Stunning new photographs show an ancient party city that is now submerged under water and open as a visitor attraction.
The special undersea park near Naples reveals the buried treasures of Baiae, a resort dubbed the Monte Carlo of the ancient Roman era.
It is believed to have been a town of vice, where the rich and powerful would party for days, have affairs and shamelessly flaunt their wealth.
It was also the place where senator Gaius Calpurnius Piso plotted to kill Emperor Nero.
Emperors including Augustus, Nero and Caligula had homes in Baiae, and some of the ruins of the villa belonging to Julius Caesar are on display at the Campi Flegrei archaeological museum.
But the lower part of the town became submerged in the sea due to volcanic activity.
Now the real-life Atlantis has been turned into a marine visitor attraction after underwater archaeology revealed ancient relics.
Tourists can explore the ruins by snorkelling or scuba-diving with a registered guide. There are seven dive spots to choose from, including Portus Julius, the home of senator Piso and the nymphaeum of emperor Claudius.
Divers can check out an ornate mosaic floor on which Roman nobility would have hosted non-stop parties and the remains of walls that once surrounded a spa.
Ancient Roman relics were occasionally found during the 19th century, the Guardian reports.
The discovery of marble sculptures during a dredging operation off Pozzuoli in the 1920s interested fascist leader Benito Mussolini so much that he suggested draining the area to see what other treasures might crop up.
Then in the 1940s, Italian air force pilot Raimondo Baucher spotted what he described as a “strange ghost town” while flying low over what was once the harbour of Portus Julius.
Aerial photos taken by Baucher, who was also a free-diving pioneer, captured clearly the shape of walls, marble columns, roads, breakwaters and elaborate pavements.
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Since then, archaeologists have found dozens of antiques and an archaeological map of the submerged town was drawn up, showing roads lined with buildings.
The first significant dig was attempted in the early 1980s, during which the nymphaeum, a room filled with marble statues commissioned by Emperor Claudius, was found.
Replicas of the statues stand on the seabed today; the originals are on display in the museum.
Other discoveries include ancient baths, fountains, fishponds and a water pipe engraved with his surname in the home of senator Gnaeus Calpurnius Piso.
The 437-acre undersea site has been a protected marine area since 2002. Before that, many relics were pilfered and sold overseas – with one ending up in the Getty Museum in Los Angeles.
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