Founded by the greeks, the old town of Amyclae in Sperlonga has been holding a mystery for thousands years.
Would you like to look into Amyclae’s legend? There are few clues but maybe we will find our way to reveal the secret of the silent town.
Amyclae was the name of a very old town set in today ‘south Latium, that mysteriously disappeared three thousands years ago. We can’t really say exactly where this town was built. However many latin poets tell us that Amyclae lied in a hypothetical triangle among the towns of Sperlonga, Fondi and Terracina.
Why are we so uncertain?
Well, truth to be told, nobody ever found a single ruin of Amyclae.
So, how came that we started telling the story of this town?
As said before, many latin poets and writers wrote about Amyclae during the Roman Age. And they gave us few but important clues: Amyclae reigned in silence (“et tacitis regnavit Amyclae“, Plinius, Naturalis Historia) and was destroyed by the snakes (“Amyclae a serpentibus deletae“, ibid.).
What could that mean?
First of all, during the Old Roman Age (when the latin poets wrote about this), Amyclae was already a legend (and we must admit that it is still so). So if we believed in the latin poets, it would be like if someone considered us witnesses for some fact that happened in the Middle ages. But as all the legends do, Amyclae gives to Sperlonga and its surroundings the charm of mystery. One thing’s for sure: the legend of Amyclae has to do with history and myth. And with a couple of riddles (silence and snakes).
Many people have tried to solve the mystery. The “snake” could be, for exemple, the symbol of some people who came to destroy the town. Concerning the silence, instead, someone says that the Amyclans used to follow the sect of Pythagoreans who were obliged to silence, and so they weren’t able to give the alarm when they were attacked.
Actually each one of the triangle towns tries to collect proofs that Amyclae was lying over its own territory. So do the Sperlongani! To be honest, most of the clues that we have collected show the fact that Amyclae was set somewhere around Sperlonga. But as this is a legend yet: every hypothesis could be true.
What we know for sure is that there was a town called Amyclae, next to the town of Sparta, in Laconia (Greece), too. It was there that Ulysses and all the achaean warriors met, under the command of Agamemnon. And it was exactly there that they decided the assault to Troy, after Helen, the wife of King Menelaus of Sparta, had been abducted by Prince Paris of Troy.
Now, there’s something funny. The people in Laconia today use to tell the same legends about their village as the ones we can hear in Sperlonga: Amyclae’s inhabitants were not allowed to talk and the town died in silence. Furthermore they believe that the snakes had destroyed the town. That’s what we’ve learned also from the poets about the Amyclae in Sperlonga.
The mystery deepens…
How can it be possible? Two towns miles away from each other can have the same history?
Someone may be wrong.
However, a very important fact connects the Roman Age and Sperlonga with the laconian Amyclae. And with the achaean warriors. Maybe we’ll be able so to find out some more clue about this legend.
The Emperor Tiberius strongly believed that his family (the gens Claudia) descended directly from the hero of the Odyssey: Ulysses. As Tiberius had a deep passion for arts and and was obsessed by beauty, he asked three greek artists from Rhodes (Athenodorus, Polydorus and Agesander) to sculpt the main episodes of Ulysses’ life and adventures.
Tiberius was therefore sure that Amyclae had existed next to his villa in Sperlonga.
From the most to the less popular. Here are the beaches you don’t want to miss in Sperlonga!
A sunbed, a book and a clean sea to dive in: the dream of the perfect relax comes true. Well, in Sperlonga you can do it every day, from April to October. And this is the favorite activity of many tourists.
But if you really want to appreciate the beauty of Sperlonga beaches we suggest you to have a look around and move.
Sperlonga’s old village lies on a strip of Mount San Magno, a hinge between the two main beaches of the country: the East Beach and the West one.
As it is easy to guess this beach lies on the the East side,(we call it Spiaggia di Levante) of the village. The sun rises from this bay which extends from Sperlonga harbour to Tiberius grotto. We also call it “Spiaggia dell’Angolo” – in dialect “Enghegliu” – from the Greek “Anghelos”. Some greek monks settled there, indeed, at the beginning of the V century.
This beach is very busy during summertime. It offers a wide choice of bathhouses, restaurants, pizzerias (some are open also for dinner), beach volleyball, beach tennis, pedalos, kayak, sup, surf and much more.
