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Location of the province of Naples
Baiae (in modern Italian only Baia) is a frazione of the comune of Bacolimarker, in the Campania region of Italymarker on the Bay of Naplesmarker. It was named after Baius, who was supposedly buried there. It was for several hundred years a fashionable coastal resort, especially towards the end of the period of the Roman Republic. Baiae was even more popular than Pompeiimarker, Naplesmarker, and Caprimarker with the super-rich, notorious for the hedonistic temptations on offer, and for rumors of scandal and corruption. Baiae was an integral part of Portus Juliusmarker, home port of the western Imperial Fleet of ancient Rome. Baiae was sacked by Muslim raiders in the 8th century AD and was deserted because of malaria in 1500. Most of Baiae is now under water in the Bay of Naples, largely due to local volcanic activity.

Baiae's medicinal springs

Excavations at the ancient site of Baiae show that the city was arguably host to the most important region for thermo-mineral bathing in antiquity. Baiae had been built on the Cumaean peninsula, which was an active volcanic area, known as the Phlegraean Fieldsmarker (fields devoured by fire). Baiae consisted of numerous baths, filled with warm mineral water directed to pools from sulfur springs underground. Roman engineers were even able to construct a complex system of chambers that channeled heat beneath the land’s surface into bathing facilities that acted as saunas. However, these baths were not only used for relaxation purposes—they were also often used as medicinal remedies to various illnesses. It is noted that Roman physicians would often attend to their patients at these hot springs as well.

One of the bathing complexes on the hillside included the Temple of Echo (erroneously, since the seventeenth century, also called the Temple of Mercury) housing a pool. The building was so named due to the way that sound echoed around the dome which, at about 21.5 m (71 ft) in diameter, was the largest dome in the world until the construction of the Pantheonmarker in Rome in 128CE.

Baiae as a resort

"Temple of Echo", which has remarkable acoustic properties
The topographical wonders of Baiae, along with the help of Roman engineers, made the city a perfect candidate for a resort for the ultra wealthy. Many elaborate villas were built in Baiae, including those of Julius Caesar and Nero. In fact, a large part of the town became imperial property under Augustus and later emperors—it was often a getaway for the elite with its large swimming pools and its domed casino. It was at his villa near Baiae that the Emperor Hadrian died in AD 138.

References to Baiae in Roman literature

In the trial of Marcus Caelius Rufus in 60 BC, the prominent socialite Clodia was described by the defense as living the life of a harlot in Rome and in the "crowded resort of Baiae", indulging in beach parties and drinking sessions.

Seneca the Younger (4 BC-65 AD) wrote a moral epistle on Baiae and Vice, describing the spa town as being a "vortex of luxury" and a "harbor of vice". Sextus Propertius also described the town as a "den of licentiousness and vice" in one of his elegies.

Baiae was also the location for a stunt (in 39 AD) by the eccentric Caligula , who on becoming emperor ordered a temporary floating bridge to be built. Roman historian Suetonius writes that the bridge stretched over three miles from the town of Baiae to the neighboring port of Puteoli. It was built using various ships from around the region, upon which sand was poured to make the bridge passable. Clad in a gold cloak, Caligula supposedly then crossed the bridge on his horse in defiance of Roman astrologer Thrasyllus’ prediction that he had "no more chance of becoming emperor than of riding a horse across the Gulf of Baiae." Critics warn that this account is most likely inaccurate, and that Suetonius might have used this legend as a means to criticize Caligula. Roman historian Cassius Dio gives perhaps a more objective explanation of the event, and adds that Caligula had ordered resting places and lodging rooms to be made available along the bridge, complete with drinkable water. It appears that “the act of bridging the Bay of Naplesmarker was an excellent - and safe - means by which to lay the foundation for [Caligula’s] military glory.”

Reference to Baiae in modern literature

One of the few references to Baiae in modern literature is the short story "The Procurator of Judea" (original French title "Le Procurateur de Judée") by Anatole France (1902).

In Procurator of Judea, the by-then aged and retired Pontius Pilate is shown spending time at the seaside resort of Baiae. One day, he had a chance meeting with Aelius Lamia, a fellow-Roman and old acquaintance of his time in Judea. They discuss the characteristics and eccentricities of Jewish people. Pilate is very harsh in his assessment of them while Lamia is sympathetic. The discussion is long but we find no mention of the Messiah affair. Before the story climaxes, Jesus is mentioned just once, without naming, as just some mad fellow who took upon himself the task of driving merchants out of the Jerusalem temple. Towards the end, the pleasure-loving Lamia spoke of a bewitching Judean beauty with liquid-fire eyes and supple hips (perhaps Mary Magdalene), later rumored to have joined a little band of men and women following a young preacher from Galilee called Jesus the Nazarene who was later crucified for some crime or other.

In Percy Bysshe Shelley's poem "Ode to the West Wind," stanza III includes the line: "Beside a pumice isle in Baiae's bay."

Baiae is the site of a murder in the mystery Under the Shadow of Vesuvius by John Maddox Roberts, one of his SPQR series, featuring Decius Caecilius Metellus.

The Roman emperor Hadrian makes several trips to the Baiae, including his last, in Marguerite Yourcenar's Memoirs of Hadrian.

Baiae as a sculpture workshop

A cache of plaster casts of Hellenistic sculpture has been found in a cellar room of the Baths of Sosandra at Baiae and is now on display in the Museo Archeologico dei Campi Flegrei at Baiae. It suggests a workshop mass-producing marble or bronze copies of Hellenistic and Greek sculptures for the Roman market from bronze original sculptures. These casts include parts of many famous sculptures such as the Harmodius and Aristogeiton. and the Athena of Velletri.


  1. "Baiae." Encyclopedia Britannica. 2007. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 28 April 2007.
  2. Yegül, Fikret K. "The Thermo-Mineral Complex at Baiae and De Balneis Puteolanis." The Art Bulletin 78.1 (1996): 137-61.
  3. The thermo-mineral complex at Baiae and De Balneis Puteolanis
  4. R. Mark and P. Hutchinson, "On the Structure of the Roman Pantheon", Art Bulletin 68, March 1986, p.24
  5. The Ancient Baths of Baiae
  6. "Baiae." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2007. Encyclopedia Britannica Online. 28 Apr. 2007.
  7. C. Suetonius Tranquillius. "Caius Caesar Caligula." The Lives of the Twelve Caesars.
  8. Malloch, S. J. V. "Gaius' Bridge at Baiae and Alexander-Imitatio." The Classical Quarterly 51.1 (2001): 206-17.
  9. Cassius Dio. "Book LIX." Roman History.
  10. An Amnesic Pontius Pilate [1]
  11. Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum.
  12. Beazley Archive.


  • Paolo Amalfitano et alii, I Campi Flegrei, Venice 1990.
  • Fabio Maniscalco, Ninfei ed edifici marittimi severiani del Palatium imperiale di Baia, Naples, 1997.
  • Piero Alfredo Gianfrotta, Fabio Maniscalco (eds.), Forma Maris. Forum Internazionale di Archeologia Subacquea, Puteoli, 1998.
  • "Puteoli. Studi di Storia Romana."
  • Steven Saylor: Fiction. Arms of Nemesis (1992). Novel about roman detective Gordianus the Finder, unfolds in Baiae, at the time of the Spartacus rebellion.

See also

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