Sperlonga, in the province of Latina, is one of the most beautiful towns in Italy. The rocky coast on which it rises forms a number of natural grottos, one of which is part of the so-called Villa di Tiberio, named after the Roman emperor who according to Suetonius was most interested in
the history of the fabulous ages, inquiring even into its trifling details in a ridiculous manner. The grotto is where various sculptural groups inspired by Homer’s “Odyssey” were found, now at the local Archaeological Museum.
Professor Settis, in his book “Laocoonte. Fama e stile”, explains, “The grotto in Sperlonga was part of a lavish seaside villa, where it provided a fantastic and picturesque triclinium. It probably was not the only one: geographer Strabo wrote about this area of Lazio’s coast stating it had ‘immense caves, to which huge and sumptuous homes were attached’. The close union of grotto, villa, and landscape was dear to Roman aristocracy in the Late Republic and Early Empire Ages, and Sperlonga (the name deriving from the ancient ‘Spelunca’) was likely one of the most luxurious examples in the theme. The grotto might have been where an incident recorded by Suetonius and Tacit took place in 26 AD: while Tiberius was having dinner there, a sudden landslide killed a few servants and put the emperor’s life at risk; loyal soldier Sejanus shielded him with his body, gaining his trust ever since…” (S. Settis, “Laocoonte. Fama e stile”, Donzelli, Roma 2006).
Today, Sperlonga is a town of alleys, houses clinging to the coastline, and towers fruit of various renovations between the 17th and 20th centuries. But deep in its heart, it is still a place of “fabulous ages”.