The area is bordered to the east by the hill of Posillipo, to the north by Quarto, to the west by Cumae and Monte di Procida and to the south by the Gulf of Pozzuoli.
Due to the geographical characteristics, the islands of Procida and Ischia are also closely associated to the Phlegraean Fields.
The Phlegraean Fields take their name from the Greek, ”burning earth”. In reality, the area is characteristically volcanic and susceptible to bradyseism, i.e. the slow vertical ground movements which are imperceptible to man but are evident in coastal areas by regarding changes in sea levels. The origin hereof is attributed to the presence of a deep lying magmatic mass which, due to its pressure, provokes the deformation of overlying rocks.
The Temple of Serapis, in close proximity to Pozzuoli harbour, presents a historical testimony to this phenomenon.
Whilst volcanic activity is generally considered to be destructive and dangerous, this is not always the case. There are also numerous significant advantages from which the resident population can take benefit, not least the geothermal energy and thermal waters which the Romans harnessed and built their spas around.
The phenomenon is also visible underwater; diving at Secca della Formosa offers the opportunity to see a series of active fumaroles.
From a historical point of view speaking of the Phlegraean Fields is not possible without mentioning Cumae, the ancient fortified city of Campania situated on at the Tyrrhenian Sea. Founded by settlers from Chalcis coming over from the island of Euboea in around 730 BC it was, according to the Greek geographer Strabone, the first Greek colony in Italy but was, in fact, successive to the settlement of Pithecusae on Ischia. In the space of a few years it became a flourishing city trading in marine mercantile and exchanging with the hinterland.
In the 6th century BC, with the consent of the Cumaean and in an area they already inhabited, a group of refugees from the island of Samos founded the city of Dicaearchia, “the city of the just government” (today’s Pozzuoli).
The origin of Naples can also be connected to Cumae given that the Cumaean founded the colony of Parthenope in the 4th century BC, a colony which was subsequently destroyed and on whose ruins Neapolis, ”new city”, was built.
In the second half of the 5th century BC the Roman conquests began. Cumae was conquered between 428 and 421.
During the next three centuries the role of Cumae became less and less important as the economic-commercial axis moved in favour of the larger trading port of Rome. Pozzuoli began to acquire great importance as a port in its own right; it lost the name of Dicaearchia and became known as Puteoli (being a sink due to the many volcanic craters, or less commonly Putidus, “smelly”, due to the sulphuric gases of the volcanoes).
Situated on the coast of the Gulf of Naples and in easy communicating distance with the rich city of Capua, the strategic position of Pozzuoli made Emperor Augustus elect it as the prime port of Rome, more important even than Rome’s own port, Ostia. During this period, the city’s splendour and economy was unsurpassable. Not only this, but also the beauty of its landscape and its thermal attributes, drew the interest of many a rich Roman; the dictator Sulla, the writer and political theorist Cicero, the Emperor Augustus and many other rich Roman families had villas in Pozzuoli.
Some three centuries later, the downfall of Pozzuoli slowly began; the port at Ostia underwent widening works and other commercial centres in Italy declined, unavoidable connected to the fate of the Roman Empire. With its decline not only were fewer tourists attracted to the area but local inhabitants also moved away to the neighbouring city of Naples which offered a more promising future. The once splendid and well developed area fell into decay and, slowly but surely, nature resumed the upper hand and the buildings fell into ruin.
Birth of Monte Nuovo and the Underwater City
The cataclysm which gave birth to Monte Nuovo and the necessary reconstruction of the village of Tripergole occurred in a single night in 1538. Moreover, this was also the cause of the slow littoral sinking in respect to sea level which completely disrupted the geological structure of the area and reduced the relief to its present state leaving a large number of buildings submerged.
Today, numerous in-situ artefacts from the Roman era are only able to be viewed underwater; the most important of these are:
Ÿ Portus Julius
Ÿ Pisonian Villa
Ÿ Protiro Villa
Ÿ Fish Pools
Jumping into more recent times, we come to the 20th century, where attempts have been made to give the area a different face to that which it once had. Industrial development saw the introduction of many significant factories, e.g. ILVA (wood painting and coatings), Alenia Aeronautica (defence and commercial aircraft), Olivetti (computers, printers, etc.), PIRELLI (tyres), etc., which guaranteed an industrial economy providing employment and the illusion of easy gains but, at the same time, aided the area’s decline. The present industrial situation has seen the closure of many factories and attempts have been made to fall back on the area’s heritage and promote tourism within the area.