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History

THE UNDERWATER ARCHAEOLOGICAL PARK OF BAIAE - FROM A COMMERCIAL PORT TO A PROTECTED MARINE AREA

 

On 30th January 2007 an agreement was signed between the Archaeological Authority of Naples and Caserta and the association Assodiving Flegreum, represented by Centro Sub Campi Flegrei, for the concession and regulation of diving activities within the underwater Archaeological Park of Baiae.

 

In order to follow the chain of events which led to the park’s constitution it must first be explained why this area presently lies below sea level.

 

We find ourselves in the Phlegraean Fields (taken from the Greek, burning earth). In this zone of volcanic origin, the phenomenon of bradyseism exists; the uplift (positive bradyseism) or subsidence (negative bradyseism) of the ground is relatively slow in respect to human life times but is very fast when considered over geological time scales. At times, as is the case with the Phlegraean Fields, these movements can occur and reoccur in cycle over a period of centuries. Generally, such a phenomenon is associated with varying volumes of a magma chamber located relatively close to the earth’s surface which empties and fills and/or heat variations which influence the volume of water contained within the excessively porous subsoil. Due to the bradyseismic movements the ancient coastal belt experienced collapse – the result being the total submersion of all the buildings which were constructed upon it. The once most reclaimed commercial city of Pozzuoli, the famous residential area of Baiae and Miseno, the seat of the western imperial fleet, were all of great significance during the Roman era; today, they are all below sea level. The first recovery of archaeological finds took place in the 1920s when, during the construction works pertaining to the widening of the docks at Port Venero, sculptures, architectonic elements and water systems with imperial insignias came to light.

 

In the 1940s, aerial photographs taken by pilot Raimondo Baucher, provided evidence of the submerged archaeological area of Portus Julius in the shallow waters directly in front of Lake Lucrine.

 

In spite of the interest raised by these discoveries the first underwater survey of Baiae did not take place until the 1960s; surveys carried out in 1959 and 1960 led to the first map of the city being drawn. There were finds in the vicinity of Punta Epitaffio at a depth of approximately 6 metres; a paved road flanked with buildings which opened onto it (two decades later, Emperor Claudius’ nymphaeum was found in one of these buildings) and, continuing towards the sea, remains of other structures reaching out into the sea by means of cemented jetties (these are now known to have belonged to the marine quarter of the Pisonian villa). Additionally, approximately 400 metres from the present coast, numerous concrete pillars were discovered; pillars which confirmed the location of the ancient coastline. The programme of surveying the area was unfortunately soon interrupted due to a lack of funds.

 

1969 marked two important occurrences for the underwater archaeology and the protection of the area of Baiae:

 

The first was that, with the collapse of the front face of Punta Epitaffio as a result of a sea storm, two statues of significant quality were revealed. These were recognised as being Odysseus, holding a wineskin, and a companion; they were still in place in the apse of a rectangular building, now known to have been the nymphaeum.

 

The second was the agreement between Naples’ Head Councillor, Alfonso De Francis, and the Director of the military orphanage as located in Baia Castle to assign part of this area to the Phlegraean Fields’ Archaeological Museum.

 

Despite a great deal of resonance these two occurrences did not succeed in attaining an immediate following.

 

The first underwater dig carried out by archaeologists was only undertaken in 1980. This led to the identification of Emperor Claudius’ nymphaeum and its extraordinary sculptures’ complex.

 

Finally, in 1984, the Supervisor of Baia Castle produced and initiated a restoration project for functional intervention within the area: a local archaeological office was established along with a laboratory for the restoration of archaeological finds. Thus, it was possible to commence with initial restoration works and experiments on the sculptures recovered from the site at the foot of Punta Epitaffio. In 1997 a hall within the museum was prepared to exhibit the nymphaeum of Emperor Claudius; whilst the display comes close to the original it is not a true reconstruction.

 

In the same period, the survey work in the submerged city of Baiae which had been suspended by Nino Lamboglia was recommenced by G. Di Fraia, E. Scognamiglio and N. Lombardi.

 

According to their version of the archaeological map of Baiae with the positioning of the buildings, those situated on the northern shore are better conserved as they were further away from the trade routes. This pertains to the access channel to Baianus Lacus (an area of water similar to a lake), to a thermal bath complex 40 metres to the east of Punta Epitaffio and to the Pisonian villa (a villa with a colonnaded entrance and splendid floor decorations with a view of the street flanked with taverns and the remains of fish breeding pools and the wharfs).

 

On the southern side, in the area near the shipyards and the port, marine traffic has had a devastating effect to the extent that preservation of the ruins has been limited; whilst imposing harbour construction has been carried out perpendicular to the great Roman wharf, some ancient pillars have been protected by shuttering.

 

To the south of Baia Castle, where the outer harbour area can be found, the remains of fish and mussel breeding pools can be found. These have been well preserved partially due to their greater depth.

 

In 1987, the archaeological relevance of the area was acknowledged and all activities within the 500m zone off the Phlegraean coast which impacted upon the area were prohibited.

 

Between 1994 and 1998 specific decrees as prescribed by the Harbour Master’s Office were issued to regulate the transit of commercial vessels.

 

In 1998 the Authority took the waters at the northern side into its custody.

 

Realisation of the first underwater tour took place in 1999.

 

In 2000, due to serious damage caused by a ferry running aground, all commercial vessels were prohibited from the site.

 

On 7th August 2002 the underwater Archaeological Park of Baiae was ratified as an agency to protect the marine area; management thereof is presently the responsibility of the Archaeological Authority of Naples and Caserta.

 

Since then, significant steps have been taken regarding the protection and valorisation of the area. There are still many problems to be resolved but the way forward is becoming ever clearer.

 

 

 

On 30th January 2007 an agreement was signed between the Archaeological Authority of Naples and Caserta and the association Assodiving Flegreum, represented by Centro Sub Campi Flegrei, for the concession and regulation of diving activities within the underwater Archaeological Park of Baiae.

 



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