Rome’s Sunken Secrets

The story of the submerged Roman holiday retreat Baiae, where Emperors and the super-rich enjoyed lavish parties, sought out love affairs and plotted against their political rivals.

In the Bay of Naples lies a hidden wonder of the ancient World: Baiae. A few miles from Pompeii, and three times its size, Baiae was once the exclusive holiday retreat for Roman Emperors and the super rich. Unmatched in the Roman world as a place of pleasures and luxury, it was also a famous den of iniquity and political intrigue.

Now, with the help of a team of experts, this film investigates artefacts and ruins to paint for the first time a comprehensive picture of this ancient luxury resort. Expert historians illustrate how Rome’s elite would flock here to enjoy lavish boat-parties and seek out love affairs amid steaming sulphur baths. This was a place of staggering wealth, strewn with palatial villas with ambitious architectural innovations, elaborate dramatic water features and private fish farms ensuring an endless supply of the finest seafood. Privileged access to extraordinarily well preserved frescoes offers us hints on the splendour of these dwellings.

Described by ancient sources as a sink of vice and decadence often fatal to one's reputation, Baiae was also stage for one of the most infamous episodes in Roman history. In its original setting, our team reconstructs the ruthless plan carried out by the brutal Emperor Nero to murder his own mother. Thanks to exclusive access to the underwater archaeologists, who are studying the site with pioneering technologies, we are granted unique insights into Baiae's past. Diving alongside them, we investigate the submerged ruins to piece together rare clues about their wealthy and powerful owners.

Baiae was built on the ‘land of fire’, a large volcanic area responsible for the hot sulphurous water that made it a thermal resort famous in the ancient world. To its wealthy visitors, the health benefits of its natural springs were an attraction as popular as the lushness of its pleasures. Walking with a renown volcanologist amongst the impressive fumaroles that are still active in the area, we discover the process that led part of Baiae to sink beneath the sea.

Over time whole villas and bathhouses were submerged and with the fall of the Roman Empire, this coastal area was eventually abandoned. With much of it hidden beneath the waves, this exclusive resort was soon forgotten. As they uncover the many secrets of Baiae, our team brings back to light the enormous importance that this site played in the Ancient Rome.  

Production Information

Broadcaster: Channel 4 / PBS

TX Date: April 2017

Format: 1 x 60

Also See: Pompeii: New Secrets Revealed

Executive Producer(s):

Richard Bradley

Caterina Turroni

Raffaele Brunetti