Pozzuoli: shaped by fire forged by the Gods

From the Aragonese Castle the view extends far, as far as all of Naples and Vesuvius, beyond the Posillipo hill, and, on the other side, along Capo Miseno. Discovering the “Las Vegas of the Roman Empire”, with its monumental archaeological remains, spas and temples.

 

Roman History by the Sea

Lake Avernus: myths, legends, history and archeology

Rione Terra: a surprise trip to ancient Rome

Baia: the Bay of Wonders, a treasure at the bottom of the sea

Roman Baths of Baia

The Aragonese Castle

Seaside Fun

The Solfatara of Pozzuoli

Pozzuoli and beyond

Roman History by the Sea

If you’re an ancient history enthusiast, your first port of call may be to go to Rome. After all, it is the home of the famous Colosseum, Pantheon and Roman Forum. However, if you’re a true Roman enthusiast, then you should get yourself down to Pozzuoli.

 

With its location in the Bay of Naples making it the ideal Roman military (and then later commercial) port, and its relatively close proximity to Rome, Pozzuoli was one of the key hot spots of the Roman Empire.

Maccellum / Temple of Serapide

One of the most iconic visions of Pozzuoli is the 1st Century Roman market place (Maccellum), known as the Temple of Serapide, due to the discovery of a statue of the Egyptian God Serapis in the area.

 

Unfortunately, the site isn’t open to visitors, so you can’t meander around the once two-story high arcade, but you can admire it from street level, or whilst having a bite to eat at a nearby restaurant.

Flavian Amphitheatre

Fancy seeing what a theatre was like before stages retreated indoors and were accompanied by plush velvet curtains and complicated lighting rigs? Then visit the Flavian Amphitheatre in the heart of Pozzuoli. Built by the Emperor Vespasian in 70AD, this amphitheatre is the third largest in the Roman Empire, beaten only by those in Rome and Capua!

 

However, what sets it apart is that you can explore the bottom floor of this once great stadium, and see the corridors, passageways, rooms and chambers where the gladiators would have prepared before their battles. Just count your lucky stars, you won’t be called onto the stage to face a rabid beast, or even another gladiator like they were!

Rione Terra: a surprise trip to ancient Rome

 

Enter the Rione Terra and instantly travel back to 194 BC. Walk the streets of the Roman markets and appreciate how good we are having it now.

 

However, to explore this history lover’s paradise, you have to get beneath the surface of the city!

 

As you may know, due to building, construction (and in Pozzuoli’s case, volcanic activity!), ground levels have changed significantly over the past thousands of years, so the streets that the Romans walked are now far below those we tread today.

 

The Rione Terra is a perfect example of this, as to see the Roman relic (which was preceded by a Greek town, yet little evidence has been found of this) you actually have to enter through a 16th century building built on top of it!

 

And when you do, you will descend into a magical world of preserved antiquity, as you can peruse the streets of one-time settlement Puteoli, founded in 194 BC, and became the commercial port of Rome. This means many important people, goods and tradesmen from as far afield as Spain and Africa would have passed through these narrow streets.

 

With excavations ongoing, there is plenty (and plenty more to come!) to explore in this underground adventure land.

 

While you’re in the area of the Rione Terra, you should check out some other historical gems it has to offer, such as the nearby Cathedral of San Procolo Martire. Now dedicated to the patron saint of Pozzuoli, the cathedral was originally an Augustine temple.

Roman Baths of Baia

“No bay in the world shines more than the enchanting Baia,” said Orazio. Almost all the greatest writers and illustrious characters of ancient Rome have left a message about Baia, under the most diverse meanings. Cicero, Properzio, Marziale, Seneca… Baia was on everyone’s lips: a place of perdition, vices, betrayals, but also for relaxation, enjoyment and restoration of the body.

 

Baia was the richest and most modern seaside resort of the entire ancient Roman Empire. The fortune of the ancient Bay, “where the sun brighter and the air healthier” (Cassiodorus), was due, above all, to the prodigious thermal waters that flowed copiously from the slopes of the gentle hills, on the shores and in the sea.

 

Due to bradyseism, the lowering of the ground below sea level seems to have occurred in two phases: between the third and fifth centuries AD, still in the late imperial era, followed by a more consistent marine invasion some century later. The sea largely submerged Baia around the 7th – 8th century AD.

 

Among the most significant remains are some domed vaulted structures, such as the great Temple of Diana, the Temple of Mercury and Venus.

