Changes in the
coastline of the Gulf of Naples —specifically
the Bay of Pozzuoli— have
come about over the centuries not so much through
general changes of sea-level in the Mediterranean, but
rather through the local rising and falling of the
land from earthquakes and especially the minor (but
cumulatively important) up-and-down jiggling shifts
known as "bradisisms." The area is on top of —better,
IS the top of— an active seismic cauldron that has to
vent every once in a while.
Though there is
considerable discussion over the extent to which the
coastline has changed since the time of the Romans, it
is a matter of simple (albeit underwater!) observation
that there are submerged Roman buildings and port
facilities in the bay off of Pozzuoli and adjacent (to
the west) Baia. The movement, by the way, has not
always been all in one direction; that is, since the
1980 earthquake and subsequent bradisisms, the land
has actually risen, not subsided; the famous Temple of
Serapis (photo, left)—which used to be submerged up to
about the one-meter mark on the columns—is now totally
on dry land, and the entire port had to be rebuilt in
the 1980s to accommodate the drop in perceived
sea-level at portside.
Also see these entries:
Imperial Port of Baia
the Baia Castle and Museum
the geology of
|The modern sea-wall that shelters the port disguises history rather well. When the Roman empire fell, Pozzuoli, with the adjacent imperial glory of the port facilities of Baia, went into centuries of decline. As late as the 1880s, a travel writer in the New York Times could still say:|
...The harbor of Pozzuoli is an interesting place to visit, if only to study the manner in which the ancients built their piers. There still remains the tremendous structure, or a very large portion of it, called by Seneca, Pilae, and by Suetonius, Moles Puteolanae. Of 25 buttresses, which supported 24 arches, 16 are left, three being under water. They are constructed of brick and pozzulana earth, and bear an inscription reporting that the pier was restored by Antonius Pius. A common, but very erroneous impression, owing probably to the fact of the pier now being called Ponte [bridge] di Caligula, is that it was connected with the ponton [sic] bridge which that emperor threw across the bay of Baiae in order that, clad in the armor of Alexander the Great, he might there celebrate his insane triumph over the Parthians
Indeed, photos from
that period (below, right) show the
pier/sea-wall of Pozzuoli to be low and jagged,
essentially what is left of the old Roman structure
(seen in the above image) after many centuries of
neglect. (Sources differ as to how many arches the
original Roman pier had.) After a century of talk
about rebuilding the pier into a more modern
structure, it wasn't until the early 1900s that this
was done. Dvorak (sources, below) reports in 1904:
Pozzuoli. Photo, Roberto Rive, c. 1880
The largest and best-known Roman breakwater is that at Puteoli, commonly called the Bridge of Caligula. This great work consisted of fifteen tall piers of concrete, some of 52 feet square, others smaller, rising from 49 feet of water to some 16 feet above the surface. The tops of the piers were connected by arches, and the whole work was often referred to as the "opus pilarum," or "moles puteolanae." Unfortunately, but little of the old work is now to be seen, for the harbour is sheltered by a solid sea-wall, which has been constructed by filling up the spaces between the ancient piers. The work was originally proposed by Carlo Fontana, and, in spite of the adverse criticism of Fazio, will soon be finished.
Off Diceearchia [the original Greek name for Pozzuoli, ed.], which belongs to the Etruscans, there is boiling water in the sea, and an island has been constructed artificially, that the water may be utilized for warm baths.
|The modern sea-wall of Pozzuoli (jutting out on the right in this photo) runs almost exactly east to west, pointing directly at Baia.|
*1: The arched pier is
reproduced in Dvorak (below) and labelled "from a
Roman picture after Bellori" in reference to Fragmenta vestigii
veteris Romae by J.P. Bellori (1615-1696),
a French archaeologist. (back to text)
—Dvorak, John J. and G.
Mastrolorenzo (1991). The Mechanisms of recent vertical crustal
movements in Campi Flegrei, Southern Italy.
The Geological Society of America, Special Paper
263. Boulder, Colorado.
—Fazio, G. (1832). Discorso intorno al sistema di costruzione de Porti. Naples.
— Günther, R. T. (1903) "Earth-Movements in the Bay of Naples. IV. The Phlegræan Shore-Line." in The Geographical Journal, Vol. 22, No. 3 (Sep., 1903), pp. 269-286. Blackwell, London.
—"Pozzuoli and her renown" in The New York Times, July 9, 1881.
—Sirago, Maria (2008). La trasformazione dei porti e degli arsenali del regno di Napoli nel passaggio dalla propulsione remica a quella velica [The transformation of ports and shipbuilding in the kingdom of Naples in the transisition from oars to sails] in the annals of the 2. National Meeting on the History of Engineering, Naples, 7-9 April 2008, pp. 1017 – 1027.