Fascinating ruins and a huge grotto peer up at Sperlonga, a fantastic Italian beach town reminiscent of Greece with its seaside views and wandering white streets that venture up and down stacked houses and small-town shops.
For years, it was widely believed that the Roman Emperor Tiberius, who reigned from 14 to 37 AD, kept a summer villa along the coast between Rome and Naples. But it wasn’t until 1957 that it was discovered so near the town of Sperlonga.
All that remains of the Villa di Tiberio (Villa of Tiberius) itself are some short walls, but you are free to move about them as you wish. A slow path leads visitors to fish ponds and from there, the grotto, where the emperor is believed to have dined and entertained.
A connected museum now holds the incredible treasures found in the grotto: enormous ancient sculptures by the same artists who made the famous Laocoön found arranged in groups around the inside of the grotto, such as the Blinded Polyphemus and the Scylla Group, and groups depicting scenes from the Odyssey.
All these pieces, along with other smaller works and signs of Roman living, are kept inside a nearby museum, pieced together in their original arrangement as much as possible. A knowledge of Italian to read the informative plaques nearby would be beneficial to the visitor, but not absolutely necessary to enjoy the ancient artwork.
The grotto itself is spacious and can be explored freely, and it’s easy to imagine it once held such magnificent statues. Sperlonga was thought to be a place where the legendary Odysseus landed for some time, hence the works from the Odyssey that decorated the place.