Pozzuoli became a colony of Samos in the second part of the VI century B.C. Previously it had been known as Dikaiarchia and had fought beside Cumae against the Etruscans and the Samnites, who conquered it in the second part of the V century B.C. In the II century B.C. under the Romans it took the name of Puteoli, becoming the main strategic base for the Roman fleet in the Mediterranean until the foundation of the port of Ostia (1st century A.D.). In spite of its decline at this period, it was held in great esteem by the Emperors and particularly by Domitian who connected it to the capital by a road which took his name.
This is one of the major monumental testimonies to the Roman Age, also known as Serapeo. Although its name comes from the discovery of a statue to Serapis, an ancient Egyptian divinity worshipped during the Greek and Roman eras, the structure, which we can see today, was a public marketplace of considerable dimensions. On the side opposite to the main entrance there was a semicircular room containing several niches with statues. The central portion of the courtyard was occupied by a circular podium with a central fountain which was decorated with statues, a group of 16 columns in African marble. This construction dates back to the Flavian period. The temple of Serapis is of great interest to us today, apart from its exceptional architectural and archaelogical value, because it enables us to “read” at a glance the dynamics of centuries of bradyseism at Pozzuoli. On the remains of the columns which rise from the central podium and on the three large columns which remains standing of the four, one can see the holes produced by the litodomi- a type of mollusc which bores into the stone onto which it clung.
The Flavian Amphitheatre was completed during the reign of the Emperor Titus Flavius Vespasian in the second half of the 1st century A.D. As regards size, it is the third largest amphitheatre of Classical times coming after the Colosseum (Rome) and the amphitheatre at Santa Maria Capua Vetere. This remarkable work, which gives testimony to the skill of the Roman builders, is still in an excellent state of conservation. The edifice of the amphitheatre originally had three orders of arcades. The amphitheatre had a seating capacity of 40.000. But the most interesting architectural feature of the building is the network of Underground Passages. These underground passages, built for the greater part of the brick, were completed during the 1st and 2nd centuries A.D. and are still well preserved today. Water was drawn from a nearby aqueduct to flood the arena so that the performances of naval battles (known as Naumachie) could be put on.
Just outside the town there is the Solfatara. It was known in Roman times as Forum Vulcani, and is in fact the large crater of a dormant volcano. The dormant period of this volcanic formation near Pozzuoli is one of the typical stages of post-volcanic activity; a period when the only sign of life of a dormant volcano is when it produces sulphureous gases which create sulphur deposits. The crater itself has an elliptical shape. The only buildings inside the crater are the ancient Observatory, situated close to the so-called Bocca Grande (the Large Mouth of the crater) and the Furnaces, from which steam reaches temperatures of around 100° C. One of the most characteristic phenomenon which can be seen inside the crater of Solfatara is the condensation of water vapour which forms little clouds in the presence of a naked flame.
The place is famous above all for the fact that a vast archaeological zone is situated here. The Roman town of Baiae began to flourish from the time of the Late Republican Age. During this period thermal waters together with a climate led Romans to build many splendid residences and elegant villas for the Romans aristocracy. During the Imperial Age the territory became the exclusive residence of the Emperors. Baia thus became the stage on which several episodes of the story of Rome under the Caesars were carried out. After the Second World War excavations began in order to bring to the surface some of the conspicuous remains of the Roman town.
The date of these buildings is from the I to the IV century A.D.; the ruins, joined to each other by ramps, staircases and corridors, are divided into sectors – Sosandra, Mercury and Venus. Sosandra’s Sector, so-named because of a marble bust from that period which was found. Mercury’s Sector was wrongly believed as a temple and it is a circular building whose wall, in opus reticulatum held up the hemispherical vault. It was almost certainly used as a thermal installation. The Venus’s Sector was made up of various rooms, one of which held the Esedra-Nymphaeum which contained a fountain. Outside the actual archaeological zone, not far from Cumae railway station, is the Temple of Diana. This building is similar to the Temple of Venus.
Baia Castle was built by order of Don Pedro di Toledo, the Spanish viceroy of Naples, in the XVI century in order to protect the riverside locality from the pirate raids. Bacoli is a town with an important fishing industry. The ancient centre of the town, founded by the Greeks, was a favourite spot with the Romans. There are numerous remains of the Roman Bauli still to be seen today. The Cento Camerelle (meaning literally a hundred small chambers) is a complex system which provided water to one of the nearby villas of the district. The so-called Piscina Mirabilis is a large Roman cistern which was used by the Roman fleet moored near the Capo Miseno. This is the largest cistern of ancient times and was built during the reign of Augustus. Near the beach stand the ruins of Tomb of Agrippina. However these ruins have nothing to do with the Nero’s mother, who was killed and buried at Bauli on her son’s orders. They are in fact the visible remains of a little theatre connected to a large Roman villa.
The archaeological zone of Cumae is very interesting. One of the first Greek settlements in Southern Italy grew up here, when settlers from Eubea settled here in the VIII century B.C., on the place already occupied during Prehistoric times. The power of the State of Cumae grew rapidly and soon conquered the surrounding region, from Miseno to Puteoli, creating the basis for the foundation of Neapolis. Against the Etruscans, Cumae won in the VI and the V centuries B.C.
The archaelogical site at Cumae is situated between the pine woods at Licola and the so-called Arco Felice. The arch was raised in the 1st century A.D., at the time of Domitian . Nearby is the so-called Grotta di Cocceio (The Grotto of Cocceius) which is actually an underground passage which joined the town to the Averno lake. The Acropolis is reached by the Via Sacra, a road which was constructed using wide slabs of volcanic rock. On the right are the ruins of Apollo’s Temple, a Greek building reconstructed in the Samnite and Roman eras. Between the VI and VII centuries the Temple was turned into a Christian Basilica. On the top of the Acropolis area, a spot from where one can admire an extensive panorama, is the Jupiter’s Temple which is similar in structure to that of Apollo. Its origins are Greek (5th century B.C.), but it was completely reconstructed under Augustus. This was also reconverted to a Christian Basilica during the 5th-6th centuries, and there are well-preserved remains of a baptismal font. One of the most famous features of the archaelogical zone at Cumae is the Cave of the Cumaen Sibyl. This was one of the most visited sanctuaries of the ancient world and was dug out into the tufa rock by Greeks (6th - 5th century B.C.) for about 100 metres. Not far from the tunnel is the entrance to the so-called Roman Crypt, a huge cavity dug into the Cumaean mountainside.