Exploring Pozzuoli

The modern town tightly encloses Pozzuoli's ancient monuments. The original Greek Acropolis, Rione Terra, was the first inhabited area of Pozzuoli. Located near the harbor, it has been progressively subsiding under the sea, so much so that it had to be abandoned in the 1970s. A large, ongoing excavation and restoration campaign, begun in 1993, has uncovered a virtually untouched Roman town -- a kind of underground Pompeii. Along the main Decumano (the central avenue running east-west) and some minor streets, are shops, osterie (taverns), a pistrinum (mill), and the ergastula (slaves' cells) with some drawings by prisoners still visible on the walls. At presstime, the site was closed to the public with no foreseeable opening date; call the tourist office for updates. Sculptures and other important objects from ancient Pozzuoli are on display in the Museo Archeologico dei Campi Flegrei in Baia.

Not far from the harbor, at Via Roma 10, is the entrance to the Serapeo, the ruins of the ancient town's marketplace. The large structure, built in the 1st century A.D., was lined with porticos where shops and taverns operated. At its center are the remains of a temple, much ruined over the centuries (its alabaster columns, for instance, were used to decorate the Royal Palace in Caserta). Named after the Egyptian god Serapis because of the statue found here during excavations, this ruin has been used to study the geological phenomenon of bradyseism where large tracts of land slowly subside beneath sea level while others rise up; you can see little holes in the marble of the columns where they were submerged in water. A bit farther inland, at Via Terracciano 75, is the Anfiteatro Neroniano/Flavio. Started by Roman emperor Nero and finished by Emperor Vespasiano, it is in the upper part of town, where the roads to Cuma, Pozzuoli, and Naples converged in Roman times. This was the third-largest amphitheater in the Roman world after the Colosseo and the Anfiteatro Campano in Capua. Admission for both sites is 4€; the ticket also includes the Museo Archeologico dei Campi Flegrei, Parco Archeologica di Baia, and Scavi di Cuma, and is valid 2 days. (June-Sept Wed-Mon 9am-7pm; Oct-May WedMon 9am-4pm, last admission 3pm; closed Jan 1, May 1, Dec 25). The theater, which could accommodate more than 20,000 spectators, is used today for special musical events; check with the local tourist office for information.

Exploring Solfatara

The site is a nature reserve covering an expanse of 33 hectares (81 acres), with large wooded areas where a number of rare birds, plants, and small animals have found refuge. At the entrance, Via Solfatara 161 (tel. 081-5262341; www.solfatara.it), pick up the nature trail that leads to the points of interest in the park; the whole thing takes about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Highlights are the Fangaia, with its huge bubbling mud holes, and the Bocca Grande, Solfatara's main crater. Because Solfatara is the epicenter of the Phlegrean Fields' volcanic area, the ancients believed this was the residence of the god Vulcanus. Nearby are the Stufe (Italian for stoves): a number of small caves constantly filled by hot steam. During antiquity, they were used as natural saunas. Entry fees are 6€ for adults, 4.50€ for children 4 to 9, and free for children 3 and under; Artecard holders receive a 20% discount. The park is open daily from 8:30am to 1 hour before sunset.

Exploring Baia

The unique attraction here is obviously the Parco Sommerso di Baia, Harbor of Baia (tel. 081-8688923; www.baiasommersa.it), the submerged archaeological site. The ruins are only a few feet below the surface, and the visit is an eerie and magical experience, however you choose to go about viewing it. Many of the structures have been excavated and in places roped off and labeled for visitors coming by guided scuba or snorkeling tour (not available in winter) or by boat equipped with a submerged video camera or clear bottom. Visits by boat are possible only during good weather (mid-Mar to mid-Nov Tues-Sun 9:30am-1:30pm and 3:30-7:30pm); boats depart from the dock in Baia's harbor, and the tours cost 25€ inclusive of admission, insurance, and boat transport. If you want to enjoy the ruins from underwater, a guided scuba tours costs 35€ and a snorkeling tours costs 20€ including boat transport, equipment hire, admission, and insurance. You can book these tours either through the park (at the above number) or with one of the local authorized diving centers: Centro Sub Campi Flegrei (tel. 081-8531563; www.centrosubcampiflegrei.it) or Centro Subacqueo 'Ulisse' (tel. 081-3043824 or 338-2918942).

