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foto-giornalistico redatto dall'amico Michael Sedge per la rivista in lingua
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DIVING INTO THE PAST
BY MICHAEL SEDGE (*) - PHOTOS BY GUIDO PICCHETTI
Romans, in the second century A.D., con-structed a protective wall 45 meters seaward of the city to check storm-tossed waves. Though the wall safeguarded them from the weather, it could not protect them from the subsiding land. Eventually, as a result of earthquakes, volcanic action and a phenomenon known as bradyseismism, the Baian coastline subsided until the entire city lay between 4 and 65 meters seaward of the land, in water 3 to 5 meters deep.
Baiae is but one of many sunken cities remaining in the Mediterranean. In addition to the dozen or so submerged sites in Italian waters, underwater cities have been discovered off the coasts of Greece, France, Yugoslavia, North Africa and Turkey.
The autumn air had been cool as I loaded diving equipment onto a friend's catamaran. "You can almost see your breath," I said. "Do you think the visibility will be good ?" "This is the best time of the year. The algae will be gone, and you'll be able to see everything."
When my fins touched the sandy bottom, I saw a beautiful city. To the left, ancient foundations stretched as far as I could see. On the right, larger remains dropped off into the depths of the sea. Inside the foundations of long lost buildings, colorful
vered an array of treasure, including statuary of mythological gods Aphrodite and Dionysus, now in the National Museum of Archaeology in Naples.
By far the most significant discovery came in 1969 when a member of the Centro Subaqueo Baiano came across a ninfio (sculptured work found in fountains of antiquity) 13 meters from shore in roughly 3.5 meters of water. Unlike the previous treasures, the ninfio was recovered off Punto dell'Epitaffio, 450 meters from the central location of the underwater city. The find turned out to be from an elaborate villa or, as experts speculated at that time, one of the many thermal baths that were popular in and around ancient Baiae. Within this huge underwater structure, divers recovered two more marble statues. Further dives two years later turned up three more marble figures along with an array of household artifacts.
According to Giuliana Tocca Sciarello, superintendent of archaeology in Naples, the statues included a baby, probably a child of the imperial family, a Dionysus, and the most interesting piece of all, a well preserved, detailed depiction of Antonio Minore, who lived during the first half of the first century after Christ. "These discoveries not only put a date to the works, but confirmed the theory that this seventy-two-square-meter structure was not a public bath, as previously considered, but part of theč imperial palace that was known to have existed in Baiae."
Yet the archaeologists had not uncovered all of the city's buried artifacts. As I glided through the water, I noticed an
object protruding about 15 centimeters from theč sand. It was the top of a large amphora that probably would measure 75 centimeters if intact. Lying beside the interior wall of what may have been a villa, I found a round object about 50 centimeters in diameter with a handle on one side and spout on the opposite side. I would later find out that the piece was a third-century oil lamp.
"Divers are always finding new artifacts in the city," a dive-shop owner said. "The most valuable find, I think, was a tiny marble statue about twenty-five centimeters high, in excellent condition." Thievery has become a problem in ancient Baiae. Organized artifact smugglers sell the treasures of Baiae and surrounding archaeological sites to clients in Europe and Japan.
And what about the legal restrictions on
removing artifacts from Italian waters without permits? "This country is
full of ancient finds," the shop owner said. "If you find something, you're
a fool if you don't keep it." This finders-keepers attitude is typical of
many divers. According to the regional minister of antiquities, however,
divers with minor finds can easily and legally keep possession of the
artifacts if they report them and obtain a holder's permit. For valuable
discoveries, which are taken by the state, divers receive a cash award of
25% of the artifact's assessed value. This was the case when the Riace
Bronzes were discovered in 1972 by an amateur diver off the coast of
Reggio Calabria. The statues' estimated value was $ 2 million.
(*) Michael Sedge is a free-lance jour- nalist living in southern Italy.
copyright Guido Picchetti - 3/6/2009