Dio ci salvi dal povero arricchito e dal ricco impoverito.
(God save us from the enriched poor and from the impoverished rich.)

Virgil puttered about in this spa town and playground for rich and debauched Romans. So did other renowned Roman writers, including Horace and Cicero. Today, the villas of Baia lie mostly under water, but the Roman ruins that remain at the Baia Archaeological Park inspire the imagination due to their vast scale. The huge complex at the Archeological Park encompasses three terraces of labyrinth-like structures.

Perhaps the Romans harnessed the hydrothermal activity for their baths, or wealthy patricians built summer villas, or perhaps this was the Imperial Villa for the Emperors. Layers of ancient construction spanning four centuries baffle inquiry, but we can guess that these ruins once sparkled with skyscraper-like temples and buildings made of marble, their domes and floors tiled in mosaics and their façades splashed with deep colored frescoes.

The ruins haven’t been very well preserved, but while wandering through them, look for a Statue of Hermes that still stands in an alcove. An arched corridor leads to a grassy field named after the goddess Sosandra. Three temples also display some forgotten majesty: the Temple of Venus overlooking the port of Baia, only its mammoth dome peeking out from the dirt; the muddy half-shell of the Temple of Diana sitting against a hill; and the Temple of Mercury (or Temple of Echoes, so named by travelers in the 18th century) has a wooden walkway over a pool of algae-green water. High-pitched yelling inside this dome makes sounds bounce in wonderful echoes.

Getting There: Although the entrance seems to be across the street from the port of Baia, the gates and entrance box are locked and abandoned. Instead, drive up the hill from the port a little ways and look for the entrance overlooking the sea. The small placard outside reads (or “Roman Baths”), but tourist guidebooks call it “The Archeological Park of Baia.” The parking lot is small, but there aren’t many tourists who come this way, so it’s not difficult to find a space. The address is Via Sella di Baia, 22, Bacoli.

Ticket office at the Museo Archeologico dei Campi flegrei, Anfiteatro Pozzuoli or Parco archeologico di Cuma.  On the days when the entrance fee is payable (Saturdays, Sundays and holidays), it’s possible to buy tickets from Palazzina Ferretti in via Lucullo 94 at the head office of the Parco Sommerso, who act as a ticket office from 9.00 until one hour before sunset; the entrance, however, remains at via delle Terme (ex via Fusaro).  Palazzina Ferretti is down the hill from the entrance to the Archaeological Park, so buy your ticket on the way, so as to not have to go up and down the hill!

Underwater Archeological Tours: Since much of the splendor of Baia lies under water, archeological tours are available through diving centers. Napoli Diving Centre at the Lido Montenuovo, Via Miliscola, 157, Lucrino offers dives, but you need to be a certified diver or stay longer in Naples in order to take the classes when they are offered.