Nobody quite knows what these buildings once were. Perhaps the Romans harnessed the hydrothermal activity for baths, or wealthy patricians built summer villas, or perhaps this was the Imperial Villa. Layers of construction spanning the late 2nd century to the early 1st century baffle inquiry. But from writers such as Horace we know that while sailing toward the Baia port, the city sparkled with skyscraper-like temples and spas made of marble, their domes tiled in mosaics and their facades often splashed with deep colored frescoes.
The ruins haven’t been well preserved. But while wandering through them, a Statue of Hermes still stands in an alcove. An arched corridor leads to a grassy field named after the goddess Sosandra. The most prominent structures are three temples, two lying just outside the gates of the park. The Temple of Diana overlooks the Baia port, only its mammoth dome peeking out from the dirt. The Temple of Venus is a mud half-shell backed against a hill. Inside the park, the Temple of Mercury (or Temple of Echoes, so named by travelers in the 18th century) has a wooden walkway over a pool of algae-green water. Yelling high-pitched inside this dome makes sound bounce in wonderful echoes.
Roaming these ruins makes me imagine the stories of epicurean lifestyles replete with political corruption, derelict sex, and blaspheming gossip. The best part -- this Archeological Park is less well-known (tourists flock to Pompeii instead) so visitors usually have the entire mythical complex to themselves.
Getting There: The sign says "Romana Terme," but tourist brochures call it the Baia Archeological Park. This site can be a little tricky to find. The entrance seems to be across the street from the port of Baia, but those gates and entrance box are locked and abandoned. You must drive up the hill from the port a little ways and find the entrance overlooking the sea. The gate is on the left hand side and can be hard to spot. The parking lot is small, but there aren't many tourists, so it's easy to find a space. The address is: Via Fusaro 37, Bacoli -- Napoli.
The address is: Via Fusaro 37, Bacoli -- Napoli.
Book & Movie Recommendation: Satyricon by Gaius Petronius is a Roman work about Encolpius and his loves. Although the book has only survived in fragments, it awakens the imagination about what it must have been like living in Roman times.
The famous Italian film-director, Frederico Fellini, made a movie in 1969 called Satyrican based on this Roman work. The filmmaker brings the Roman culture alive, and yet modern day viewers will think this film more bizarre than entertaining.