grotte di Catullo

The caves of Catullus in Sirmione, the guide to the park on Lake Garda

The Lake Garda it is a much loved destination: and it is logical that it is so because it unites nature and history, sport and the pleasure of relaxation. And among the destinations on the lake, Sirmione is one of the most loved for the beauty of its center, the charm of the castle and the presence of the splendid thermal baths overlooking the lake. But not only that: yes, because right on the tip of the peninsula of Sirmione you can take a special journey: through time and history.
We are talking about the grottoes of Catullus and the name does not deceive: they are not caves but the remains of one of the largest Roman villas of northern Italy come down to us. And Catullus he did not live there but rather sing the praises of the place he defined, with the ardor of a lover “jewel of the peninsulas and islands ».

Around the caves of Catullus: the olive trees of the Gonzaga era

Having said that, let’s discover the site located in the terminal part of the peninsula. And already arriving is a walk that deserves the journey. At about ancient walls then you find a historic olive grove with approx 1500 centuries old plants. And it is nice to think that these olive trees were already here when, in 1514, Isabella d’Estewife of the Marquis of Mantua, Francesco Gonzaga he gathered around him some of the leading Renaissance artists and writers.
But we came for the Catullus caves and so let’s go and discover them. These are the remains of a villa built in the early 1st century AD and then abandoned so much that part of its decorations ended up in another villa in Sirmione (the Romans did not throw anything away) while the external parts were also reused and ended up being inserted into the walls that were to protect Sirmione from attacks.

In the meantime, however, his myth was growing and travelers from the past recounted it in their works until, with military rigor, a general of Napoleon a systematic study began. It was the first but certainly not the only one: what we see today is the fruit of excavations continued until the 1990s which they brought to light an area of ​​nearly two hectares. In short, a very spacious house if you consider that there plan of the building is projected for over 160 meters for more than a hundred in width. And this convenient floor plan had to be multiplied by three, as many as there were floors.

grottoes of Catullus

Spas, arcades and terraces: the sweet life in the caves of Catullus

The entrance, at least the main one, was facing south, obviously towards the peninsula, and from here it was possible go up to the upper floors where the residential areas were. But obviously, in order not to miss anything as it was a must for the Romans, there was also one area of ​​baths and spas. All around, then, on the side of the house there was it space to be outdoors with terraces and areas covered with colonnades that overlooked the water of the Lake Garda. And the view must have been as splendid then as it is today.

The garden and the portico of the Grottoes of Catullus

The central part of the large villa that today we call the Grottoes of Catullus was instead outsidewith a garden which in turn was surrounded by the usual columns while in the center they were green flower beds and driveways as can be understood from the surviving paintings. Then there was a complex system of ramps and stairs to go down to the lower floors, where obviously there were the less noble areas, such as the service areas and the spaces for the servants. Further down, it went down to the beach at the tip of the peninsula while above there is a large cryptoporticus: once upon a time the owners of the villa used to walk here on bad weather days, while today tourists come to take selfies.

grottoes of Catullus

We do like them: we walk among the ancient walls and search glimpses where to look at the lake and we look for a quiet corner to sit and be caressed by the silence and the wind. Thinking what it could be like to live here at the time of the consuls and emperors. So let’s go back to the olive grove and let’s go and see the museum which houses many exhibits recovered during the excavations of this and other Roman villas in the area. In particular we dedicate some time to the fragments of the mosaics that embellished the villa. The style is what is called “Pompeian” and even if Pompeii it is very far the suggestion is the same seeing those colored pieces that make up figures and decorations, floral motifs and fantastic images.

grottoes of Catullus

A look at the lake

So, without haste, the time comes to retrace the road that follows the tip of the peninsula and back towards the center formed by narrow streets with stone walls and sudden open spaces. After all, the majestic awaits Rocca Scaligera and first, tempting with her liquid flattery, she waits the spa overlooking the lake. Everyone can choose what to do at this point. Even just simply wandering aimlessly. Enjoying the lake and thinking back to the words of the American poet Ezra Pound who wrote that this is a «serene place where the sun / through the leaves of the olive tree will let us penetrate / by a liquid glory».

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *