculaneum. However, the favourite destination was on the northern shore of the Bay of Naples. It was called Baiae, named for the helmsman of Odysseus’ ship who was said to have been buried here. And it was here that the wealthy and powerful of Rome flocked for its combination of beaches, warm seas, sunny weather and thermal pools. But Baiae was also Party Town par excellence. It was here that they came to eat vast amounts of food, to drink wine and to carry on illicit affairs. Julius Caesar, Nero and Hadrian all had sumptuous villas here. Huge ornate temples were erected to Diana, Mercury and Venus, and here the movers and shakers of ancient Rome brought their wealth, their influence, their slaves and their mistresses.
Commentator Sextus Propertius described Baiae as ‘a very den of licentiousness and vice’.
According to Seneca the Younger, it was a “vortex of luxury” and a “harbour of vice, where girls went to play at being girls, old women as girls and also some men as girls.”
As the Roman Empire fell apart Baiae was sacked by successive waves of invaders and then, in about 800 AD, due to a volcanic phenomenon known as ‘bradyseism’ – where the landslips into the caverns made by escaping magma – the whole of the lower part of the city slid beneath the waves. What was left behind is the stunning and fascinating underwater remains of what was once Sin City.
Mysterious underwater statues beckon to tourists in glass-bottomed boats.
Scuba divers brush aside the sand to reveal elegant Roman mosaics
Unfortunately, The ruins of the city are being gradually destroyed by a process known as bio-erosion, caused by marine organisms. Now an international team of archaeologists, scientists and engineers are attempting to preserve this unique environment.
Firstly, the statues you see are replicas, the originals removed and placed in a museum. However, this is not so simple with mosaic marble flooring.
The site is now being constantly monitored by underwater drones and a wireless sensor network. It is also home to a unique underwater internet. Wifi can travel only a short distance through water. Therefore, borrowing from the communication system of marine mammals they have installed a system that works by acoustic, rather than wireless transmission.
They hope that by these means they can preserve the unique submerged wonders of Baiae for future generations.
Watch the video on the BBC here.
Two of the other resorts where the Romans gathered to play out their hedonistic lifestyle: Pompeii and Herculaneum were obliterated by the explosion of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD.
Baiae vanished beneath the waves. So perhaps the old Roman Gods were not so tolerant of the scandalous doings of the mortals below as the Romans thought.
Feature image via Sea Heritage.