Two thousand years ago the rich of antiquity came to Baia, the richest and smartest holiday resort in the Roman Empire; those who could afford it had a villa built, possibly a huge and luxurious one.
The name of this gorgeous cove is connected to the legendary journey of Ulysses who buried there his companion Bajos. Landing place of the powerful Cuma, it was the most praised and patronized for its environmental delights and for its thermal springs.
Baia’s success depends on its thermal waters. Since II century A.D. in fact thermal fixtures have been built in Baia: the baths are said to be invented just here.
It shortly becomes an elitist and well-known holiday resort: it was impossible not to enjoy it. The blue sky, the transparent sea, the pleasant weather, the warm water of the spa: everything seems done on purpose to stimulate idleness and pleasure.
The beauty of the place and the richness of the landscapes were such as to inspire personages as Horatio (65 BC – 8 AD), who said : “No gulf in the world shines more than pleasant Baia”. There Julius Caesar, Pompeius the Great, Marcus Antonius, the poet Lucullus and Cicero.
The list of the emperors who attended Baia is very long: Caligula, Claudius, Nero ( who, in his villa in Baia, had his mother Agrippina and his aunt Domitia Lepidia murdered), Domitian, Adrian, Antoninus Pius, Commodus, Alexander Severus. Moreover, Historian Titus Livy (59 BC – 17 AD) tells that Roman consul Cornelius, in passing Baia, relieved the consequences of a fall off a horse just by these thermal waters, and in 78 BC he came to the "aquae Cumane" to heal his arthritis
Many people have appreciated Baia’s inactivity : Baia was a place of ” fun and games” according to Ennius, of “pleasures, loves and betrayals” for Cicero, of “damnation” for Propertius and “vice” for Seneca.
It was “blessed Venus’s golden shore” for Martial, where “ not only virgins become a common good, but many old people restore to youth and many boys become effeminate” for Varro; finally poet Martial ironically notes: “ In Baia a woman comes like a Penelope and goes away from there like a Helen”..
Due to frequentations Baia became an important cultural and recreative centre, to such an extent as Cicero (106 BC - 43 BC) defined it "pusilla (little) Roma". And like Rome it was enriched with very beautiful buildings, Propertius himself (49 BC – 16 BC), in his Elegies, I, XI, 30 describes the landscape disclosing to his eyes during a walk “ Along the way, you stop to see the ruins of three famous temples, a short distance from one another, one dedicated to Venus, one to Diana, the third to Mercury; but this last one can be visited only mounting on the mariners’ shoulders because it is full of water. All these three temples have more or less the same shape and are built in the Pantheon style”.
Besides appreciating the beauty of this place, Propertius was aware of the risks connected to it; in fact, tortured by jealousy, he pleads the beloved Cynthia to abandon the corrupt waters of Baia and bursts saying:” "... a pereant Baiae, crimen amoris, aquae" (Be the corrupt waters of Baia cursed: they are a crime against love). Ovid (43 BC – 18 AD) too, in his Ars Amatoria. Describes the beauties of the place:
“ Think of beautiful Baia, of the wide hug of the sea, that clasps Baia, of its smoking sulphur springs”.
Seneca (4 BC – 65 AD) in a letter of his pictured Baian nights, drunk with music, wine and loose women, (ambubaje) – with wonderful colours – the glittering surrounding and its performances which competed in beauty with those of the Egyptian Canòpo, famous sinful city.
To the favour of the gods, as manifestation of their presence, the therapeutic effectiveness of these plentiful and prodigious waters is ascribed, They “ gush out plentiful and disorderly in quite a lot of places
here cold, there hot, there mixed… elsewhere warm and fresh.
Making people hope remedies against illnesses and gushing out only to mankind’s advantage among all living beings, they increase the number of deities with various names and raise some cities like Pozzuoli.” (Plinio 23 AD – 79 AD): Nat. Hist. XXXI).
To the Nymphs, who personified springs, worship is paid and healing is pleaded for.
The temples of Cibele, of celestial Venus, of Minerva, of Lucrina Venus.
The worship of the waters is carried out in the most prodigious sanctuary of vapours and springs, by the sound of songs dedicated to love goddess.
