Sirmione, Lake Garda, Lombardy
If you visit Sirmione, on the southern shore of Lago di Garda, and arrive by water, you will be greeted by a statue of Gaius Valerius Catullus, (perhaps) the namesake of the nearby famous Roman ruins, Grotte di Catullo (Grotto of Catullus).
Gaius Valerius Catullus was a Latin poet who lived in the 1st century B.C. Born to a wealthy and prominent family from Verona, he spent much of his youth and rather short life (apparently he only lived to be around 30 years of age) in Rome, but also enjoyed visiting the family villa in Sirmione.
Contrary to his family’s wishes and one to flaunt convention, Catullus chose to dedicate his life to love and poetry. Notorious for writing about his personal and love life, he was and remains well known for his love poems. His poetry was and is still considered somewhat outrageous, even bawdy and erotic. He was appreciated by other poets and influenced the likes of Ovid, Horace, and Virgil and, to this day, his writings are studied and quoted.
Whether there’s a direct link between Catullus the poet and the Grotte de Catullo is left to history. Whatever the case, it’s a pleasant walk along the footpath outside the main town of Sirmione. There is a small admission (worth it!) and a museum. But the Grotte entrance gives no indication of its size and scope!
From the 1st century B.C. Grotte di Catullo was an opulent complex of villas, baths and shops, a Roman villa/spa/resort built near the local thermal springs. It seems that the wealthy have always enjoyed a luxurious spa getaway and the Romans were no different. Measuring 167 x 105 meters, 20,000 square meters, this imposing site is gigante!! (And only 1/3 has been excavated since it’s discovery in the 1940’s.)
Wandering among the arches, columns and multi-tiered ruins, one can’t help but wonder and imagine what it must have been like all those centuries ago. The wealthy Romans surely knew how to live and enjoy life! Today Sirmione welcomes everyone to enjoy its beauty and famous hot springs.
This article was originally published on Italian Notebook on March 10, 2013.
More about Catullus and his poetry: Wikipedia, Catullus: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catullus