When you walk to Tiberius grotto you see the old Villa ruins rising from the beach and the sea. A small street leads here to the entrance of the National Archaeological Museum that gives acces to the grotto and the villa.
That’s the beach that runs along the new village down, with its hotels, restaurants, bars, pizzerias and the seafront promenade. It includes the Fontana, Canzatora and Salette districts. To the west, where the sun goes down at the end of the day, you can admire wonderful sunsets over the sea. The beach stretches beyond the village to the mouth of the Lake Lungo. Most of the bathhouses are in concession to the hotels, but passed the city center free and private beaches alternates. There are many sports and activities here, too, like beach volley, pedal boats and canoes.
The West beach, that extends from the lake mouth to Terracina, in the area called Bonifica, deserves a separate mention. It is wild, with the dune behind it and a wooden path that connects the kiosks, all of them strictly in wood. This area has developed recently and, although exposed to winds, it’s the refuge of locals. Here, in fact, you will breathe a quiet that you’ll hardly find on the coast closer to the town. The kiosks offer delicious food and, in addition to the beach volleyball, there is a sailing school. This beach is accessible from the West cycling path. By car follow the Via Flacca to Rome, turn left towards Lake Lago Lungo at firs traffic light. We suggest, especially during periods of greater flow, to reach it on foot or by bike.
Among the most beautiful of the coast, Bazzano Beach extends from the back of the Tiberius grotto to the Capovento hill. Its name comes from the Greek “Vazanos”, that stands for the place where boats were pulled dry. Here you find, in fact, an ancient Roman ramp. You can reach Bazzano on foot from the old via Flacca, over the Emperor’s Villa. Here you can enjoy a spectacular view of the Gulf and the Roman ruins. Bazzano Beach, nestled in nature, is less popular among tourists but chosen by the locals. The sand is white and fine. Here you can rent pedal boats and canoes and go visit the south coast, with its caves and the promontory overlooking a crystal ckear sea. Bazzano is popular also for beach parties, aperitifs with djset and its delicious restaurants.
This inlet is a true jewel of clear, fine sand, pebbles, and a caribbean looking sea, part of the Ulysses Coast Regional Park. The bay hosts a single private bathhouse, connects the Capovento cliff with Punta Cetarola, and extends for a few hundred meters. You can reach it by car driving along the Via Flacca (from Sperlonga to Gaeta), or by sea. The rocky coast between Bazzano and the Dolls Beach is among the most beautiful Sperlonga sites. You can visit for a dip in the turquoise sea, maybe on a boat tour, leaving from the harbour. Beyond the bay, past Punta Cetarola (from the ancient Tonnara or Cetara), right before Itri Beach, there is the Dolls Cave, where you’ll see magnificent stalactites and stalagmites that look like figurines (hence the name of the Beach).
P.S. Let’s clarify a couple of misunderstandings: * The so-called “Three Hundred Steps” beach is not in Sperlonga but in Gaeta. * The coast that links Sperlonga to Terracina, where several campsites and villages are located, belongs to Fondi, not Sperlonga.
We are sincere: even just lie down on the beach and take a bath in the crystal clear sea that laps the coast could suffice. Yet these activities allow to enjoy only a small part of the great beauty of this village, among the most beautiful in Italy, and its territory.
Here are some suggestions on what to do in Sperlonga.
Just have a little patience, we're organizing the text. Soon we will reveal everything.
The cupbearer to gods of Olympus still watches over the lands of the Cecubo wine in Sperlonga
The oldest sommelier ever, came from Phrygia and used to pour nectar to the Gods.
“The king of the gods once burned with love for PhrygianGanymede, and to win him Jupiter chose to be something other than he was. Yet he did not deign to transform himself into any other bird, than that eagle, that could carry his lightning bolts. Straightaway, he beat the air with deceitful wings, and stole the Trojan boy, who still handles the mixing cups, and against Juno’s will pours out Jove’s nectar”.
(Ovid, Metamorphosis, X, 155-161)
There is a sculpture that watches over the lands of Cecubo wine in Sperlonga. It is Ganymede, the cupbearer to gods, and his figure stands on the cave of Tiberius.
It was there, in the villa that had been of his great-grandfather Aufidio, that the Roman Emperor Tiberius used to spend his summer holidays. And it was Tiberius again who decided to place the mythological cupbearer there. It had to watch over the head of the guests who Tiberius used to entertain with tales from Homer and the delicious Cecubo wine, typical of these lands.