Our way is on the wave of sulphureous waters which healed pains and illnesses, on those waters which gave splendour and envy (Salerno school), on the memories of a healthy vapours river; on the tired stones of Baia’s spa, on the stony silence of legendary Cumae.
Pliny the Old stated that nowhere on the Earth there was greater abundance and variety of waters than in Baia’s gulf.
In ancient Rome, Baia meant thermal waters and lustful spot.
Cornelius Celsus (25 BC – 50 AD), Galen (131 AD – 201 AD) e Oribasio (325 - 403 AD Emperor Julian’s doctor) praised these waters as miraculous, almost with magic virtue.
Baia’s growth coincided with the last period of social wars, but its thermae were already known in II century BC, when consul Gneus Cornelius (170 BC) went there to follow a treatment for his arthritism at "acque cumane" springs.
Cassiodorus (490 - 583) states: “[ ...] the thermal baths, fed by hot vapours, are healthier than any artificially heated bath, since Nature surpasses by far human intellect [ ...]
Nothing is more sublime than Baia’s shores, where one can join the possibility to have the sweetest pleasures and to be satisfied with the incomparable gift of health.
Cassiodorus Variae, IX, 6, 6).
Peter from Eboli in his "De Balneis Puteolanis" dating 1220 lists the Phlegrean thermal baths with effective descriptions: he speaks about the BALNEUM SILVIANAE (the present-day Stufe di Nerone), at the foot of Tritoli sudatorium: perhaps mother Silvia found this bath, which she called after her name.
The presence of these inscriptions on the healthy baths of the Phlegrean coast and their attribution to the Virgil’s “magic protection” developed that thaumaturgic and so “magic” idea which especially in the Middle Ages was applied to the thermo-mineral waters of the area. To the Phlegrean thermo-mineral waters a therapeutic power with magic virtues is ascribed, so much that the world is astonished by it and
Boccaccio (1313/1375) was to see them gush out in “Venus’s birthday place”.
Almost everywhere hot water gushes out which ”heals old and new sores, helps all the body, frees from heartache and arthritis, makes fat limbs thinner, the sad it makes rejoice”.
With the decadence of the Empire, towards IV and V centuries Baia came to an end owing to both downward bradyseism which submerged all the coastline and the barbarian invasions which found it devoid of walls able to defend it. For the latter reason the city was sacked by Alaric in 410, by Genseric in 456 and by Totila in 525.
From VII century to 1026 the area became part of The Dukedom of Naples, agriculture, fishing and thermal activity were the main sources of economy.
Downward bradyseism, in X century, reached its highest point, submerging most of the coastline and harbour facilities; in 1131 it fell in the Normans’ hands whose leader was Roger II.
Thermal activity as well, never interrupted throughout the previous centuries, regained momentum thanks to the building of a new hospital complex with 120 beds and a church at Tripergole near Lake Lucrino.
In XV century Pozzuoli and Baia were seriously damaged by earthquakes so the Aragonese granted further economic privileges, to promote its reconstruction. At the beginning of XVI century bradyseism, already in rising phase, became more frequent and Pozzuoli was shaken by violent earthquakes till when, in the night between 29th and 30th September 1538, a violent eruption of a small crater let out so much volcanic matter that the village Tripergole and a great part of Lake Lucrino were swallowed and a small hill, since then called New Mount was formed.
This episode was followed by a great exodus, but the viceroy don Pedro de Toledo propelled the town reconstruction, dispensing its inhabitants with the payment of taxes for many years and with an extensive city plan designed by the architect Ferdinando Manlio where housing building and particular infrastructures linked to fishing, to agriculture and handcraft found place.
Thermal activity is no more a priority and disappears from reconstruction plans, thermal baths have been forgotten for a long period until XVIII century.
The building, planned by Manlio, of the viceroy’s villa with a tower and a garden, his assiduous presence, the realization of coast defending works against Barbary pirates’ attacks such as the sighting towers at Lake Patria, Torregaveta and Miseno, the restoration and widening of the fortification in the district Terra and the orders for Baia’s Castle remake, induced the inhabitants to move back to town.
Several Neapolitan noble families chose our area as holiday resort.
In XVIII century Baia become again for its famous thermal waters and for its magnificent Roman trace which introduced it in the Grand Tour of European travellers.
