The Temple of Serapis is one of the best known and most representative monuments of the Phlegraean area and the ancient world. The archaeological site has a unique scientific and archaeological value.
Temple of Serapis or Macellum?
Long mistakenly considered a temple of Serapis because of the discovery of the deity’s statue. In reality, it was the macellum, an ancient public market during Roman times. Its columns are still clearly visible in the centre of the square overlooking the port. The three cipollino marble columns, a distinctive symbol of Pozzuoli, stand out against the sky. It was precisely these columns that signalled the existence of the archaeological area in 1750. In 1846, the architect Antonio Niccolini, in his book “Descrizione della gran Terma Puteolana, volgarmente detta Tempio di Serapide” wrote: «Three cipollino columns rose from the ground of a vineyard near the sea of Pozzuoli, giving the place the name of “Vigna delle tre colonne” (namely, Vineyard of the three columns)».
The discovery of the “Macellum”
It was discovered by King Charles of Bourbon, who was intrigued by the giant columns that emerged from an area known as the “Vineyard of the Three Columns’“. Thus, he ordered excavations, during which the statue of the Egyptian god Serapis came to light. The statue, which the monument is named after, is currently kept at the Museo Archeologico Nazionale of Naples; a plaster cast, instead, is on display in the Sala Pozzuoli of the Museo Archeologico dei Campi Flegrei.
The structure: as it was before and as it is now
The market consisted of a rectangular building on two levels. The main entrance faced the sea and, on the opposite side, at the portal, an exedra contained statues of various deities set in their niches. The complex consisted of a colonnaded inner portico over which thirty-six shops (or tabernae) opened, while in the centre, sixteen Corinthian columns supported the roof. Marine subjects (like shells with dolphins inside) surmounted the marvellous Corinthian capitals. They symbolised the splendour of the ancient Puteoli due to its flourishing maritime trade.
The structure: as it was before
The structure was marvellous in architectural decoration and wall and floor coverings. Not to mention the sculptural works: in the courtyard’s centre was a beautiful circular tholos 18 m in diameter. It was raised more than one metre above the floor level, it was surrounded by 16 Corinthian columns of pink marble, with an octagonal fountain in the centre. This was adorned with many valuable sculptural and architectural elements that the Bourbons took to embellish the Royal Palace of Caserta.
Because of its size (58 x75 m) and economic importance, it was considered the heart of Pozzuoli’s commercial area. All the commercial and exchange activities of the city developed around it. It was Pozzuoli’s public market for foodstuffs, in all probability inspired by the model of the macellum magnum built in Rome by Nero. All kinds of foodstuffs were available here: meat, fish, vegetables, and fruit.
The macellum and the bradyseism
The macellum is periodically submerged by the sea due to bradyseism and is a symbol of the geological phenomenon. Numerous images have shown it either semi-submerged or completely dry throughout history. When the sea recedes, tiny holes are left in the shaft of the marble columns, “drilled” by molluscs. This is a rather important aspect because it is possible to trace the level reached by the water and, consequently, study the area’s geological history. The macellum was one of the stops on the romantic Grand Tour. For centuries, the site has attracted Italian and foreign scholars both for its archaeologic value and for observing the volcanic phenomenon typical of the Phlegraean area.
How far is the Macellum from Al Chiar di Luna
The Temple of Serapide of Pozzuoli is about 13 km from Al Chiar di Luna and can be reached by car in just under 30 minutes.