Being ‘popular’ may have had nothing to do with it. The river itself was hot to the touch. Now I’m just left wondering. The tunnel system, he proposed, had been constructed by priests to mimic a visit to the Greeks’ mythical underworld. or For full details of the tunnel complex, and to keep up to date with ongoing research at Baia, visit In time, “Doc” came up answers to all of those questions. Terms of Use Image: Wikicommons. there actually was “an Oracle of the Dead, A conversation for ‘The Antrum of Initiation, Baia. It is unlikely there was a fissure this long and straight, ending suddenly, that could be widened and shaped. The entrance to the Great Antrum – an easily-missed sliver in the midst of a larger Graeco-Roman temple complex. I prefer to read about solved mysteries. According to legend, the sibyl traveled to Tarquin’s palace bearing nine books of prophecy that set out the whole of the future of Rome. He was the last of the mythic kings of Rome, and some historians, at least, concede that he really did live and rule in the sixth century B.C. So it is scarcely surprising that archaeologists and scholars of romantic bent have from time to time gone in search of a cave or tunnel that might be identified as the real home of a real sibyl – nor that some have hoped that they would discover an entrance, if not to Hades, then at least to some spectacular subterranean caverns. But, working on the assumption that the passages had formed part of the surrounding temple complex, they concluded that they could best be dated to the late archaic period around 550 B.C.–at pretty much the time, that is, that the Cumæan sibyl was said to have lived. My personal view is that the tunnels are initiatory and to do with the mysteries. Give a Gift. Photo: Wikicommons. The third time she approached the king, he thought it wise to accede to her demands. “The Thermo-Mineral Complex at Baiæ and De Balneis Puteolanis.” The Art Bulletin 78:1, March 1996. As you’ll have seen from the comments section, I’m not the only one who’s anxious to know more about what’s been going on at Baia. Only those who can pay the fare, with coins placed on their lips when buried, receive passage. Sulphur drifts from a vent on the barren volcanic plateau known as the Phlegraean Fields, a harsh moonscape associated with legends of prophecy. Tunnels inexplicably divide within the Great Antrum. The “River Styx”–an underground stream, heated almost to boiling point in places, which runs through at the deepest portions of the tunnel complex. What Was on the Menu at the First Thanksgiving? This, the explorers discovered, marked the place where two tunnels diverged. “The Thermo-Mineral Complex at Baiae and De Balneis Puteolanis.” The Art Bulletin 78:1, March 1996. These theories eventually made their appearance in book form, but attracted little attention – surprisingly, because the pair claimed to have stumbled across nothing less than a real-life “entrance to the underworld.”. In favor of this argument, Paget went on, was the careful planning of the tunnels. Which year? There, hidden at the bottom of a much steeper passage, and behind a second S-bend that prevented anyone approaching from seeing it until the final moment, ran an underground stream. Advertising Notice As Paget and Jones dug this tunnel out, presumably the addition on this later plan is as a result of their work. Sources As for when the tunnels had been blocked up, that–Paget thought–must have taken place after Virgil’s time, during the early Imperial period of Roman history. Because I’d love to read any new info about this place. There the mystery rested, and it was not revived until the site came to the attention of Ferrand Paget – who liked everyone to call him “Doc” – in the early 1960s. Swung closed, this would have masked the entrance to a second tunnel that acted as a short-cut to the lower levels. Turner in 1823, well before modernization of the area obliterated most traces of its Roman past. Basing his thinking on the remains of some ancient pivots, Paget suggested that the spot had at one time harbored a concealed door. Jorge Luis Borges, Poem of the Gifts. The sibyl, so the story goes, was a woman named Amalthæa who lurked in a cave on the Phlegræan Fields. One of the two boiling springs that feed the “Styx,” photographed in 1965, 250 feet beneath the surface, by Colonel David Lewis, U.S. Army. It is fair to say that most of those who have come after him have admitted themselves more or less baffled by at least some of the odder aspects of the tunnels. The central question may well be whether it is