Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Mysterious Roman Tunnels of Baiae

The MysteriousRoman Tunnels of Baiae
Image Credit: smithsonianMag
There are several mythical stories attached to many mysterious places, one being the Roman tunnels of Baiae, located at the ancient Roman resort of Baiae which is placed in the Southern Italian region of Campania. It is situated on the Bay of Naples and was a seaside resort for most of the wealthy people of Rome.

 Later on, Baiae became notorious for the hedonistic style of its patrons and in the course of time, local volcanic activity resulted in underwater submersion of the ancient resort. Though the ruins can be seen in the Baiae Archaeological Park, an underwater tour needs to be taken to get to know the beauty of Baiae. Besides being a great getaway for the super-rich Romans, the hot springs also attracted the patrons of Baiae giving it a mythical attachment.

The opening of an unknown chamber was discovered in 1932 by Amedeo Maiuri, an Italian archaeologist. Since Maiuri and his team did not carry on with their exploration on penetrating the tunnel a few feet, the mysterious tunnel was not explored further.

 It was only in 1960s that the chamber was noticed again and Robert Paget, a British amateur archaeologist, explored the antrum or chamber further. He along with Keith Jones, an American colleague together with a small group of volunteers began a decade long excavation of the antrum and discovered a complex system of tunnels.

Tunnels of Baiae Speculated to be `Cave of the Sibyl’

 Tunnels of Baiae
According to Paget, he speculated that this could be the legendary `Cave of the Sibyl’, which had been recorded by several ancient authors and the Cumaean Sibyl, which meant prophetess, by the name Amalthaea, happened to live in acave in the Phlegraean Fields.

This happened to be the area where the tunnel was found. As per legend, she seemed to have the power of prophesy who scribbled the future on oak leaves scattering them at the entrance of the cave. The Phlegraean Fields is a plateau which is part of an ancient volcano near Mount Vesuvius.

 The volcano is known for laying waste to the great city of Pompeii and the heavily volcanic location is spitted with steaming vents, flaming holes in the ground, sulphur spewing crevasses, well known in Greek and Roman myth and associated with stores of prophesy and magic.

Tunnels of Baiae:  Constructed to Mimic Visits to Mythical Underworld of Greeks 

The features of the tunnel as per Paget indicate that it could have been constructed to mimic visits to the mythical Underworld of the Greeks, like the underground stream of sulphurous water which represented the River Styx where the dead had to traverse to enter Hades.

Since a landing stage was present towards one end of the stream, Paget was of the opinion that a boat could have been kept waiting to transport visitors across and at the end of the stream was a flight of stairs which led to a hidden sanctuary. Paget speculated that the sanctuary could have accommodated someone posing as the Cumaean Sibyl.

Together with other observations, he thought that the tunnel system could have been utilised for ritual purpose for the ancient Romans though there is a lot of debate with regards to this theory which still remains unsolved.

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