I learned a long time ago that often the most interesting parts of Italy lie meters below modern day life. In this case, off the beaten path of Naples takes us back in the time to Imperial Rome in the Piscina Mirabilis (Via Piscina Mirabile, Bacoli, Napoli).
The Piscina was an ancient cistern used to store water for the Roman fleet at Portus Julius. Consider it an ancient reservoir built into the tufo cliff in Bacoli, at the western end of the Gulf of Naples. It was 49 feet high (15 meters) by 236 feet long (72 meters) by 86 feet (25 meters) wide. That’s a lot of water.
Entering the Piscina today you descend into a world that looks like the Hollywood set for a sci-fi movie. It’s damp and moldy. Cobwebs and weeds dangle from the cavernous ceilings, as the sun lights the mysterious space. Stone steps seem to rise and descend to nowhere in particular. I felt very small and insignificant standing amid such a grand space. I could only marvel at the fact that this subterranean chamber was once filled floor to ceiling with water and more astonishing was that the ancient Romans would descend these same steps, to clean it out, once a year.
Piscina Mirabilis is an archaeological site so off the beaten path that you need a car to visit the tiny neighborhood. It is now privately run and open only limited hours during the week but so worthy of a visit.