This article first appeared in Issue 1 of our free digital magazine CURIOUS.
In Naples, Italy, visitors to the ruins of Baiae which sit within the modern city of Bacoli will find a botanical take on Stranger Things’ The Upside Down. Here, from the ceiling of a cave in the Parco Archeologico delle Terme di Baia, a fig tree has grown the wrong way up. Exactly how the gravity-defying tree came to be there has botanists stumped, but its unlikely placement doesn’t seem to be slowing it down as it continues to grow (albeit, downwards) and bear fruit.
In its heyday, the ancient Roman city of Baiae was a lively and fashionable resort for the ruling class. Now partially underwater, the vast undersea archaeological park is described by archaeologists as having once been the Monte Carlo of the ancient Roman era where emperors such as Augustus, Caesar and Nero had homes.
A hive of activity, Baiae was also – to its detriment – actively volcanic. Over several centuries, undulations of the Earth’s crust in the region triggered hydrothermal and seismic activity which saw much of the city slip beneath the shoreline.
It was not to be lost, however, thanks to a pilot who noticed that something unusual was going on beneath the waves just off the coast of Naples back in the 1940s. Though photos taken by the pilot appeared to show structures in the ocean, it would be two decades before researchers voyaged in submarines to get a closer look at what was going on.
While our famous upside-down fig tree can be viewed among the above-ground Roman ruins at the Parco Archeologico delle Terme di Baia, visitors can look into the sunken city, too, with glass-bottom boat tours which drift above the ancient archaeological remains.
How to get there
Naples International Airport is the closest to the ancient Roman era archaeological remains. Once in Bacoli, the upside-down fig tree can be found opposite the Temple of Mercury in the Parco Archeologico delle Terme di Baia.
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