Before you take a trip to Pompeii or Herculaneum, make sure you make your way to the suburb of Pozzuoli.
If you have a few days in Naples, the town of Pozzuoli is well worth a day (or two) of your time. Spend half a day wandering around the Solfatara and Flavian Amphitheater and then scuba dive through sunken treasures and Roman villas.
Originally founded by the Greeks of Cumae around B.C. 521, Pozzuoli was originally known as Dicaearchia. The Romans named it Puteoli (latin for stink) and under the Roman Empire it became a busy and important port of trade, importing goods from all over the Mediterranean.
If you like biblical history, it is recorded that the Apostle Paul (St Paul) visited Puteoli in 61AD, where he stayed for a week before heading to Rome on the Appian Way.
The nearby towns of Baia and Arco Felice (Lucrino) have thermal lakes and hot springs,Pozzuoli and its surrounds became a spa resort for the elite. Pozzuoli gained in importance as it laid at a critical crossroad which linked Naples, Capua and Cuma. Wealthy from trade and with ample hot springs, it became the Emperors playground. Some of the Empires most powerful people Nero, Cicero, and Caesar were known to visit or have Villas there. The Roman elite visited the thermal baths and had opulent villas in the resort town so there are many relics from the empire to be explored.
Emperor Gaius Caligula famously rode his horse over the Gulf of Baia for days on a temporary bridge he built from boats. He wanted to give a big ‘up yours’ to an astrologer’s prediction that he had “no more chance of becoming Emperor than of riding a horse across the Gulf of Baia.”
After the fall of the Roman Empire, Pozzuoli fell into a state of decline. Pozzuoli suffered from the ravages of many wars and volcanic eruptions of the Solfatara in 1198 and Monte Nuovo in 1538. The area is subject to siesmic activity know as bradyseism, the land of Pozzuoli rises and falls like it’s breathing which has seen many of its important ruins submerged under water. At times it was almost deserted. At the end of the last century, it was an area of poverty. World War II further ravaged the already struggling city. Hollywood legend Sophia Loren shined a brief spotlight on the region as she was raised in Pozzuoli until she reached her teens.
Pozzuolis fortunes reversed when a 1970 earthquake uncovered the ancient city of Puteoli, which had been built over in the towns decline. The area is now being treated to a much deserved renaissance in tourism with the ancient city soon to be re-opened to the public.
Things to see
The Flavian Amphitheater is the 3rd largest amphitheater in Italy after the Coloseum in Rome and the Capua ampitheatre near Casserta. In its heyday, it could hold between 20,000 -40,000 spectators and has bared witness to gladiatorial battles, matyrs and executions.
Constructed during the reign of Emperor Vespasian (70AD) it is said to have been finished by his son, Titus. The chambers below the arena are wonderful. Littered with fallen columns, you can explore the rooms where gladiators would have waited preparing for battle and see the pits where animals where kept to be hauled up and launched into the arena. The site is in good condition and it is nowhere near as busy as the Colosseum.
Address: Via Terracciano 75, 80078 Pozzuoli, Naples
Opening times: Open daily (Except Tuesdays) 9am – 1 hour before dark €2.50 – €4 entry
PH: +39 081-526- 6007
For more information visit – www.comune.pozzuoli.na.it
Macellum (market) – there is no actual entry to the macellum, you can view it from the outside.
The Macellum was the Roman marketplace of Pozzuoli, first built in the late 1st century A.D. A statue of the god Serapis (which today is housed in the Archaeological Museum of Naples), was found at the site and it is one of the best examples of a “macellum” built between the end of the first and the beginning of the second century A.D.
The Macellum is sometimes referred to as the Temple of Serapis because of the statue that was found there.
Serapis was a greco-egyptian god worshipped in the Serapeum of Alexandria. The cult of Serapis was introduced in the 3rd century BC by Ptolemy I of Egypt as a means to unify the Greeks and Egyptians in the realm.
Serapis was worshipped through the Roman Empire, gaining popularity in the late 1st century. Vespasian was a follower after time spent in Alexandria before he returned to Rome and became Emperor. Serapis sometimes appeared on imperial coinage with the reigning emperor.
The Macellum or Temple of Serapis is testimony to the importance of the port and commercial district of “Puteoli” to the Empire.
Rione Terra – Ancient city of Puteoli
The ancient Roman city of Puteoli, will be opening soon for tourists. Rione Terra is Pozzuoli’s oldest quarter The ancient town was buried during earthquakes and seismic activity and preserved underground when new buildings were built above it during the seventeenth century. Because it was entombed, the ancient Roman walls, roads, shops and structures are well preserved, and you can view remnants of everyday life such as mills and ovens and of course the brothels. The 1970 earthquake led to the discovery of these wonderful preserved ruins.
Azienda Autonoma Di Cura Soggiorno E Turismo
Via Giacomo Matteotti, 1, 80078, Pozzuoli, NA, Italy
Ph: +39 081 526 5068
Until the old town opens you can visit the Duomo and see marble columns of the temple to Augustus. There are guided tours of the Duomo (€5) run by the Cultural Association Nemea and can be conducted in English by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org in advance. Contact Nemea for updates on the expected re-opening of the ruins.
