Baja, the ancient Baiæ – worth a detour?

Found in Baedeker's Guide to Southern Italy and Sicily ((9th Ed., Leipzig 1887) a loose flyer/2 sided handout, entitled To Tourists. Baedeker's are often a repository of travel ephemera and this one yielded an opera ticket for the Metropolitana in Siena and a map of Naples supplied by the grand looking Parker's Hotel, also a dinner menu that notes the hotel had formerly been known as the Tramontano*. The leaflet, in perfect English and by one GPB, attempts to lure visitors to the ancient town of Baiae (now known as Baja.) Baedeker is rather dismissive of it (see below) so it may have needed some publicising. The leaflet reads thus:

It is particularly urged on visitors that they should not omit the district west of Naples from their programme. Baiæ was recognised by the court of Imperial Rome as the most beautiful spot on the Italian shore; it is not now less beautiful, and the gigantic ruins (so called "Temples") stand among its green vineyards to record the luxury of ancient fashion. Beyond, towards the Capo Miseno (where Virgil tells the Æneas buried his trumpeter Misenus) is the Piscina Mirabile, one of the greatest and most complete monuments of roman engineering still left to us, the gigantic reservoir which held the water for the fleet in the naval harbour below. (It will be remembered that Pliny the Elder was here with his fleet at the time of the great eruption of Vesuvius, and from here set sail to meet his death at Pompeii). Further still are the beautiful islands of Procida (from which, perhaps, the most perfect of all views of Naples Bay is to be obtained) and Ischia, wild and picturesque in the extreme. Cumæ, the remains of a Greek city, some 3000 years old, offers perhaps little except to the archaeologist; but the ancient paved road from Cumæ leads towards Naples under the Arco Felice, the still intact aqueduct which carried to the Naval Reservoir pure water from the Apennines 40 miles away. Between this road and Baiæ lies the famous Lake Avernus recognised for a thousand years as the true mouth of hell. It is now a peaceful lake, but near it the so-called 'Baths of Nero', with their winding underground passages, hot caverns and subterranean streams, may make the modern tourist not altogether incredulous of the earlier belief.

Al this district, the Phlegræan Fields of the ancients, is rent by eruption and pitted with volcanic craters. Most celebrated of these is perhaps the Monte Nuovo, between Lake Avernus and Pozzuoli, a volcano 450 feet high, which arose in a few days, some say a single night, A. D. 1538. Those who have the patience to climb up its steep slope of slag-like cinder will be rewarded by the unexpected sight of a complete sharply cut crater, with abruptly vertical sides, plunging down again to the level of the sea, or below it. The Royal Park of Astroni - where wild boards may be seen - is another perfect crater, well wooded, as the crater of Vesuvius was in Roman times. But the Solfatara divides interest with Vesuvius itself. Its eruptions in time past have been scarcely smaller or less devastating, and it is not extinct. Steam issues from caves and holes round about the crater; the tourist walks through the wood which covers a part of its level floor, and is startled by the guide suddenly demonstrating that the ground is hollow under his feet, and that twelve inches down the earth is too hot to hold.

Between Solfatara and Pozzuoli is the great Amphitheatre of Pozzuoli,  - one of the most interesting in the world, since the arena is perfect; the conduits which led the water for mimic naval battles, the wild beasts' dens, the traps through which they leapt on the stage, - all the mechanism for the great spectacles can be studied here, and serve to explain tha shattered ruins of the coliseum. At Pozzuoli itself (Puteoli, where St. Paul landed)is the so-called Temple of Serapis, on observation of which the whole modern science of geology was based by Lyell. The pillars stand with their bases below the level of the sea, but with sea-shells still perforating their stones 25 feet higher. They prove, therefore, that the land there, since that temple was built, has sunk down right below the sea, and risen again to its present level, so gradually as not to throw the columns out of the perpendicular.

A general view of this district is best obtained from Camaldoli, and throughout the views are most beautiful and most varied.


Karl Baedeker: 'Italy: handbook for travellers. Third part Southern Italy and Sicily, with excursions to the Lipari islands, Malta, Sardinia, Tunis and Corfu' -  9th revised edition. Leipsic & London: Karl Baedeker/ Dulau and Co 1887 (104-105pp) has this to say of Baiae:

Baja, the ancient Baiæ, now a very insignificant village, situated on the bay of the same name and commanding a charming view was the most famous and magnificent watering-place of antiquity, and had attained the zenith of its splendour in the age of Cicero, Augustus, Nero, and Hadrian. 'Nothing in the world can be compared with the lovely bay of Baiæ', exclaims Horace's wealthy Roman (Epist. i.85), who is desirous of erecting a magnificent villa there. Luxury and profligacy, however, soon took up their abode at Baiæ, and the desolate ruins which now alone encounter the eye point the usual moral. With the decline of the Roman empire the glory of Baiæ speedily departed. In the eight century it was devastated by the Saracens, and in 1500 entirely deserted by its inhabitants on account of malaria.

Of the imposing baths and villas of the Romans, the foundations of which were often thrown far out into the sea, nothing but mere fragments now remain. In modern times these ruins are often exalted into temples, or otherwise dignified in a manner for which there is not the slightest foundation.

They also recommend a guide, one Giosaphata di Luccia, who understands English, French and a little German..'well spoken of, he provides boats and carriages.  1 - 1 1/2 Fr. according to bargain..'

Noted in this Baedeker as The Tramontano -Beaurivage. The inserted ephemera probably dates from the early 1900s.

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