Ancient sites jostle for attention across Campania but Cuma deserves a special place in the heart of any European, for this is where our alphabet made landfall on its way from Greece. Founded on a hillside in the 8th century BC within sight of an original colony on the island of Ischia, the new settlement brought Euboean Greek letters to the peninsula. The Etruscans would adopt them, then the Romans and you are reading a version of this alphabet right now.
The new Greek colony of Magna Graecia flourished, fighting off resistance from local tribes, gaining control over local land and founding Naples in 470 B.C. Repeated Etruscan attempts to oust the colonists culminated in a home win at the Battle of Cuma just a few years before. An inevitable period of Romanisation in the next century culminated in the conversion of a Temple to Zeus into a Christian basilica. Today it is very pleasant to wander amongst these ruins.
Cuma came under the control of the Lombards and was governed from Naples. It acquired a wild reputation as the stronghold of Saracens and bandits; forces acting for the young king of Sicily destroyed its walls in 1207 and that was the end of its life as a city.
But Cuma retains its power as a focus of myth. Virgil’s poem, the Aeneid, recounts how Aeneas’ epic journey brought him to Cuma to consult the ageless Sibyl, priestess of Apollo. Aeneas needed to visit his father Anchises in the underworld, Hades – access was not far away at lake Averno. The Sibyl’s prophecies were sung or written on oak leaves, often scattered by the winds, especially frustrating if you are a Trojan hero with a tight schedule on your way to found a new city. However Aeneas does eventually meet his father with the help of the prophetess.
A long passageway in vaguely pine-tree shape leads you into the rock beneath the ruins of ancient Cuma and into the realm of the Sibyl. That historians believe this to be merely a defensive structure should in no way interfere with your experience as a seeker of wisdom or of thrills.