Baiae: A dive into history
Located in the middle of a stunning volcanic region called Phlaegrean (in Greek, “burning”), Baiae was one of the richest and most populated areas of the Roman Empire. The villas of the Late-Republican and Imperial Rome elite crowded it shores, earning it the name “Little Rome.” Ancient sources attribute the region’s appeal to its mild climate, breath-taking scenery, numerous natural thermal springs and proximity to Rome, less than 200 kilometres north. Baia was also a very important commercial and military port for centuries. Senators and rich romans loved to live or spend part of the year along the coast of the gulf of Baia. Pliny the younger was here when he saw the terrible eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79AD, right in front of him in the gulf of Sorrento on the opposite side of Baia. He described the eruption and the destroying of Pompei and Ercolano in his famous writings. Archeological research in this area dates back to the 18th century when explorers first discovered the submerged structures. More then 3000 Roman Villas and temples have been found along the coast. Many relics retrieved from then up to now are displayed in the Archaeologicals Museum of Naples and Baia.
A great part of this area, including buildings, floors, columns, mosaics and roads, is now preserved underwater as a result of Bradyseism, the volcanic phenomenon that causes huge geo-morphological changes due to the slowly sinking and re-emergence of the mainland.
Growing up barely 30 kilometres from the now-famous Marine Protected Area of Baia, near Naples, I was amazed by this amazing submerged ancient Roman city, an underworld wonderland. I still remember my first dive there as a curious teenager. At the time it was unprotected and many divers swam off with ancient amphora and other relics. I recently went back to Baia on assignment after many years and I was happy to see a completely different situation. The Italian government declared the Marine Protected Area of Baia in 2002. This resulted in the banning of commercial and recreational boats with clear demarcation buoys indicating protected areas. Since that time much underwater conservation work has been undertaken by government authorities and sea activities have been regulated. Diving centers operating in the area have been entrusted with the management of touristic traffic and site control, and the Underwater Archaeological Park of Baia is now a great sample of respectful cultural tourism .