North 120


Entering North 120

Left: the entry from the Traverse into North 120. Right: diagram of North and South 120 and the connecting Traverse tunnel.

Looking down at the hole we climbed through, we can see that we emerged into some kind of depression set into the floor of North 120, with the entrance low down in North 120’s side wall.

There is a considerable quantity of soil on the floor here and if the Traverse was originally high enough for a human to walk through, then the actual floor base must be somewhat lower still.

This transition seems clumsy and suggests perhaps that the tunnel was dug up from South 120 upwards into North 120 and was not calculated to meet up accurately, or perhaps it would have made the incline too steep. That it meets up at all is a wonder. Navigation through solid rock for any distance without modern aids is not a trivial undertaking.

The end of North 120

Above: the blind end of North 120.

Ventilation of the tunnels

In the twin tunnels of North and South 120, Doc Paget felt that the designers of the tunnel system had solved the ventilation problem inherent in a tunnel system which has but a single entrance – something that is not normally possible without an entrance and an exit, with a through flow of air.

In Doc Paget’s words: "In the Antrum, the designers have made use of the physical law of convection to achieve their purpose. I have already refered to the hot spot at the bottom of 290. This is also the lowest point in the whole complex. From here the gradients of the tunnels are so arranged that the hot air rises to the level of the Inner Sanctuary floor. The North 120 Passage is at a higher level than the south 120 to ensure that the smoke and foul air will go out to the Dividing of the Ways by that route. At the Dividing of the Ways, before the tiles blocked the opening, the foul air spilled into the roof of 290 and 270 to continue out to daylight. The circuit was completed by an inflow of cold fresh air along the floors of 270 and 290 down to the water. The system works even today, when the exit into 290 is closed by the tiles. It must have been very efficient when in proper working trim."

Yet the above fails to entirely satisfy, because we can see that here in North 120 are lamp niches, which indicate a ceremonial use for this tunnel also. It is thus unlikely to be purely utilitarian.

Looking at the picture above of the blind tunnel end, neatly rounded off, we can see a lamp niche even here, high up in the right wall. Why light the blind end?

The member of Doc Paget’s archaeological team who has been kind enough to share his thoughts with me points out that the end of this tunnel would in fact line up very well with the Chimney that we saw lower down, connecting above the Styx with the Rise.

In negotiating the hazardous Rise, where a false slip on the loose soil could mean a nasty fall through the Chimney, the last thought is to look up at the roof here, to see if there is perhaps a shaft above.

The blind end of North 120 has a quantity of soil on its floor. My correspondent suggests this might be obscuring an access point in the floor which has been blocked off, as in so many other places.

Continuing along North 120

North 120 has been deliberately blocked with soil some distance into the tunnel.

The soil blockage in North 120.

The soil has settled sufficiently over the centuries to leave a small space visible above the soil. An experiment was undertaken by shining torches from either end of North 120 which verified that they could see each other’s beams, so we know that North 120 ends behind the Dividing of the Ways. There is a change of direction somewhere along the length, as there is in South 120. It is assumed that the soil blocks North 120 from this point in the picture above to the small clear area at the back of the dividing door.

Where am I?

Soil in S120 tunnel

The writing on the wall

Before we get to this blockage in North 120, there exists the only piece of any kind of decoration found anywhere so far in the tunnels. High up on the wall is a graffito in red letters about 30 cms (1 foot) high.

High up on the wall is a graffito in red letters about 30 cms (1 foot) high.

The graffito close up and the oil lamp niche.

It can clearly be seen that the daub goes over one of the oil lamp niches in the wall, which seems an odd choice of location if this symbol was important in any way. In this very niche Doc Paget found what he took to be a Roman plumb bob.

Doc Paget noticed this painting and attempted a tracing of it which he published in his book "In the Footsteps of Orpheus". To Doc Paget it seemed to say something like ILLIUS MAR.

Left: Doc Paget’s interpretation and right: a superimposition on the wall.

With the benefit of better photography, we can see that Doc Paget’s interpretation seems a little awry, although we can identify his monogram Mar.

If the word Illius is really there, which seems doubtful, it might refer to a word used for Troy.

To date there have been two interpretations put on the Mar word. One is that MAR is a version of the word Hera, the Chthonic Deity who was worshipped before the male principle of the Olympian Gods usurped her.

The other explanation is that MAR is a monogram of Marcius.

A Roman coin shows a similar monogram of MAR for Marcius. There was a Marcius who was responsible for inspecting and closing Bacchic shrines as a result the de Bacchanalibus decree of 186 BC. Unfortunately we don’t know if this Marcius was responsible for inspecting the Campania region, but it is a possibility. The painting might be his inspection mark and the blocking up with soil may have been at his instruction at that date.

Left: a picture of the graffito, taken circa 1970. Right: the inscription photographed by cameraman Colin Rogal during the shooting of Robert Temple’s documentary ‘Descent into Hell’.

For now we cannot know whether this is more than an idle daub on the wall or something highly significant. Hopefully one day we will find out.

Is this really the Oracle of the Dead?

A brief conclusion to the subject of the tunnels and the historical background to Doc Paget’s findings finish our look at the interior tunnel system at Baia.

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