During Dad’s October visit, making the most of the autumn sunshine, we drove down the winding road en route for Sperlonga.
This is a fashionable little seaside resort, extremely popular with well-heeled Italian visitors from the city of Rome. It gets particularly busy during the month of August, or on sunny summer weekends, when Italians flock to the seaside to escape the city heat, however, out of season it reverts to a sleepy little coastal village.
Sperlonga’s original name Spelunca, was derived from the Latin word “speluncae”, meaning natural sea caves or grottoes, many of which are to be found all along this shoreline.
The Grotta di Tiberio can be found at the far end of the beautiful sandy Levante Beach. The rocky headland is part of a World Wildlife Fund Nature / Marine Reserve, so here the waters are crystal clear and have been awarded the prestigious European Blue Flag for several years running.
The Emperor Tiberius was among the prosperous Romans known to frequent villas in the Sperlonga area. One lavish villa, at the far base of Monte Ciannito, included several natural caves within its design. One such cave was transformed into an ornately decorated banqueting hall, where it is documented that Tiberius dined with guests on an artificial island surrounded by a ornamental, sea water pool, stocked with fish. It is said that the various courses were served on little boats that were floated across the lake to the grand emperor’s table. On one occasion Tiberius narrowly escaped death when rocks fell from the ceiling, killing several of the guests.
The remains of these Roman dwellings lay buried for centuries, and were only unearthed during the construction of the new coastal road, the Via Flacca, during the 1950’s. Fragments were discovered of huge marble statues which once adorned the mouth of the cave.
These sculptures depicted mythological Greek scenes from Homer’s “Adventures of Odysseus” , such as the “Blinding of The Cyclops Polyphemus”, “Scylla’s Attack on Ship of Ulysses”, “The Theft of The Palladium” and “Odysseus Lifting Achilles’s Corpse”.
We visited Sperlonga’s Museo Archeologico Nazionale, which now houses many Roman artefacts and treasures, and some of the amazing sculptures that have been painstakingly reconstructed. I found the colossal Cyclops statue absolutely awe inspiring.
We then made our way down the path leading towards the actual Grotto, passing many excavated Roman structures. Only a small section of this Roman township can be seen today, the remainder still lies undisturbed beneath the earth and sand dunes.
We were fortunate to have the cave to ourselves, and I felt something of its magical atmosphere, as I envisioned it in all its Roman glory. It is well worth a visit.
To visit the Museum take the coast road, the Via Flacca, that runs from Sperlonga towards Gaeta. Before reaching the first road tunnel, and immediately before the Museum, turn right and follow the track that runs next to the museum railings. On the right hand side there is a small car park, where parking is free for most of the year and cheap even at peak periods. From here you can also walk down to the beach.