The unsubmerged part of Baia boasts some quite exceptional ruins. The Parco Monumentale, Via Bellavista (tel. 081-8687592; free admission; open daily 9am to 1 hr. before sunset; last entrance 1 hr. before closing time) is a huge archaeological area covering 14 hectares (34 acres) of "historical landscape" on which excavations are ongoing and where you can walk among the ruins of imperial residences and elegant villas now shaded by pine trees to a backdrop of fabulous views. The Parco Archeologico Terme di Baia, whose main entrance is at Via Sella di Baia 22 (tel. 081-8687592; admission 4€, includes Anfiteatro Flavio and Serapeo in Pozzuoli, Museo Archeologico in Baia, and Scavi di Cuma, and is valid 2 days; Tues-Sun 9am to 1 hr. before sunset, last entrance 1 hr. before closing time; closed Jan 1, May 1, and Dec 25), features the ruins of the Imperial Palace and the thermal baths. These were the most celebrated of ancient Roman baths, beloved by the VIPs of ancient Rome both for the therapeutic properties of their waters and for the matchless scenery. Built by Emperor Ottaviano between 27 B.C. and A.D. 14, the baths took advantage of local, natural hot springs and were hydraulically engineered to be fed by gravity only. The shifting ground, however, altered the original construction, and little water reaches the baths today. We recommend starting with the Parco Monumentale and taking the scenic footpath, which starts from the Esedra (the park's main square) and connects with a secondary entrance to the Parco Archeologico (which doesn't offer ticket sales).

Don't miss the Museo Archeologico dei Campi Flegrei, Via Castello 39 (tel. 081-5233797 or 848-800288), a small but perfectly formed museum housed in the scenic Castello Aragonese which overlooks the harbor from atop a small promontory. Built in 1442 by Alfonso d'Aragona, the castle is worth a visit in itself, if nothing else for the view. Inside is a superb collection, including chunks of rooms that were carefully excavated from local ancient Roman villas and reconstructed here, such as the Sacello degli Augustali and the famous Ninfeo di Punta Epitaffio (a ninfeo is an ancient Roman porch enclosed with columns -- this one was found underwater) from the excavations of Baia and Miseno, and the Ninfeo of Emperor Claudius. Admission is 2.50€, or you can buy a combined ticket for 4€ that includes the entrance to Anfiteatro Flavio and Serapeo in Pozzuoli, Zona Archeologica in Baia, and Scavi di Cuma (valid 2 days). Hours are Tuesday to Sunday from 9am to 1 hour before sunset (museum closed Jan 1, May 1, and Dec 25).

Baia is also a good base for exploring the bay; you can rent a boat from the Associazione Barcaioli di Baia (tel. 081-8701222), or join an organized boat excursion with the ferry company Alilauro (tel. 081-4972222; www.alilauro.it). All the above companies are located along the dock in the harbor.

Last but not least, you can enjoy a bit of relaxation ancient-Roman style in the spa Terme Stufe di Nerone, Via Stufe di Nerone 45, Bacoli (tel. 081-8688006; www.termestufedinerone.it), where there are two operating natural saunas. Hours vary, so call before your visit.

Exploring Cuma

The entrance to the archaeological area, Parco Archeologico di Cuma (tel. 081-8543060), is at Via Acropoli 1. The site has several ruins. On the Acropolis are two temples -- one to Apollo and the other to Jupiter -- which served as churches from the Middle Ages; beyond the fortified walls is the Necropolis and an amphitheater dating from the late 2nd century B.C. Nearby is Cuma's most intriguing and atmospheric site, the mysterious Antro della Sibilla (Sibylla's cave). According to legend, this is where the famous oracle received her supplicants. Whatever the truth, the majestic proportions of the long, narrow trapezoidal tunnel and the engineering feat of its construction out of sheer rock are admirable. The terrace outside the cave provides a splendid view over the harbor of Cuma, which is in itself reason enough for a visit. Admission to the park alone is 2.50€ or you can buy a combined ticket for 4€ that includes entry to the Anfiteatro Flavio and the Serapeo in Pozzuoli, the Museo Archeologico and the Zona Archeologica in Baia, and is valid 2 days (daily 9am to 1 hr. before sunset; last admission 1 hr. before closing time; closed Jan 1, May 1, and Dec 25).

As you leave the excavations, notice the imposing arch the local road passes under: Named Arco Felice by locals, it dates from the 1st century A.D., when the mountain was cut and a viaduct was built for the passage of the Domitian Road, an immense engineering feat realized under Emperor Domitian. Also nearby is Lake Averno: Described by classic poet Virgil in the Aeneid as the entrance to the underworld, this volcanic lake is strangely dark and quiet. Its name is ancient Greek for "no birds," and it is believed that volcanic vapors might have kept the animals away. Despite its dark fame, in 37 B.C. Marco Agrippa had it connected via a long channel to the nearby lagoon Lucrino for use as a Roman shipyard. On the eastern shore are the remains of a large thermal bath complex, known as Tempio di Apollo.

The largest of the volcanic lakes is Lake Fusaro, a short distance farther to the south. It was known to the ancients as Acherusia Palus, or the Infernal Swamp. In 1782, quite indifferent to the ancients beliefs, Ferdinando IV Bourbon had architect Carlo Vanvitelli (son of the famous Luigi) build a hunting and fishing lodge, the Casina Reale (Via Fusaro, Bacoli), on a little island in the lake. You can arrange a visit by appointment only (tel. 081-8687080).

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.