The flourishing city of Baia was founded by the Greeks on the stretch of coast between Cuma and Pozzuoli. Many famous personalities of Rome, such as Cicero and the emperors Caligula, Claudius, Nero, Domitian, Hadrian and so on, chose this area called by the Greeks Phlegraios = burning for its remarkable volcanic activity. This place was famous for its beneficial properties of the hot thermal waters of the ancient crater of the solfatara of Pozzuoli. Here were built wonderful villas with attached baths or nymphs.
We are in an area subjected to bradyseism phenomena, cause of which the ancient Roman coast is nowadays about 6/8 metres Below the sea level. From the 4th century the land slowly began to sink and the water covered villas, temples and cultivated land.
In 1969 a storm brought to light a marble sculptural group that immediately captured the attention cause of the size of marble blocks and the quality of the statues, secured at the Archaeological Museum, housed in the Aragonese Castle of Baia.
A nymphaeum dating back to the imperial period was discovered, about 7 metres Below the sea level and identified as the Nymphaeum of Emperor Claudius of the 1st century AD. The large rectangular hall had 4 niches per side, embellished with statues and ended in a circular apse, decorated with the statues found in 1969, depicting an episode of the Odyssey: Ulysses offers a cup of wine to Polyphemus to get him drunk and then blind him, and Bajos, one of Ulysses’s companions carrying a full wineskin. It is believed that the statue of the Cyclops occupied the centre of the scene, but was never found.
The statues of the group of Ulysses recall those found in 1957 in the Villa of Tiberius in Sperlonga, depicting Ulysses blinding Polyphemus, and now preserved in the National Archaeological Museum of the town. Both decorated the emperor’s triclinium, the banquet hall.
Of the 8 statues of the niches, today you can admire only 4: 2 young Dionysus and 2 female figures, celebrating the family of Emperor Claudius: one identified as Antonia Minor with a beautiful tiara, and the other one is a girl, most likely one of the daughters of Claudius who died at an early age.
At the edge of the room there was a perimeter drain, and at its centre was a large tub. The entrance, the niches and the apse were decorated in fake rock to recall the cave of the Cyclops.
Since 2002 the Underwater Archaeological Park of Baia is recognized as a Marine Protected Area for the study and the protection of archaeological finds and marine and coastal ecosystem.
Below the sea level, in addition to the Nymphaeum of Punta Epitaffio you can admire mosaics with geometric motifs that covered the floor of a villa, other sculptures, streets and columns.
If you want to take a dip and visit this incredible nymphaeum we invite you to follow us in the tour View on the Gulf and read the article Lacryma Christi: between history and myth, A truly exceptional discovery.