GROTTOES OF CATULLUS
On the tip of the Sirmione peninsula, which divides the Brescia coast from the Verona coast of Lake Garda, are the remains of a Roman Villa built 2000 years ago: the so-called Grottoes of Catullus, the biggest villa in northern Italy.
Park your car outside the walls and enjoy a charming walk through the town center of Sirmione, up to the Grottoes on the northeastern coast of the Peninsula!
Discover Grottoes of Catullus
As mentioned, in spite of the name they are not caves but a Roman domus built between the first century BC and the first century AD. The villa covers an area of about two hectares, but was only partially brought to light.
The first floor is the most damaged, since the villa – already abandoned a couple of centuries after its construction – was for a long time a quarry of materials (used for example to build the other Villa of Sirmione, located in Via Antiche Mura).
The middle and lower floors are well preserved: the villa was equipped with numerous porches and terraces, a huge garden, and especially a large spa (probably added around the second century AD). On the southern side of the Villa, under an opus spicatum floor, there is a large cistern (almost 43 metres long), which collected the water needed for daily use.
The entire building is laid on rocky slabs, the same that we see immersed in the lake: to compensate for their inclination were created rooms, which were probably used as cellars, while in other places the rock was cut.
The Grottoes of Catullus are located in an archaeological park among the most beautiful in Italy: the remains of the Villa are surrounded by more than 1500 olive trees, that make the walk really suggestive.
Inside the park of the Grottoes there is also an Archaeological Museum, organized into three sections: prehistoric, medieval, and Roman, which houses the remains of this villa and others in the area (the one in Via Antiche Mura – Sirmione – and the one in Toscolano).
Although it has been proven that it was not the Villa of Catullus, it is certain that it was still a magnificent villa, equipped with all the comforts of the time, surrounded by olive trees and with a breathtaking view of Lake Garda.
Summer (from the last Sunday in March until the last Saturday in October):
from 8.30 to 19.30 from Monday to Saturday (except Tuesday, closing day),
from 9.00 a.m. to 7.00 p.m. on Sundays
Winter (from the last Sunday in October until the last Saturday in March): from 8.30 to 17.00 from Monday to Saturday (except Tuesday, closing day), from 8.30 to 14.00 on Sundays
Regular ticket: € 8,00
Reduced ticket (european citizens 18-25 years old): € 4,00
Free entrance for children < 18 years old and every first Sunday of the month
Piazzale Orti Manara 4, Sirmione
The best experiences around Grottoes of Catullus
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As mentioned, it is not possible to arrive at the Villa by car. However, if you have a car you can park it outside the walls and walk along the peninsula (about 20 minutes).
Alternatively, a tourist train takes you from the Scaliger Castle to the square in front of the villa.
This large villa was built several times starting from the 1st century BC, but was already abandoned in the 3rd century AD. From that moment, it became a quarry of building material useful for building other villas, and was later incorporated into the fortification walls of the city of Sirmione, and some areas were used as a cemetery.
The hypothesis that it was the residence of the famous Latin poet dates back to the fifteenth century, and is based on Carme 31, in which Catullus speaks of his return to his beloved Sirmione. However, it was later demonstrated that the Villa was built after his death, so this hypothesis is actually wrong.
The villa became an object of study during the Middle Ages, and was the destination of great artists who were interested in Roman architecture, as the master Antonio Palladio. The first real archaeological excavations, however, date back to the mid-nineteenth century, by the count Giovanni Girolamo Orti Manara.
In the 1940s, the Italian State’s Superintendence for Cultural Heritage began excavations and restoration work, which today makes it possible to appreciate the villa in all its magnificence and surrounded by its original environment, with a garden full of olive trees.