The upside-down fig of the Terme di Baia

by Gerardo Russo

In the fascinating scenario of Terme di Baia, a few steps from the Temple of Mercury, a very particular wild fig grows. It is a fig upside down. The tree has in fact confused the earthly abysses with the celestial ones and has decided to extend downwards. A very particular phenomenon in a land, that of the Campi Flegrei, which among volcanoes, bradyseism and glories of the ancient Romans has very little of normal.

The upside-down fig of the Terme di Baia
The fig upside down

When the fig tree flipped over

The fig tree, until the 1940s, grew luxuriantly upwards. However, when the archaeological excavations of the area began in the last century, the tree was destroyed. The fig tree had strong roots and therefore he thought well that it might as well start growing upside down, mistaking the ceiling for the floor.

The upside-down fig is located near the Temple of Mercury, a structure that actually has nothing to do with religion. The scholars of the eighteenth century, faced with its majesty, hypothesized it was a sacred building. It was actually a 'spa classroom.

The upside-down fig of the Terme di Baia
Temple of Mercury

In the land of bradyseism

The Temple of Mercury, consisting of a large dome with the lumen central, it was built to exploit the hydrothermal resources of the subsoil. It is essentially a temple full of water, renamed "Echo temple”By the writer Antonella Cilento, for the rumble that is created inside. The current height of the temple does not correspond to the original one. In fact, for the most part, only the ceiling can be seen, while the real floor is quite below the current one. This is due to the bradyseismic phenomena of the area, the slow lifting or lowering of the land that characterizes the Campi Flegrei.

The bradyseism causes a large part of the Temple of Mercury to be invaded by water today. In reality, the entire area was covered in the past by material transported by the sea, during periods of lowering of the soil. A new layer of soil rose over Baia's past, which meanwhile was submerged by debris carried by the sea. It was on the “new soil” that our wild fig was previously growing.

The scenery of the Terme di Baia

The subsidence of the soil below sea level, due to bradyseism, would have occurred in two phases. The first between the third and fifth centuries AD, only to be followed by a major one between the seventh and seventh century AD.ancient bay was submerged by the waters. The place chosen by emperors and politicians to get away from worldly life remained hidden for centuries, until the excavations of the last century that brought to light the thermal complexes that house the upside-down fig. The tree is admirable in Archaeological Park of Terme di Baia, in the Municipality of Bacoli.

The upside-down fig of the Terme di Baia
The Baths of Baia

The fig upside down in literature

There are several literary works that draw inspiration from the upside-down fig of the Terme di Baia. Antonella Cilento sees in the upside-down fig, told in Icarus, the homosexual love felt by a rich merchant for a young and perfidious Roman prince. The two met for the first time in the temple of Mercury, described by the author as "a dome immersed in the ground“.

Patrizia Rinaldi uses the wild fig in a dialogue, describing it as the tree that violates the rule of high and low, to then move on to the metaphor of a giraffe who thinks she is the only one who can get to the fig branches.

The hair at the bottom and the roots at the top for Agnese Palumbo recall the 69 of the Neapolitan grimace, as well as the synthesis of a journey that, leading downwards, allows you to overcome and improve yourself, thus reaching the top.

A change of perspective

In a place where the earth gives way to the sea in fits and starts, where volcanoes are underfoot together with the past, it is easy for a fig tree to misunderstand and no longer know which way to look.

The change of perspective given to us by the tree is unsettling. How many things would we be able to see if we could subvert our patterns? The inverted fig tries to suggest it, discovering a new sky to look at. The roots, which seemed to rest in simple ground, were actually placed among the stones of a vault of a thermal room. A new perspective, to be able to reach the tall branches of a fig even without being a giraffe.

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References:

Antonella Cilento; Naples shines on the sea; 2012

Agnese Palumbo; I love Naples; 2018

Patrizia Rinaldi; Warm red; 2014

Campi Flegrei Archaeological Park - Roman Baths

ArcheoFlegrei - The Baths of Baia, the little Rome

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