From the so-called Catullus Caves (or Grotte di Catullo) in Sirmione, you can reach Lake Garda via a “very long and gentle slope, devoid of algae, where an old, mossy silt covers the light-colored, declining rocks; it’s impossible to stand because it is so slippery, and impossible to swim because the water is too low. You can only move forward by sitting down, and sliding in very awkward positions surrounded by the joyous, rustic screeching of multi-color, sentimental, robust local creatures, moving in exulting droves, popular and Nordic…”
This is the description writer Alberto Arbasino included in his book “Fratelli d’Italia” (Adelphi, Milan 1993) about the area surrounding the beautiful Roman villa built between the 1st century BC and 1st century AD, on the southern shore of Lake Garda (also known as Benaco).
The caves have been named after Gaius Valerius Catullus (84 BC-54 AD) since the 15th century, when his “Carmina” were rediscovered and an easy link was made between “Carmen 31” and Catullus’s residence in Sirmione. However, the remains we see today are from buildings built after his death.
Here is the beautiful “Carmen 31”, in which the Roman poet – in fact born in Verona – celebrated his return to his home in Sirmione:
Sirmio, jewel of islands and of peninsulas, / Whatever each Neptune carries / In the stagnant clear waters and in the vast sea, / How gladly and how happy I see you, / Scarcely myself believing myself that I have left behind / Thynia and the Bithynian fields and that I see you in safety./ O what is more blessed than cares freed, / When the mind puts down its burden, / And we tired from foreign labor come / To our hearth and rest in a longed for bed? / This is that which is the one thing for such great labors. / Greetings, O beautiful Sirmio, and rejoice in your master rejoicing; / And you, O Lydian waves of the lake, / Laugh whatever there is of laughter at home.