Beneath the turquoise waves of the Bay of Naples lies an extraordinary underwater archeology site, the ancient Roman city of Baiae. From the first century to the third century AD, Baiae was the exclusive playground for the rich and powerful among Rome’s elite. What made Baiae such a special place? What really went on there? And why did it disappear?
For the first time, an international team of scientists, archaeologists and historians is meticulously mapping the underwater ruins and piecing together evidence that could provide answers to these questions in the riveting documentary Secrets of the Dead: Nero’s Sunken City. The DVD will be available on May 9; the program will also be available for digital download.
While some of Baiae’s ruins remain intact on land, more than half of this coastal city is submerged under water. These underwater ruins are three times the size of those in Pompeii. Archaeologists have found a network of roads, miles of brick walls and villas with rich marble floors, and splendid mosaics. But what they haven’t found are any identifiable public buildings, no forum, temple or market place.
The remains consist of one vast luxury villa after another–a Roman Beverly Hills–with elaborate spas and water features, marble statues inspired by Greek art, ponds for farming fish and more. The villas were like mini-cities. No expense was spared to create these seaside vacation homes where barges floating in the bay were the site of raucous parties.
More than any other emperor, Nero was infamous for his hedonism and Baiae was his escape. Here, he could indulge in his sadistic fantasies. But Baiae was more than a place of opulence, the Las Vegas of its day. It was also the site of some of the most treacherous political dealings of ancient Rome with Emperor Nero and his enemies hatching deadly plots against each other.
What lengths was Nero willing to take to gain his Aunt Domitia’s villa? What plans did Gaius Calpurnius Piso, a wealthy nobleman, have for the emperor as he vacationed at his villa? What scheme did Nero devise in Baiae to end the power struggle with his mother?
In the fourth century AD, seismic activity caused half of Baiae to sink into the bay. Located 150 miles south of Rome, Baiae remains one of the least explored places in the Roman Empire. Until now.