Touring Latium East of Rome

Let's see what Eastern Latium has to offer tourists...

Fishing in Sperlonga Harbor

Fishing in Sperlonga Harbor

If you are looking for a European tourist destination, consider the Latium region of central western Italy on the Tyrrhenian Sea. Latium, also known as Laszio, is the region that includes Italy’s capital Rome, the Eternal City. Because it is so easy to find articles describing the multiple pleasures of Rome, we are going to write about the lesser-known attractions of Latium. This article focuses on Latium east of Rome. A companion article describes Latium west of Rome.

We’ll start our tour Tivoli about 22 miles (35 kilometers) northeast of Rome. We’ll head northeast to Subiaco. We’ll double back to Palestrina, which is south and a bit east of Tivoli. Then it is south to Ninfa and Sermoneta before heading southeast to Sperlonga on the coast of the Tyrrhenian Sea. We’ll head back northwest along the coast to finish our tour at Anzio. You may choose to continue northwest along the coast to Ostia Antica, Ancient Rome’s port city, which is not described in the present article.

Tivoli is famous as the site of Hadrian’s Villa, a not so little getaway retreat for one of Rome’s most famous emperors, built in the early Second Century. He actually ran the empire from this villa during the latter years of his rule. The site exceeds a square kilometer (over 250 acres) and contains more than thirty buildings, some of which are yet to be excavated. A large part of this villa’s decorations and statues can be found in the Vatican Museums. Hadrian liked the dome on an Egyptian temple called Serapeum and transplanted the design to his villa. A prominent architect of the day begged to differ, comparing Hadrian’s design to a pumpkin. Can you guess how this story ends? Hadrian’s Villa is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Unfortunately part of the site is on the World Monuments Watch 100 Most Endangered Sites list. You may recognize this villa from the HBO film series, Angels in America.

Villa d’Este is another UNESCO World Heritage Site in Tivoli. It is a beautiful water garden, reminiscent of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. This villa was founded in the mid-Sixteenth Century by Cardinal Ippolito of d’Este, son of Lucrezia Borgia, after not being chosen as Pope during a lengthy conclave. His loss was the world’s gain. Just to give you an idea of its scope; one of the ‘pathways’ is called the Avenue of One Hundred Fountains. Be sure to see the Fontana di Rome, a scale model of Ancient Roman, demolished but partially rebuilt.

The city of Subiaco, population about ten thousand, is the site of the Roman Emperor Nero’s villa, said to compete with Hadrian’s villa, constructed decades later. However, Nero’s villa is in ruins. You can see these ruins on your way to the cave in which St. Benedict lived for several years and founded his Sixth Century Monastery, which is still standing today. The Monastery contains numerous frescoes, some over one thousand years old. The nearby abbey was the site of Italy’s first print shop, founded in 1464. You can well imagine the contents of its library.

Palestrina, population about 18 thousand, was settled in the Seventh or Eighth Century B. C. under the name Praeneste. Like many cities near Rome, its graves often contain Etruscan artifacts. About two thousand years ago this area was a favorite summer resort for wealthy Romans who mocked the uncultured local inhabitants. The ancient city of Praeneste contained the Temple of Fortuna Primigenia, one of the largest temple complexes in the ancient world. Fortuna was the goddess of fertility, abundance, and success. People came from afar to pray for her good graces.

You’ll also want to see the Seventeenth Century Palazzo Barberini (Barberini Palace) that houses the Museo Nazionale Archeologico di Palestrina (Palestrina Nation Archeology Museum) with its collection of Roman and Etruscan pieces and a two-thousand year mosaic depicting the flooding of the Nile River. And there’s a model of the temple in its full glory.