possible to see Paget’s channel of boiling water deep underground as anything other than a deliberate representation of one of the fabled rivers that girdled Hades–if not the Styx itself, then perhaps the Phlegethon, the mythic “river of fire” that, in Dante’s Inferno, boils the souls of the departed. The sibyl, so the story goes, was a woman named Amalthæa who lurked in a cave on the Phlegræan Fields. A symbolic death and rebirth perhaps. A general plan of the tunnel complex, drawn by Robert Paget. Little seems to have changed at Baiæ since Paget’s day. Image: Wikicommons. On the far side, initiates would have ascended to the hidden sanctuary, and it was there they would have met… whom? The third time she approached the king, he thought it wise to accede to her demands. London: Routledge, 1988; P.B. ( Log Out /  Nothing highly significant – the official line is still that these complex tunnels are a simple steam vent supplying steam to some Roman baths. In Virgil’s Aeniad, for instance, the hero, Aeneas, crosses the Styx only once on his journey underground, emerging from Hades by an alternate route. Turner in 1823, well before modernisation of the area obliterated most traces of its Roman past. What was this “Great Antrum,” as Paget dubbed it? She had once been young and beautiful –beautiful enough to attract the attentions of the sun god, Apollo, who offered her one wish in exchange for her virginity. Conditions at this low point in the tunnel complex certainly were stygian. The portion that is still accessible on land consists of a barren, rubble-strewn plateau. Thanks, quite nice post. Yet much remains mysterious about the Great Antrum–not least the vexed question of how ancient builders, working with primitive tools at the end of the Bronze Age, could possibly have known of the existence of the “River Styx,” much less excavated a tunnel that so neatly intercepted it. the little sliver of an entrance doesn’t help the creepiness factor 17th Annual Photo Contest Finalists Announced. The name (source of the name for Jupiter’s moon perhaps) is also that of the woman (aka Adamanthea) who “who suckled the infant-god [Zeus] in a cave in Cretan Mount Aigaion.” Curiously there’s an ancient woman in Dan Simmons’ SF tale Ilium who first appears living in an ice cave. Ovid, in Metamorphoses, has her lament that “like a fool, I did not ask that all those years should come with ageless youth as well.” Instead, she aged but could not die. Post was not sent - check your email addresses! It was necessary to clear this tunnel to gain access to the sanctuary. Rome purchased the three remaining books of prophecy at the original steep price. It might have been dug by adherents to a totally different religion, and was later filled in when the authorities cracked down on the cult and destroyed it, because they felt it was desecrating their gods. Hamilton, Ont: Cromlech Press, 1972; Daniel Ogden. For this reason he took to calling the complex the “Antrum of Initiation.”. Privacy Statement Pingback: [LINK] “A visit to the underworld: the unsolved mystery of the tunnels at Baiae” | A Bit More Detail. Secreted in a stone chest in a vault beneath the Temple of Jupiter, the scrolls were brought out at times of crisis and used, not as a detailed guide to the future of Rome, but as a manual that set out the rituals required to avert looming disasters. The Great Antrum is now lined with Roman-era cocciopesto waterproof cement. Joseph Mitchell. Why Was Benjamin Franklin’s Basement Filled With Skeletons? “The Great Antrum at Baiæ.” Papers of the British School at Rome 37 (1969); Victor Failmezger. Sibyls and Sibylline Prophecy in Classical Antiquity. Fording it and ascending a steep passageway on the far bank, the men next came upon what they thought had been an “inner sanctuary.” What this room was, or had been used for, remains a mystery; at some point in the tunnels’ history, it had been laboriously filled in, and it has never been excavated. There is much that will now be made public. In this interpretation, the underground stream represented the fabled River Styx, which the dead had to cross to enter Hades; a coracle, Paget speculated, would have been waiting to ferry visitors across, and a crossing made in darkness might have concealed the stream’s meagre breadth. and my appendages, worn out with age, Equates to 26th February in our terms. These theories eventually made their appearance in book form but attracted little attention–surprisingly, because the pair claimed to have stumbled across nothing less than a real-life “entrance to the underworld.”.