Baia was an ancient city of Rome that was on the shore of the Gulf of Naples. Now it is considered part of Bacoli in the region of Campania. Rome’s elite and socialites of the time took weekend trips here to party and let loose. Powerful men built luxurious villas on its beach, with heated spas and mosaic-tiled pools where they could indulge their wildest desires. The resort town was a coveted vacation spot for the who and who of the Roman aristocracy.
Powerful men like Julius Caesar, Nero, Caligula, Augustus, Pompeius the Great, Marcus Antonius, Septimius Severus had their villas built there. These patrons frequented the best of beach parties, sipped the best wine and enjoyed the company of many women there. In Baia, “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. Baia’s hedonism was as notorious as that of Las Vegas today.
Like any place with questionable morality, mysterious and controversial events surrounded Baia. Nero had his mother Agrippina murdered in the villa he had built there. Hadrian died there and Caligula built his famous pontoon bridge extending from Baia to Pozzuoli. Rumour has it that Cleopatra was staying in Baiae at the time of Julius Caesar’s death in 44 BC.
But much of Baia now lies underwater. The good times rolled till the wheels came abruptly off in the 8th century. The barbarian invasions and raids by Muslim armies in the 8th century crippled the once exuberant city. Then, in the 16th time, it vanished beneath the Tyrrhenian Sea. The same volcanic vents that were once a draw, put a final nail to the coffin of this once luxurious city.
Today, it is possible to visit the ancient remains of Baia in one of the world’s few underwater archaeological parks. There are paved roads flanked with buildings, magnificent villas owned by the elite Roman families, dozens of marble statues, and bath complexes. You can even swim in the middle of Emperor Claudius’ dining room, complete with statues and mosaic floors.