Cuma

The stuff of legends, Cuma exerted a powerful sway on the ancient imagination. Its sun melted Icarus' wings and its shores received Trojan hero Aeneas.

Ancient Cumae was the earliest Greek colony on the Italian mainland, founded in the 8th century BC by Greek colonists from the island of Euboea. The Romans took control in the 3rd century BC and built the impressive Grotta di Cocceio (closed), a straight-line tunnel connecting Cuma to the inland harbour at Lago di Averno.

ACROPOLI DI CUMA MAP P287 @ 081 854 30 60; Via Montecuma; €4; £3 9am-2hrs before sunset; 0 12 from Pozzuoli

The centre of the ancient settlement of Cuma was the acropoli (acropolis). Situated at the base of the acropolis, the Tempio di Apollo (Temple of Apollo) was built on the site where Daedalus Is said to have flown Into Italy. According to Greek mythology, Daedalus and his son Icarus took to the skies to escape King Minos In Crete. En route Icarus flew too close to the sun and plunged to his death as his wax-and-feather wings melted from the heat.

At the top of the acropolis stands the Tempio di Giove (Temple of Jupiter). Dating to the 5th century BC It was later converted Into a Christian basilica, of which the remains of the altar and the circular baptismal font are visible.

However, It's the haunting Antra della Sibilla Cumana (Cave of the Cumaean Sibyl) that steals the show. Hollowed out of the tufa bank, Its eerie 130m-long trapezoidal tunnel leads to the echo-filled vaulted chamber where the oracle was said to pass on messages from Apollo. The poet Virgil, probably Inspired by a visit to the cave himself, writes of Aeneas coming here to seek the Sibyl, who directs him to Hades (the underworld), entered from nearby Lago d'Averno (p 105). Less poetic are the recent studies that maintain the tunnel was originally built as part of Cuma's defence system.

If you plan on coming here by bus, take the P12R operated by CTP (www.ctpn.lt In Italian). It's also worth asking the driver for departure times back to Pozzuoli; It'll saveyourselfa long and tedious wait by the roadside later.

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