The town of Ninfa was Papal property in times past. Pope Clement VII destroyed the town in an internal war during the Fourteenth Century. For six hundred years it lay in ruins, in part because of the malarial mosquitoes in the nearby marshes. And then in 1920 an aristocratic English artist, Ada Wilbraham, married a member of the Caetani family that had been given the city way back in 1297 by Pope Boniface II, another Caetani. Wilbraham started the restoration that has continued to this day. The site includes a bridge and seven churches from Roman times, a castle, and the city wall, all in a state of arrested decay. The restored medieval town hall has hosted famous writers including Ezra Pound, Henry James, and T.S. Elliott. Visiting times are quite restricted.

The little town of Sermoneta also belonged to the Caetani family who built a castle to defend it in the Thirteenth Century. Pope Alexander VI, the father of Lucrezia Borgia, was the guy who drew the line dividing Portuguese South America (Brazil) and Spanish South America (everywhere else). He got control of the castle in the Fifteenth Century and transformed it into a fortress before giving it to his son Cesare. Later it returned to the Caetani family. In addition to the castle you should see the Cathedrale and the wall paintings in the ruined San Giuseppe (St. Joseph’s) Church.

Sperlonga was a resort in the days of the Romans. The Roman Emperor Tiberius built a villa called Grotta di Tiberio, but it was more of a palace than a grotto. The dining room was situated on an island in the villa’s pool. As luck would have it, the grotto collapsed during an imperial party, but a government official saved Tiberius’s life. The site now is home to a museum, Museo Nazionale, which displays statues and artifacts from the villa. Make sure to see the giant statue of Odysseus blinding a Cyclops. The beach south of town is great for strolling and for swimming.

We head northwest along the Tyrrhenian Sea to finish our tour at Anzio. This city of about 45,000 people was the birthplace of Roman Emperors Caligula and Nero, who built a magnificent villa long since destroyed. Anzio is a resort area with high-quality beaches.

From January 22 to May 24, 1944 Anzio and neighboring Nettuno were the site of a major World War II battle, Operation Shingle. The Allied invasion was said to be one of the most complete surprises in military history. However, the battle itself was quite deadly and proved to be controversial. The city contains the Anzio Beachhead British Military Cemetery and a Beachhead Museum. The American Military Cemetery is in Nettuno.

What about food? Latium cuisine is one of abundance. The best cuts of meat were reserved for the rich and the poor had to make do with the rest, including feet, heart, kidneys, tongue, and tripe. Let’s not forget the pasta, said to be among the best in Italy. Fettuccine Alfredo comes from this region.

Let’s suggest a sample menu, one of many. Start with Provatura alla Salsa di Acciughe (Provatura Cheese with Anchovy Sauce). Then try Saltimbocca alla Romana (Veal and Ham Rolls). For dessert indulge yourself with Crostata di Ricotta (Ricotta Tart with Candied Fruit). Be sure to increase your dining pleasure by including local wines with your meal.

We’ll conclude this article with a quick look at Latium wine. More than four out of five bottles produced here are white. There are twenty five DOC wines. DOC stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata, which may be translated as Denomination of Controlled Origin, presumably a high-quality wine, twenty of them white. However, only about 6% of Latium wine is so classified. Frankly, the region is not known for its wine. It once was; in the distant past Falernum, a Latium red was the hit of Ancient Rome. Who knows, perhaps one day the region will regain its former glory when it comes to wine. In the meantime, there’s lots to see and to eat. And plenty of fine Italian wines are available. North of Latium is Umbria, and north of Umbria is Tuscany. Boncompagni Ludovisi’s Fiorano Rosso is a Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot blend from Latium that comes highly recommended but I have yet to taste it.

About the Author

Levi Reiss has authored or co-authored ten books on computers and the Internet, but to be honest, he would rather just drink fine Italian or other wine, accompanied by the right foods. He teaches classes in computers at an Ontario French-language community college. Visit his website devoted to Italian travel with an accent on fine Italian wine and food. Visit his central wine website with weekly reviews of $10 wine and columns devoted to various aspects of wine including wine and food, humor, trivia, organic and kosher wine and lots more.

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