Italy Today

Discovering Ischia's underwater treasures

Exploring the relics of the lost city of Aenaria, an ancient Roman port dating back to the 4th century B.C.

Discovering Ischia's underwater treasures

Claudia Astarita

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The sea surrounding Italy hides a number of treasures. An incredibly precious one was discovered 20 metres underwater, not far from Naples'coastal line. As explained by the magazine Italianicious, it all started in 1972, when two divers, Pierino Boffelli e Rosario D'Ambra, found by chance lead ingots with Roman inscriptions near the island of Ischia.

Many years passed without anyone fully understanding that their finding was the beginning of one of the world's most important archaeological digs. The relics were, in fact, the remnants of the lost city of Aenaria, an ancient Roman port dating back to the 4th century B.C. It is now ascertained that Aenaria lies beside the modern port of Ischia, a few hundred meters from the medieval Aragonese Castle. The city, which took its name from the Latin word aenum (metal), was destroyed by a volcano or an earthquake. It was a rich industrial centre where lead, iron, copper and clay were worked on. Aenaria was also an important trading market, with merchants coming form all over the Mediterranean basin.

Massive excavations began in 2010 and the project has involved both scientists and local fishermen, who are working together above and below the water to uncover all of the settlement's hidden secrets. Ceramics, mosaics, glass, columns and a 20-metre long piece of an ancient wooden pier are now in the hands of enthusiastic archaeologists, who are studying them to better understand how the daily life of the ancient port went on.

According to historian Costanza Gialanella from the cultural superintendency of Naples, finding Aenaria was "one of the most important discoveries in the world. We have not found other underwater cities like this and up until a few years ago we didn't even know if it existed." Today, it is possible to explore the mysterious underwater city, thank to an extensive service of glass-bottomed boats.

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