Lake Garda & Grotte di Catullo
Near Verona in the southern coast of lake Garda there are the ruins of ancient Roman villa – named now “Grotte di Catullo”. Earlier part of villa has been built at the end of Roman rebublic (last century BC).
A Roman poet – Gaius Valerius Catullus (84 BC – 54 BC)- is related to this villa. That’s why the name is “Grotte di Catullo”. It is believed that Catullus owned and built this villa. However these days historians believe it was actually owned by family of Catullus (or Valeria gender) and Catullus just spend time there now and then. That is true probable because Catullus lived only short life and he overlooked men of success (Pompeius, Caesar, Crassus). So where could he got that money to build that magnificent villa! And this villa is a huge one!
About Gaius Valerius Catullus
Originally Catullus was a roman poet from rich family from Verona. That city is not located that far away from Garda-lake. At the start – as a young men – Catullus was sent to Rome to study and to be a high civil servant but then he ended to the light and party centered live of artists. He had romances with patrician women and tried to renew roman poetry to more lighter style – more towards love poets instead of heavy roman traditional poetry which favored duties. He died only at the age of 30 years. It is believed that at least writers Ovidius, Horatius and Vergilius took some influences from Catullus. But because Catullus wrote only light love poets and not from heroes of Roman society and culture, he was not favored by rulers and their money. On the contrary – he mocked them! Maybe you remember the movie “Cleopatra” from sixties. In that movie Caesar – Rex Harrison – speaks some verses from Catullus’s poet in palace of Aleksandria. And Cleopatra – Elisabeth Taylor – asks why Caesar did not execute Catullus, because he mocks him. But in the movie Caesar just laughs and says: “Even though Catullus don’t approve me, I approve Catullus.” Typical Caesar! He did not care slight objects or even bigger ones! Well – maybe it’s still worth of mentioning that Catullus despised Cicero! I can understand that…
About Grotte di Catullo
I visited the ruins of villa couple years ago in the end of June. The weather was sunny and hot – as beautiful as summer day can be. Temperature was above +30 degrees, so cold bier was perfect drink in those days. And how fine looked the terrain in south shores of the lake! I have to give credit for Catullus’s family. The site – southern end of Garda-lake – was a perfect place for that villa. Nice summer breeze is coming from long lake northwards and deep green-blue waters of lake are lying in front of you. The shore is rather shallow and you have to go some 50 meters further to get into deep water. As a sunny day shore is fully with tourist (and locals) taking sun bath. So I can easily understand why gender of Valeria have chosen this place for family villa. The oldest part of villa was built in the end of republic at the time of Caesar. I could believe that Catullus had here some extravagant and fickle parties! Then at first century AD the villa was enlarged and what amazes me now is the size of villa. It has been huge! In that villa it has been possible to have very big parties, ceremonies and family festivities. Below are some photos of villa ruins. In Augustan period (1st century AD) villa had a rectangular plan 167 m long and 105 m wide, covering about 20,000 square meters. It consisted of 3 floors, with the main entrance to the south, where also the spas were located. On the long sides there were covered porches, joined to the north in a panoramic terrace overlooking the lake. At the center was a wide open space, covered today with olive trees. Below the villa are previous constructions of the 1st century BC. Today we know that villa was abandoned in the 5th century AD. The place got a name “grotto”, when many ceilings collapsed and the site was filled with vegetation.
About lake Garda
I visited lake Garda some years ago in hot end of June. That’s perfect time for visiting lake because summer breeze flying over lake cools you nicely down. What could be better than just sit in cafeteria besides shore and have some vanilla ice-cream, strawberries and espresso. Just enjoying and feeling the summer day and blue waters of lake. Lake itself is a long and deep one located from north to south. Shores are in some parts raising very high – even near 1000 meters. I suppose because of it’s shape, lake is perfect for water sport with sails. At least in northern parts of the lake one can see tens or even hundreds small sailing boats or surfers. That is a rather pretty scene.
Peninsula of Sirmione is narrow and at the end of it lies “Grotto di Catullo” and some 200 meters before lies a very nice looking medieval castle. What a nice and safe place for castle! From that position it has ruled the whole peninsula and it has been very difficult to conquer.
At eastern shores of lake Garda there lies another castle on rock bed just beside the lake. Actually this castle must be one of the pretties castles I have seen. It’s not a big one but very nicely build and views from tower and roof over lake and shores are really beautiful. How beautiful poems some artist could have written here! Over the castle there flies in sunny evenings tens of swifts.
In the shores of lake Garda there are many small villages where to spend time. Every 20-30 minutes cruise boats are leaving from city to city over the lake. What could be nicer than just sit on boat deck and feel summer breeze and enjoy life. Looking over lake and shores – no sweat and no sore feet. Now and then you can take rest in cafeterias of shores and enjoy a pizza and cold beer – or espresso. Not bad life for human being! And even mountain hike is possible because on eastern shore there are mountains rising even nearly 1000 meter. Not bad!
Hadrian built his villa near the city Tibur (todays Tivoli) because he disliked Palatine Hill. Maybe there was too much noise and people for his taste. And he was not alone in these thoughts as many other emperors also felt that way. I guess also because the reason that Rome was a city of million people. That is the reason why Hadrian actually reigned his empire from Tibur in his later years. So all the court were living here with him. Here in Tibur palaces of Hadrian rested in peaceful anf beautiful scenery.
Hadrian ruled in Rome at the second and third decades of the 2nd century AD. Hadrian had been travelling as lot and he felt himself some architectural vision and interest. Therefore he took lot of time to take part to construction work himself.
After Hadrian many emperors used the villa for their refreshment. When Rome collapsed (500 AD) villa was left to deteriorate and it fell to ruins. And then Cardinal d’Este took marble stones and statues to decorate his own villa nearby – villa d’Este.
Because whole court was here, there need to be two bath-houses, hospital and many other household buildings.
PS. Remember! When you are in the city center of Tivoli you must be patient! There are really going yellow busses with number 4 to Hadrians villa! Wait, wait and wait. They will go there …finally.
During their conquest Romans founded many new cities. One of those is Italica in Spain about 9 km from Seville westwards. This city is located to a very nice climate zone where it’s fertile and warm.
Basically area was first taken by Carthagians but when Lucius Cornelius Scipio Africanus beat them in second Punic war it became Roman land. And because there were so many wounded in the battle of Ilipa, Scipio based the city for wounded in 206 BC.
It’s prime time city had 8000 inhabitants – not so much. Even though it was in the plain of fertile Quadalquivir valley, city started to dwindle at third century AD because land got dry. Reason for that was siltation caused by cutting down of forests nearby. Later on city of Seville started to grow around river Quadalquivir.
Even though size of city was small it gave Rome couple of it’s greatest rulers. Maybe the most successful of them was Trajan who was born and raised here. At Trajan’s time Rome is said to be in it’s widest. And for sure it was in it’s greatest heights. At Trajan’s time there was no nation to challenge Rome.
Another one of big boys of Italica was Hadrian. After Trajan he was considered more as a philosofical nature and did not try to expand Rome but save it’s borders. He was interested of architecture and he built Villa Adriana for himself near Rome – Tivoli. As Trajan he was one of well known and nice emperor’s of Rome.
Hadrian favored his old home town by giving it several public buildings, temples and a very big amphitheatre – even for 25 000 people! Some say it was third largest in realm in it’s time.
In middle one can see the caves and passageways where fighters and equipment were lifted onto arena.
Once amphitheatre was built from heavy stone blocks – probably somekind of sandstone.