We could say that Ganymede is the oldest and most famous sommelier of all time. As all the cupbearers did, he had to taste every drink before he poured it in the glasses of the Olympian deities. In Roman times emperors and the most visible politicians entrusted their safety to the cupbearers. They had to be very trustful. The risk was that someone would put poison in the wine!
Ganymede actually had not been chosen for his profile as a sommelier. He got a value that had made him jump to the top of the list of the candidates: it was damn beautiful. Although the place was not vacant (Ebe, after all, already served the wine to gods) and Ganymede was a mere mortal, therefore, he got the job.
The truth was that Jupiter was madly in love with him. He had turned into an eagle and had kidnapped him, the legend says, by a cave similar to the one in Sperlonga.
Actually, The Phrygian cupbearer was not asked to serve properly wine. For the gods, the wine of the house was the Divine Nectar: an alcoholic beverage made from honey fermentation. The famous nectar of the gods, precisely.
The Emperor Tiberius knew well and loved this story, like all the tales from the Iliad and the Odyssey. He ordered the sculptors from Rhodes to portray the abduction of Ganymede by Zeus. Once finished, he placed it over the cave he loved so much. The cupbearer Ganimede, thus, would have watched over his villa, the blooming lands, and over the vineyards where the grew the grapes of the Cecubo, the Romans’ preferred wine. To the point that at banquets it was reserved for the final toast .
A wine tour in Italy is always an amazing experience.
Everywhere you go you find history, culture, delicious food, stunning views and nice people. Sperlonga, an easy ride from Rome, is one of these tiny places that has all that. In addition to beautiful beaches and crystal clear water.
But there are three factors that made the fortune of Sperlonga town so long ago.
Wiliam Murray (1926-2005), an american writer of mystery novels who worked at The New Yorker for 30 years, probably visited Sperlonga during the 50s, when the people here still didn’t know that in few years tourism would have exploded.
In his book “The Last Italian” he tells us that:
“An amateur historian named Monsignor Nicola Ferraro speculated in a treatise he wrote in 1937 that Sperlonga owed its existence to three basic facts.
The first, and perhaps most important of these, was the manufacture of a celebrated local white wine the Romans called Cecubo, much favored by the legions tramping back and forth between the capital and the Emperor Tiberius’ sumptuous villa.
The second fact was the presence of this villa itself, with its many outlying buildings, all within easy reach of the grotto, which had been known to the ancient Greeks.
The third and most enduring fact was the opening of the Via Flacca, named after the Roman official, Lucio Valerio Flacco, who built it during the emperor’s reign. Traces of this road are still visible. It was about twelve feet wide and skirted the coast between Terracina and Gaeta, passing above both the Emperor’s villa and the cave”.
So the Cecubo wine, the building of great villas by the roman aristocratic people and Emperors and the birth of the via Flacca in 184 B.C. were the three basic facts that made the fortune of Sperlonga belonging to Murray.
You can still taste the delicious Cecubo wine in one of the wineries near Sperlonga, visit the Tiberius’Villa and walk on the ancient via Flacca.
Discover Torre Truglia, the symbol of Sperlonga. It stands up on a rock between the sea and the old village.
The Romans had built there a huge lighthouse that allowed people to communicate from one coast to another. Today it is considered one of the best places for couples to get married.
Want to learn more about the history of Torre Truglia? Well, keep reading. Or, just Book your wine tour and you’ll hear this story while walking in Sperlonga.
What does the word “Truglia” means?
“Truglia” probably comes from Truglio, and this one in turn from the Latin Trullus, (the Greeks would say Trullo). This term has been used in 700 A.D. by the latin monk Paolo Diacono to mean a dome. Apparently this was the name given to the roman building with a circular base placed in Sperlonga. It may later be turned into Truglio, as it happened for the Tiberian villa in Capri with the same name, probably under the influence of the Bourbon dialect. The feminine of the adjective would have been chosen to match the noun “tower” (which has a feminine gender in Italian, with an “a” instead of the of “o”), perhaps when the fortress was built in the 14th century.
THE ROMAN AGE – TIBERIUS’LIGHTHOUSE
The first construction of which we have news dates back to the Roman Empire.
In 2014 researchers from L’Orientale University in Naples have located the very visible remains of a Roman building below the walls of the current tower (if you look at the sea they appear on the right slope of the hill).
