The Submerged Archaeological Park of Baia "From commercial port to protected marine area"
To retrace the main stages of the long path that led to the establishment of the park, we must first explain why this area is now below sea level.
We are in the Phlegraean Fields (from the Greek burning land). In this area of volcanic origin there is the phenomenon of bradyseism, it consists of a relatively slow rise (positive bradyseism) or ground level (negative bradyseism) on the human time scale but very fast compared to geological times. Sometimes, as happens in the Phlegraean Fields, these movements can be repeated cyclically over a period of centuries. Generally this phenomenon is due to changes in the volume of a magma chamber close to the surface that empties and fills, or even to changes in heat. which affect the volume of water contained in the very porous subsoil. Due to the phenomenon of bradyseism, the ancient coastal strip has suffered a sinking with the consequent submergence of all the buildings that were built there. Sites of great importance in Roman times, where Pozzuoli was the most famous commercial city, Baia the most famous residential resort and Miseno the seat of the military fleet, are now submerged. The first finds of archaeological finds took place in the 1920s where on the occasion of enlargement of the harbor quay sculptures, architectural elements, fistulas aquaria with imperial stamps were brought to light.
In the 1940s, aerial photographs taken by the pilot Raimondo Baucher highlighted the submerged archaeological area of Portus Julius in the mirror in front of Lake Lucrino.
Despite the interest aroused by these discoveries, the first underwater archaeological survey campaign was launched in the waters of Baia in the 1960s. These investigations led between 1959 and 1960 to the drafting of the first archaeological map of the submerged city of Baia. They were detected near Punta Epitaffio at about -6 meters deep, a paved road, lined with buildings that opened on it, one of them will be discovered two decades later, the nymphaeum of the emperor Claudius, and then continuing towards the sea other remains of structures stretched out over the sea by means of cement casting (today we know that they are pertinent to the maritime quarter of the Villa dei Pisoni). Finally, the identification of some concrete pillars, the Pilae, about 400 meters from the coast, which allowed the identification of the ancient coast line. The program was unfortunately soon interrupted due to the lack of means.
1969 marked two important stages for underwater archeology and the protection of the Baia area.
The first, causal, with the outcrop in front of Punta Epitaffio, following a storm, of two high-quality sculptures that were recognized as "Ulysses and companion with the skin", still in place in the apse of a rectangular building (the Nymphaeum).
The second stage was the agreement between the superintendent of Naples Alfonso De Francis and the director of the military orphanage, housed in the Castello di Baia, to allocate part of this complex to house the archaeological museum of the Campi Flegrei.
Despite a lot of resonance, even these two important stages failed to reach an immediate following.
Only in 1980 the first underwater excavation started directly by archaeologists, which led to the identification of the Nymphaeum of the emperor Claudius and his extraordinary sculptural complex.
In 1984 the Castle of Baia was finally delivered to the superintendency and a restoration project for functional interventions was started: a local archaeological office was set up, a first restoration laboratory and archaeological deposits. It was thus possible to start the first experimental restoration works on the sculptures from the excavation of the Nymphaeum of Punta Epitaffio. In 1997 the room of the Nymphaeum of Punta Epitaffio was set up inside the museum where the submerged nymphaeum of the emperor Claudius is reproduced which approaches the original, but is not a reconstruction.
In the same period, the survey of the submerged city of Baia resumed, where it had been suspended by Nino Lamboglia, edited by G. Di Fraia, E. Scognamiglio and N. Lombardi.
The edition of the submerged Baia archaeological map dates back to them with the positioning of the buildings emerging from the seabed, located on the northern shore, better preserved as they are less traveled by commercial routes. It is the access channel to the Baianus Lacus, the lake-like body of water from the Roman era; of a thermal complex 40 meters east of Punta Epitaffio, of the villa dei Pisoni; a villa with a protruding entrance and splendid floor decorations, overlooking a stretch of road, flanked by tabernae, remains of fish ponds and piers.
On the southern shore, in front of the shipyards and the harbor quay, due to the devastating effect of port traffic, only a few remains of buildings are preserved, while proceeding towards the sea imposing stretches a pier of concrete quay, perpendicular to the large Roman pier, protected by some pilae, with remains of formwork foundations with exceptionally preserved wooden sections.
South of the tip of the Castello di Baia, which is located outside the port area, thanks to the greater depth there are the remains of spectacular fishponds for the breeding of fish and molluscs.
In 1987 the archaeological constraint of the 500 mt marine belt of the entire Flegreo area was placed with the prohibition to alter the status of the places.
Between 1994 and 1998 specific orders were issued by the harbor master's office to regulate the transit of commercial motor vessels.
In 1998 the superintendency takes over the stretch of water on the northern shore.
In 1999 the first visit for divers was created.
In 2000 due to serious damage due to a ferry stranded in the seabed, the commercial port activity was definitively suspended.
On 7 August 2002, the submerged archaeological park of Baia was established as a protected marine area.
The provisional management of the submerged park was entrusted to the Superintendency for the Archaeological Heritage of Naples and Caserta, subsequently to the Special Superintendence of Naples and Pompeii. In 2016 the Phlegraean Fields become Special Superintendence which takes the name of the Phlegraean Fields Archaeological Park which is entrusted with the management of the Submerged Park of Baia
Since then, giant steps have been taken in the protection and enhancement of the area. There are still many problems to be solved, but the path appears outlined today.