Sunday, March 22, 2009

Roman Baths: The Archeological Park of Baia

Dio ci salvi dal povero arricchito e dal ricco impoverito.
(God save us from the enriched poor and from the impoverished rich.)

Nook of Naples: The poet Horace once called the suburb city of Baia the most beautiful in the world. During Roman times, Baia was a spa town for the extremely wealthy. Today, most of it lies underwater, but the Roman Baths inspire the imagination with its sheer enormity. The vast complex of ruins encompasses three terraces of labyrinth structures overlooking the Bay of Pozzuoli.

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.

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.

La Cucina Napoletana: Neapolitans love their Sundays, usually spent with family who all live close by. A visitor to the area can find streets in both downtown Naples and the surrounding areas almost abandoned, which means it's a fantastic time for sight-seeing to avoid the crowds and traffic.

Although eating during the week is temperate, the Neapolitans will often go in groups to restaurants or cook several course meals at home on Sundays. The courses usually include: Antipasto (a smattering of several different kinds of fresh and fried vegetables and shellfish), Primo Piatto (the first course, usually pasta), Secondo Piatto (the second course of meat or fish), Contorni (vegetable side dishes), Dulce (sweets), and a digestif to end the meal.

Part of the lush meals can be attributed to both the temperate climate and this volcanic soil, both conducive to the growth of lush vegetation. It seems everywhere I wander (including in Baia) lemon and orange trees dot the landscape. I have yet to see an obese Italian and indeed, the Italian diet includes a bevy of vegetables and fruits. The most popular vegetables I've seen prepared in many different ways include zucchini, eggplant, peppers, and artichoke.

Here is the most delicious recipe I've found for artichokes:

Garlic Artichokes

1 pound artichokes
Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Cut the stems off the artichokes and then boil in water until the core is almost soft (about 5-8 minutes). Drain the artichokes and then place on a pan. Douse with olive oil. Smatter garlic on top. Place the artichokes in the oven at very high heat (about 450 degrees) for about 15 minutes or until brown at the top. Let cool for ten minutes. Eat leaf by leaf.

The artichokes will be soft and melt in your mouth.

Buon Divertimento!


Anonymous said...

Oh, I love, love, love artichokes! In Rome they also make them deep fried--do they do that in Naples too? They are amazing. Growing up we had artichokes prepared the way you describe above and it was always a treat!

Barbara Zaragoza said...

Yes, the Neapolitans make artichokes in a multitude of ways. I've seen artichokes with the stems fried or the whole artichoke fried as antipasto fritturi. You can also slice them very small, add a little oil and vinegar and then eat them raw as salad. I have also seen them in egg frittatas.

Thanks for asking!

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