It was hell down there!
October 8, 2012 8:13 PM   Subscribe

A visit to the underworld: the unsolved mystery of the tunnels at Baiae "In 1932, the entrance to a hitherto unknown tunnel was discovered in the ruins of the old Roman resort of Baiae, on the Bay of Naples. Packed with rubble, wreathed in choking gases, and heated to more than 120 degrees Fahrenheit by nearby magma chambers, it was difficult and dangerous to excavate. But when, after 10 long years of work, the amateur team exploring it finally broke through to lower levels, they uncovered something truly remarkable: a complex, pre-dating the Romans, built around a boiling underwater stream that seemed to have been designed to ape a visit to the Greeks’ mythical underworld." (A Blast from the Past)
posted by moonmilk (30 comments total) 69 users marked this as a favorite

 
this is relevant to my interests.
posted by The Whelk at 8:31 PM on October 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


That is really, really cool. I wish we had more definite information.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:40 PM on October 8, 2012


So.... ancient predecessor of the Scared Straight program????
posted by theartandsound at 8:51 PM on October 8, 2012


The world's first dark ride.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 9:23 PM on October 8, 2012 [6 favorites]


As a lover of bathing in hotspring fed bodies of water in general, I just have to say...

Yep, awesome, boo ya!
posted by RolandOfEld at 9:26 PM on October 8, 2012


I like hot springs too, but near-boiling sulfurous springs deep underground might not be so cozy.

By the way, immediate summary judgment to whomever can identify the piece of culture referenced in the post title.
posted by moonmilk at 9:28 PM on October 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


moonmilk: Oh! Dante's Inferno!?
posted by basicchannel at 9:30 PM on October 8, 2012


Nope!
posted by moonmilk at 9:42 PM on October 8, 2012


I'll go for my standby - buckaroo bonzai

Anyway, the comments on that link are hilarious.
posted by roboton666 at 9:59 PM on October 8, 2012


moonmilk: The Pink Panther Strikes Again?
posted by eendje at 10:07 PM on October 8, 2012


"Five years. Five, long, years. That's how long it took us to get Harvest back. At first it was going well. Then setback after setback, loss after loss, made what was going to be a quick and decisive win into five years of hell. Of course that's all Harvest is today. It's hell down there. But now it's ours again."
posted by unliteral at 10:07 PM on October 8, 2012


Judgement in favor of eendje!
posted by moonmilk at 10:14 PM on October 8, 2012


More pics from the commenter John Smout.
posted by unliteral at 10:18 PM on October 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Humph! Well, that's the last time I use a Halo quote then.
posted by unliteral at 10:20 PM on October 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


This is neat! Thanks for the post.
posted by brundlefly at 11:12 PM on October 8, 2012


Truly fascinating. One gets the impression that some crazy shenanigans went on there long ago, but the passage of millennia has erased all context save the bare rock walls. (And a little graffiti.) That whole complex sounds like it might have been full of secret tunnels and rooms, where who knows what Bacchanalian rites were performed. Century upon century of secrets...

And the article in the main link asks a very good question, which applies even if you think the tunnel was simply intended to fill the hot water tanks above:
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. There is no trace of the boiling river at the surface–and it was not until the 1970s, after Paget’s death, that his collaborators finally discovered, by injecting colored dyes into its waters, that it flows into the sea miles away, on the northern side of Cape Miseno.
posted by Kevin Street at 11:37 PM on October 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


Interesting find (ah sweet mysteries of ages lost). I thought the sibyl Amalthea mentioned more interesting than the cave. (The Greeks certainly had the tech to fashion the cave by 600BC.)

Here's the passage with the Ovid quote (from Metamorphosis Bk 14). The sibyl further laments (to Aeneas)
I have already lived
through seven generations and still must see
three hundred harvests, three hundred vintages,
to match the number of those bits of dust.
The day will come when that long stretch of time
will shrink my body from its present shape
and my appendages, worn out with age,
will shrivel to a trifling size.


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.
posted by Twang at 12:07 AM on October 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


I prefer to read about solved mysteries. Now I'm just left wondering.
posted by wierdo at 12:31 AM on October 9, 2012


Thanks for sharing this!
posted by Houstonian at 1:36 AM on October 9, 2012


This has now been added to the official list of awesome RPG locations.
posted by longbaugh at 4:10 AM on October 9, 2012


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. There is no trace of the boiling river at the surface

Is it not obvious that there must have been a natural cave which was widened as part of the design? I guess that's too mundane in a world of Ancient Aliens.
posted by winna at 6:06 AM on October 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you like this story, the whole Blast from the Past blog is worth following. These days he seems to mostly be posting links to his long form articles like this one on Past Imperfect (at Smithsonian), it's all good stuff. Previously on Metafilter.
posted by Nelson at 7:43 AM on October 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Thanks, Nelson! I probably subscribed to the blog after reading that previous post, and then forgot where I found it.
posted by moonmilk at 7:58 AM on October 9, 2012


There's some interesting discussion in the comments after the Smithsonian article, including this bit from Robert Temple, who has a book and a National Geographic documentary about the Baiae tunnels:
It took me 20 years to get permission from the archaeological authorities to undertake the investigations and to film the site, because they believed it to be full of poison gas. But it is not full of poison gas, and the oxygen cylinders and other such precautions which I brought on the first occasion proved to be unnecessary, as well as the rope tied around my ankle so that they could pull out my corpse (I had already signed a form stating that the Italian Government was not responsible for my death). If anyone wants to fund the clearance so that the tunnels may be more fully investigated, let me know.
posted by lurkElongtime at 9:01 AM on October 9, 2012


They might have also found the river by digging a well.
posted by empath at 12:36 PM on October 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Is it not obvious that there must have been a natural cave which was widened as part of the design?"

I don't know about obvious, but this could be. The later Roman resort used geothermal hot springs, so there must have been water emerging from the ground in different places. But if it did make its way to the surface from the "Styx" the pressure must have been relieved somehow, because it wasn't coming out of the tunnel they dug.

In this diagram, you can see that the "Styx" is at sea level, so maybe some ancient engineer figured that a tunnel dug to that depth would hit water.
posted by Kevin Street at 1:40 PM on October 9, 2012


Fascinating. Thanks, moonmilk.
posted by homunculus at 4:27 PM on October 9, 2012


In other news: First Ever Etruscan Pyramids Found in Italy - The pyramids were spotted by a series of ancient stairs that had been carved into the wall of what is now a wine cellar.
posted by homunculus at 4:28 PM on October 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, but did they find Your axe after Matilda's hands took it away?
posted by subbes at 6:05 PM on October 10, 2012


Cat discovers 2,000-year-old Roman catacomb
posted by homunculus at 2:11 PM on October 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


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