Pompeii… everyone knows about the Roman city doomed by the eruption of Vesuvius. Pompeii, and the nearby Herculaneum, are amongst the most spectacular archaeology site in the world. However, the region of Pompeii offers many more ancient wonders. Today we are talking about three of our favorites: Baiae, Capua, and Paestum!
1. Underwater Roman Villa in Baiae
“I hate and I love. Why I do this, perhaps you ask. I know not, but I feel it happening and I am tortured.”Catullus
These words, engraved forever in the history of literature, were dedicated by Catullus to his cruel muse, Clodia. Clodia was one of the most famous socialites of the 1st Century BC, and, as many rich & famous of her time spent most of her free time, and consumed most of her scandals, in the resort town of Baiae.
Amongst its frequent visitors there were men and women who made history. Caesar, Cicero, Catullus, Virgil, empress Agrippina, emperor Hadrian had all in common their love for this resort town in Campania.
Emperor Claudius, the limping, underrated fourth emperor of Rome, the conqueror of Britannia, left to posterity the most precious trace of the luxury of 1st century Baiae: His villa!
The most spectacular remaining of the Villa is the Nimpheum, the dining room of Claudius guests. Surrounded by marble statues the guests would sit around a stream of water where food was “flowing” on floating dishes similar to modern conveyor-belt sushi.
Due to the Volcanic activity of the Area, the Villa of Claudius is now underwater. This provides a fantastic opportunity for divers to dive or snorkel amongst ancient mosaics and sculptures. This is why Baiae is also called THE UNDERWATER POMPEII.
2. The Amphitheatre of Capua
“There was a famous gladiator school in Capua, made up exclusively of slaves of great strength and stature, who were trained to give life to violent shows where only the winners had a chance at survival”Suetonius
It was the year 105 BC when the first gladiator’s school in the roman world was founded in Capua, 40 km north of Naples. The school was a huge success, and the most robust and fierce of the numerous slaves captured by the legions were sent to Capua for being trained in martial arts. One of them, probably from Thrax (modern Bulgaria), made history. His name was Spartacus.
One night, in 73BC, Spartacus and other 70 men stole knives and other utensils from the kitchen of the gladiator school. They used them to kill all the guards and to steal a large stock of weapons and armors. Once free, they roamed in the countryside of Capuae, liberating more slaves and pillaging the farms. They had started the third servile war.
When the Senate of Rome sent a militia to sedate the rebellion, the slaves under the command of Spartacus climbed to Mount Vesuvius (yes, we are talking about the volcano that 150 years later will destroy and bury Pompeii – but at the time nobody knew it was a volcano). When sieged by the roman army they climbed down the rocks during the night and took the roman by surprise, defeating them.
The rebellion of Spartacus lasted 3 years, but in the end, the Roman general Crassus, the richest man in Rome, gathered an army of 40.000 men and eventually defeated the slaves, and infamously crucified 6000 of them along the Appian Way, the road that connected Rome to Capua.
This was the end of the Spartacus rebellion, but not the end of the story for the gladiators of Capua. Around 30BC, at the very beginning of the empire of Augustus, Capuans built the first amphitheater in the History of Rome. The arena was massive, and it is the second largest to exist nowadays after the much more famous Coliseum in Rome.
In fact, the Capuan Amphitheater worked as a model for the construction of the Coliseum.
3. Greek Arcaheology: the temples and the tombs of Paestum
Paestum was established by Achean settlers around 600BC. The original name of the city was Poseidonia, after the Greek god of sea Poseidon. The city indeed was built on the coast, meters away from heavenly golden beaches.
Posedonia was a prosperous city during all Antiquity, despite being conquested first by the Lucans and then by the Romans, who changed the name into Paestum. Despite Roman colonization, Paestum retained the Greek language and culture.
Paestum did not suffer a violent fate like Pompeii, but was slowly abandoned and forgotten during the early middle age, as the area transformed into a swamp and saracene pirates raided the coasts. Most of its inhabitants moved into the more defensible Agropoli (from Greek άκρον πόλις = the upper city). The Greek site was only rediscovered in the 18th century. The discoveries where impressive!
The most spectacular remains from the sites are the three giant and extremely well-preserved temples: two of them are dedicated to Hera and the last one to Athena.
Other treasures were found in the nearby necropolis. The most important is the tomb of the Diver, where archaeologists found the only preserved painting (a true fresco) from Greek classical period in the world. The fresco, showing the dead man as a diver is a masterpiece of elegance.
Most of the other tombs are from the Lucanian period and mostly depicted horse riders and charioteers. Horse riding was indeed the preferred activity of Lucanian elite. Today the town of Capaccio-Paestum offers to visitors, together with the archaeological site, wonderful beaches and excellent cuisine. The area is also worldwide famous for their fresh buffalo Mozzarella.
The classical Grand Tour
The existence of so many sites made Campania, the region of Pompeii, a classical destination of the 19th Century Grand Tour. In Celeste we were inspired by the 19th century travel for our modern Sailing & Archaeology Grand Tour. The tour will bring teenagers and parents around the archaeological sites of Campania! We also offer fully private experiences!