The Roman villa’s ruins feature an extraordinary fig tree that defies gravity by growing downwards year after year and even producing figs.
The fig tree in the picture has grown in a unique way. The town of Baiae was an ancient Roman town that was situated on the northwest shore of the Gulf of Naples, in an area known as Phlegraenan Fields, which is an active volcanic area. It was a popular vacation spot for wealthy aristocrats and even emperors like Julius Caesar, Nero, and Caligula had villas there. Baiae was considered to be as exclusive as Capri, Pompeii, or Herculaneum during the fall of the Roman Republic. Many historians of the time described it as the Beverly Hills of those days, where the elite of Roman society could enjoy a luxurious environment away from the watchful eye of Rome.
Baiae, an opulent vacation spot in ancient Rome, was well-known for its lavish villas and wealthy visitors. These villas were constructed boldly between 100 BC and AD 500, with many becoming property of the empire under Augustus’ rule. They were mostly situated on terraces along the coastline, and several had their own fisheries to provide fresh fish daily. According to Sextus Propertius’ elegy from the Augustan Age, Baiae was a place where hedonistic guests and residents indulged in beach parties and long drinking sessions.
Unfortunately, Baiae was pillaged and robbed twice – once during the barbarian invasion of Rome and again by Muslim raiders in the 8th century. By the 1500s, it was wholly deserted because of a recurring malaria outbreak. Furthermore, volcanic activity in the region resulted in the lower parts of the city being submerged underwater. Nowadays, the modern city of Bacoli contains the ancient ruins of Baiae. While the once-glamorous resort town has now become a highly revered tourist attraction, the submerged villas and stunning architecture have been preserved in an underwater archaeological park.
Beyond the ruins of Baiae, there is something extraordinary that captures the attention of keen observers – a large fig tree growing downwards from the ceiling of an archway. Although these trees are often seen growing out of bricks and buildings, an inverted one like this is quite rare and remarkable.
The common fig tree, Ficus carica, is originally from the Mediterranean and western Asia, but is now found all over the world. It is also one of the first plants that humans ever cultivated. Ancient fig fossils have been discovered in the Jordan Valley, near Jericho, dating back to 9400-9200 BC. Edible figs were highly popular in ancient Greece and Rome, so it’s likely that the wealthy guests of Baiae enjoyed them as well.
Despite preferring dry and sunny locations with fresh soil, fig trees can grow out of almost anything, as long as there is some source of water available. Thanks to its sturdy and aggressive roots, it can even support itself in inhospitable locations, such as on an ancient Roman ceiling, for instance.
Fig trees are impressively strong, able to thrive in even the most unwelcoming of surroundings. The fig tree that grows amidst the ruins of Baiae is a testament to this resilience. Though it’s unclear how the tree managed to grow in such a rocky and inhospitable environment, it’s believed that rainwater seeping through the rocks provides the tree with the necessary hydration to survive. Regardless of the specific circumstances that led to its growth, the tree serves as a reminder that life has a way of persevering.