It is interesting the story that Comparetti (1872) recalls: “Doctors did not find their profit in that and in particular the most famous ones of the Salernitan School saw their business decrease, so they went furtively to Virgilian baths and took down the inscriptions so that the poor patient could not know where to go. But God punished those, the legend goes, as coming back they were caught by such a furious storm that they all drowned except one … who revealed this thing between Capri and Minerva…”.
“Those who needed thermal cures, begged healing to the Nymphs with some vow and to the Nymphs they fulfilled the vow when the recovery was effected. From the Phlegrean area surrounding Baia lots of votive offerings have come: a bronze cup with dedication to the Cuma’s Nymphs; some tablets put there to give thanks to the Nymphs, from Pozzuoli eleven marble reliefs, representing Nymphs with Apollo, with dedications for vows fulfilled” (Italo Sgobbo : Phlegrean Fields in Archaeology and in History. Atti Lincei, 1977).
In the last decades of XIX century Pozzuoli and Baia came out for good of their isolation thanks to the installation of construction sites and thanks to the remarkable improvement of communications which favoured a quick and continuous exchange of men, ideas and goods with nearby Naples.
In the first half of XX century big units of popular houses were built. During the Fascism other plants were opened. In the second post-war period, with the settlement of big industries (Olivetti, Pirelli, Italsider at Bagnoli and Cementir at Coroglio)the need arose to build other popular districts. In 1958 on Saint Gennaro’s hill the Aviation Academy was built.
In the ’60 the Colutta brothers reinvented the Baian “thermalism” rediscovering the ‘Silvan’ thermal baths in the plot of land which they had inherited from their mother Ester Schiano lo Moriello which was then made up of a big ridge where ruins of a dome of Roman origin and several grottos emerged.
Until that moment the ‘grottos’ had been used to collect clay and the small spring lakes, now inside the Spa, were used by peasants of the district to cure arthritis and rheumatism while the external small lake was used to wash horses.
Outside all logic, the Colutta Brothers, with their wives’ material and spiritual help, started to use mud and to destroy thorns in order to bring back to light the plant, half-hidden by rubble and weeds; in 1973 they built the thermal swimming pool and restructured the so-called ‘grottos’ creating the first example of what today is the thermal area.
At first the structure appeared definitely more recreational; to survive bradyseism and the short thermal healing mind in the ’70 they invented the Philippiades, sports recreational games that made the complex known and have made the survival and growth of the Spa possible.
The 1970’s bradyseism caused a remarkable uplifting of the ground. The phenomenon alarmed the people because the eruption of the new Mount in 1538 had been preceded by a fast uplifting of the ground and many people feared that this time too the phenomenon anticipated an eruption.
It did not happen so and bradyseism stopped in the summer of 1973.
The beginning of the second crisis occurred on 2nd November 1982; at the end of 1983 over 5000 remarkable events, mostly between I and IV degree Mercalli scale.
Although the Phlegrean towns were almost completely abandoned, Filippo and Pasquale Colutta tried hard to fulfil their dream and turned the structure from ‘Lucrino Swimming Club’ into Stufe di Nerone Club. The plant, thanks to the owners’ farsightedness, has kept on improving, gaining government recommendations, becoming larger and larger up to the present size.
Baia’s thermal baths, thanks to the therapeutic value of the waters and the charm of the environment appealed the worldly and elegant society of ancient Rome, eager for pleasures and affairs.
Consul Gnaeus Cornelius, who in 78 BC came to ‘aquae Cumane’ to cure his arthritis.
Propertius, instead, tortured by jealousy, begs his beloved Cynthia to abandon Baia’s corrupt waters and bursts out saying: "... a pereant Baiae, crimen amoris, aquae" (be Baia’s corrupt waters cursed : they are a crime against love).
The beauty of the places and the wealth of landscapes inspired writers such as Horatio, who said:” No gulf in the world shines more than pleasant Baia”.
Cicero defined it “ pusilla (little) Roma” since it had become an important cultural and recreational centre.
Pliny the Old stated that nowhere on Earth there was greater abundance and variety of waters than in Baian gulf.
In one of his letters, Seneca, the great I century AD philosopher, described the life which they led just in these thermal baths, then at the core of the most popular animation at Baia, and today a quiet and reserved heaven.