The Sunken Ancient City of Baiae

Baiae was built on the Cumaean Peninsula, originally as a port. It became a luxurious resort town and a gateway for the elite towards the beginning of the Roman Empire. Baia was the hottest vacation spot among prominent members of the Roman aristocracy such as Julius Caesar, Nero, Caligula, Augustus, Pompeius the Great, Marcus Antonius, Septimius Severus... the list goes on. Many had their own villas built there.

But what really drew the wealthy and the powerful to this place were its beach parties, the wine and the women. In Baiae, “unmarried women are common property, old men behave like young boys, and lots of young boys act like young girls,” wrote the ancient Roman scholar Marcus Terentius Varro.

Others described it as a “den of licentiousness and vice" and a "vortex of luxury". Baiae’s culture of debauchery and vice was as notorious as that of Las Vegas today.

But much of Baiae now lies underwater.


The same subterranean volcanic activity that brought hot water to the surface and turned Baiae into the imperial capital of hedonism also caused its downfall, literally. The entire land dropped like a plate by more than six meters — a process known as bradyseism, caused by the emptying of the underlying magma chamber. This happened during the 16th century, but by then, Baiae was already a mere shadow of its former magnificence.

Baiae’s glory days declined with the barbarian invasions and raids by Muslim rulers in the 8th century. Then, in the 16th century, it vanished beneath the Tyrrhenian Sea.

Today, you can take a glass-bottom boat out from the harbor or dive down to view the ruins. There are paved roads flanked with buildings and villas owned by the elite Roman families, of marble statues, and bath complexes. Most of the walls of the buildings have collapsed but the different rooms are stil discernable. Some of these rooms still have their mosaic floors intact.

Aside from Baiae’s underwater archaeological park, there are several Roman ruins to see above the sea. The Temple of Mercury, the Temple of Venus, and the Temple of Diana, are its most popular sights.


The ancient city of Baiae is also linked with some of the most notable events in Roman history. Nero had his mother Agrippina murdered in his Baiae villa. Hadrian died there, and Caligula built his famous pontoon bridge extending from Baia to Pozzuoli. It is also said that Cleopatra was staying in Baiae at the time of Julius Caesar’s death in 44 BC.

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