Duomo Opening hours: 10am-noon & 5.30-6.30pm Sat, 10-11.30am & 5.30-8pm Sun
Website: – www.cattedralepozzuoli.it
Phone: +39 848 8002 88
Phlegraean Fields – Solfatara
If the ruins are not enough of a draw card, down a hill of this residential suburb, lies part of the Phlegraean Fields and the Solfatara crater.
The steaming, bubbling crater, gives you a taste of what’s lying beneath the surface of Naples. A visit to the Solfatara helps you get lost in the mysterious world of a live volcano. The smell is indescribable, the closest I can tell you is that it is what I imagine 3 week old rotten eggs to smell like.
The ancient inhabitants called the gas ‘the devils stench’ and it was believed the crater was the gateway to Hades and the underworld. The Romans thought it was the mythological home of the Roman God of Fire, Vulcan.
Walking past the bubbling, steaming earth, it’s easy to see why it has inspired such mythology and legend.
The earth is hot and blindingly white. Sulphuric and arsenic steam rise at 160 degrees Celsius from roped off geysers. Mud bubbles wildly and it is a stark reminder that the earth is alive and broiling beneath us, shifting and shape changing. It makes the world we build above seem fragile against the hellish oblivion below.
The crater is a sobering reminder of what was blown into the air when Vesuvius erupted and of the fate that awaited the people of Pompeii and Herculaneum on that hellish night in 79AD.
Walking around I can’t believe the crater is now surrounded by apartment buildings and that people are going about their daily lives without a care.
If you have had enough of the treasures and natural wonders above ground, you can spend time submerging yourself in the magical water world of the underwater villas of the Emperors in Baia.
Archaeological Underwater Park of Baia
Baia was once a place of wild partying and sordid soirees. These days it is a rather bland sea port that hides it attractions in the bay. If you want to dive amongst sunken treasure, there is a wonderful place called the Il Parco Archeologico Sommerso di Baia (Archeological Underwater Park of Baia). Tick off you bucket list a visit to one of the world’s few underwater archaeological parks.
The local dive centres can take you to discover the mosaics and columns. If you don’t dive, in some areas you can view through glass-bottomed boats or snorkel in some areas. If you do dive, you can swim through the resort homes visited by Julius Caesar and Nero.
The park is divided into regions Portus Julisu, Secca delle fumose, Ninfeao di Claudio, Villa de Pisoni and Villa Protiro.
Villa a Protiro is the highlight for most and can be accessed by snorkelling. It has original statues and extensive marble floors that can be viewed.
The following companies offer a range of tours and options, you can check out their social media to see videos of the programmes.
Centro Sub Campi Flegrei
Via Miliscola, 169NA5 at Lido Montenuovo
80078 Pozzuoli (NA) Italy
Ph: +39 081 8531563
Tripadvisor rating – 1/4 tours in Pozzuoli
Ph: +39 3494974183
Recommended by the Lonely Planet
How to get there:
Pozzuoli is easy to visit from Sorrento and Naples by Train. Its takes anywhere between 20-40 minutes to get there from Naples.
Both the Ferrovia Cumana (www.sepsa.it) and the Naples metro (www.anm.it) (line 2 ) go to Pozzuoli. We took the train from Napoli Piazza Cavour to the Pozzuoli-Solfatara station – approx 35 mins – costs up to €8.
Unico Campania is the regions transport manager and they offer a Unico Napoli 90 minute ticket or a 24 hour ticket for unlimited travel or the Artecard sighteseeing pass for travel by bus, tram, metro, Ferrovia Cumana or Circumflegrea. All Unico Campania tickets are sold at stations, AMN booths and tobacconists. You can also visit and purchase here: www.unicocampania.it
By bus, take AMN bus 152 from Naples. (www.anm.it) It goes from Piazza Garibaldi, it stops at the Solfatara then goes to Pozzuoli, where is stops near the Amphitheater, with a final stop on Via ROman in from the Temple of Serapide.
If you are driving, take the Tangenziale ring road from Naples and use the Pozzuoli exit. If you want a scenic drive and aren’t in a hurry, go Via Francesco Caracciolo for pretty views along the waterfront to Posillipo, then on to Pozzuoli.
When you reach Pozzuoli, you can walk to the crater. It takes about 20 minutes from the station. It is well signposted, just follow the tourist signs to the site.
The Flavian Amphitheatre is close to the waterfront of Pozzuoli, it is about 10 minutes from the station and it is a 25 minute walk between the Solfatara and the theatre.
It is about a 10 minute walk between the Amphitheatre and the Macellum and a further 10 minutes to the Rione Terre. The map below has the major sites highlighted in yellow.
www.Italia.it – this is Italy’s National tourist authority
www.Beniculturali.it – historic and cultural ministry sites
www.Coopculture.it – this organisation runs some of the larger museums and archeological and ancient sights.