Piscina Mirabilis

Arriving in the town of Bacoli, on the headland a few miles west of the centre of Naples, you feel a long way from the tourist crowds and certainly not anywhere historic or especially noteworthy.

But look into the history of the area and you’ll find that the bay here, now surrounded by slightly shabby buildings and busy with the daily life of a marina, was once home to Classis Misenensis – the most important part of the Roman naval fleet.

Misenum – now Miseno – was the naval base and the hillsides surrounding the port were dotted with expansive villas. Amongst the residents was Gaius Plinius Secundus – Pliny the Elder, prefect of the fleet – whose detailed observations of the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79 form a large part of the known history of the event. It was fascinating to stand on the headland this summer and see the view from which he had observed one of the most famous natural events in documented history.

Vesuvius in the distance, from the headland where Pliny the Elder documented the AD 79 eruption.

Amongst the backstreets of the town is something quite unexpected. At the end of a quiet street is a semi-ruined building, sunk into the hillside. This is what we had come to see and by arranging an appointment in advance with the caretaker, we gained access to the Piscina Mirabilis – a huge freshwater “cistern” built by the Romans to collect and store water for the nearby fleet. The piscina was fed from the end of the Aqua Augusta – a huge aqueduct running around the Bay of Naples from the Terminio-Tuoro mountains, some 140km away. Although ruined, it’s still largely in the form it would’ve been 2,000 years ago and the vaulted ceiling and 48 huge supporting pillars are quite something to see.

There are more photos from our visit in my Flickr stream.

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