Baia: the Bay of Wonders, a treasure at the bottom of the sea

They call it submerged Pompeii or little Atlantis, Baia, whose name derives from a companion of Ulysses, who died and was buried here.

 

To visit the submerged city, you can dive with cylinders or simply with fins and snorkels, where the waters are shallower, relying on the various diving centers of the Campi Flegrei authorized to manage the dives.

 

As you swim around, trained scuba divers will wipe away the sand and reveal beautiful, detailed mosaics.

The Aragonese Castle

This 13th century castle houses a well-kept museum, full of artifacts dating back to the different historical periods in the area. It is part of the Archaeological Park of the Phlegraean Fields, which also includes the beautiful Roman Baths of Baia.

 

It is also a little known site worth visiting, both for the richness of its collections and the panorama it offers. The visit lasts about an hour and a half, and at the entrance, there is the possibility of a guided tour.

 

The Museum is divided into 5 sections according to the 5 ancient sites present in the Phlegraean area: Cuma, Puteoli, Baiae, Misenum and Liternum.

 

The visit to the Aragonese Castle of Baia ends on the terrace. Here, the view is truly a spectacle, and we recommend you spend at least ten minutes there. In addition to the wonderful view, it is also a perfect place for some unforgettable photos. One is impressed while admiring Pozzuoli and the Rione Terra on one side, and the entire Gulf of Naples with its Vesuvius, up to Capo di Sorrento with Capri on the other.

Lake Avernus: myths, legends, history and archeology

 

The ancient mouth of a volcano that becomes the entrance to the Hades, the mysteries of a cave and a sibyl, a submerged port and a magic that is repeated on the horizon. If you want to experience all this, you must spend some time in Lake Avernus.

 

The restless nature and the continuous movement of the earth that surrounded the waters of the lake influenced the ancients, so much so that they placed here the entrance to Hades, the kingdom of the dead.

 

Here Odysseus met the soothsayer Tiresias, Aeneas saw his father Anchises, and Orpheus tried to enchant Pluto with his music, to get back his beloved Eurydice.

 

In even more remote times, its waters were the scene of the clash between Zeus and the fearsome Titans.

 

But the history of Lake Averno is also linked to the Roman and Augustus military exploits.

 

The whole Phlegraean territory played a central role in the Roman period, and in the Augustan era, Lake Avernus became one of the most important naval bases of the empire. Under Marco Agrippa, a port was built there, renamed Portus Iulius in honor of Octavian Augustus, which was part of a large naval port, including the nearby lake Lucrino.

 

The sudden eruption of Monte Nuovo in 1538 upset the entire area and isolated Lake Averno from the sea. Later, the port was completely submerged and forgotten until, in 1956, aerial photographs brought back the hidden story behind the legends.

 

Today, the scenario is decidedly different. The lake is populated by fish and birds nesting along its banks. Its slopes are surrounded by sloping hills planted with vineyards and forests of holm oaks, white willows, straws, glasswort, broom and maritime pines.

 

The lake, with its ancient ruins, creates a prodigious spectacle and perfectly blends culture and nature.  The perfect picnic place!

Seaside Fun

The Phlegraean coast is vast, but its swimming areas are mainly concentrated in Bacoli, Miliscola and Capo Miseno. These places are characterised by a low and sandy seabed and overlook the Gulf of Naples and the islands of Ischia and Procida, giving a unique panorama.

 

The bathing area is wide and the water is clean, especially in early and late summer. However, the free beaches are scarce, and for swimming, you have to take advantage of the paid facilities, which, with some exceptions, are not expensive.

The Solfatara of Pozzuoli

Extending over 33 hectares, it is a naturalistic oasis that allows interesting walks in the presence of volcanic phenomena, including mud volcanoes, and fumaroles, but also wooded areas covered with Mediterranean vegetation and numerous geological, botanical and faunal peculiarities.

 

Due to the fumaroles, those who want to visit the Solfatara must be ready to breathe an unpleasant but certainly healthy smell: the older inhabitants of the place go to the Solfatara to breathe the sulfurous fumes precisely for the alleged beneficial properties.

Pozzuoli and beyond

Pozzuoli is an excellent base for anyone wanting to explore the Bay of Naples. In fact, it is a hop, skip, and jump away from the historic centre of Naples, the islands of Procida and Ischia.

 

A little further afield, there are Pompeii, Herculaneum, Capri and the Amalfi Coast.