The base, which consists of opus reticolatum walls with a circular plan, suggests that the Roman building was placed a little further behind the current one. The walls, according to the archaeologists, witness at least two building stages: the first one contemporary of the imperial mansion; the second, with the reuse of some previous material, presumably dating back to Late Antiquity.
It could be the ancient lighthouse, i.e. part of the alert system that has been often mentioned by the ancient sources talking right about the Emperor Tiberius. A sea reference point then, that Tiberius would have used over time, also when he retired away to Capri during the famous phases of the removal of Seianus. From the peak of Capri Tiberius observed in real time the signals that kept him up to date about the arrest and the death sentence for the ambitious soldier who had become the Emperor’s friend and influential confidant but who, according to some sources, aspired to succeed him, and had gone out of favour because of that. The lighthouse in Sperlonga would have been the key of communication in those fateful times.
14th CENTURY – A FORTRESS
Although according to some texts the building of the Truglia Tower would date back to the first half of the 16th century on the remains of a previuos lookout, it is likely that it was built at the end of the 14th century, when Carduccio Gattola was lord of the manor in Sperlonga (Giulio Scalfati, “Splong – Sperlonga” Caramanica editore, 1997).
Ladislao D’Angiò Durazzo – Giovanna I Queen of Naples’ nephew – in 1400 forced Onorato Caetani, count of Fondi, and his heir Giacobella, to subjugation.
Sperlonga was a bridge between the territories of Gaeta and Fondi. Its possession therefore in the hands of Onorato and Giacobella had been, and still was, dangerous for the safety of the two territories.
The surrender pacts of Giacobella, thus, stated what we would call today the “demilitarisation” of Sperlonga. And such very pacts convince us that it is not without reason that Truglia Tower at that time had more the aspect of a real fortress then that of a fire tower.
We may just notice how different it is from the close Capovento Tower. This one certainly dates back to the 16th century because its circular shape had a precise function since gunpowder had been discovered.
The bullets of the artilleries could very rarely strike a Tower with an impact angle that could allow the penetration of the bullet. More often, or almost always, the bullet diverted sideways from the round wall of the tower that it had reached, even if only slightly, to an acute angle.
Truglia Tower instead is not only square, it is, moreover, sustained by four mighty buttresses that lie on the rocky promontory a few meters lower from the support base of the tower.
The four buttresses were meant to prevent the enemies’ siege ladder leaning. Ladders need a vertical wall to lean against and therefore the four oblique walls of the buttresses reduced the vulnerable space of the boundaries of the tower.
As the bases of these buttresses were placed lower from the support base of the tower, in turn, the enemies couldn’t go around the tower, and run to help those who were succeeding in the assault.
Above the tower there is also another building. A “redoubt” for the survived fighters that wanted to keep fighting back.
This shows that it was bound to remain armed, i.e. inhabited by soldiers even after the enemies had landed. This didn’t happen in the watchtowers, which had to be abandoned after having served their function.
Sperlonga could not be conquered without conquering the Truglia fortress before and Ladislao knew it well as he had not been able to attack Fondi from this place.
The Truglia fortress had then completed the defence plan that Riccardo Dell’Aquila had created three centuries before, when he had directed the fortifications in Sperlonga so that the road Flacca was closed to anyone who came from Gaeta.
Therefore other two towers protected the coast of Sperlonga; the one called Capovento and that of Citarola (Cetus is the latin for“tuna”), whose name confirms the existence of a small tunny-fishing net system at that time.
16th CENTURY. – THE PIRATES DESTROY THE TOWER
For two centuries then a new Asian bloodline, the Turks, had undertaken the reunification of the different Islamist states spread over Asia Minor, the Balkans and North Africa. They competed for the free navigation of the Mediterranean and its commercial exchanges, with the states of the Italian peninsula, Venice above all.
The fief had to be defended with fortifications and these one had to take into account that the threat could first of all come from the sea. The introduction of firearms had made the square towers vulnerables. They were exposed to the impact of artillery bullets much more than the round towers. That’s why they had to be built from scratch.
The Spanish monarchy adopted a strategic and defensive system that connected the coast from end to end by a chain of fortified sites from each one of which two of them were visible, to the right and to the left. By warning the troops quartered at the back at the right moment they could so prevent the landing.
In 1532 the Truglia Tower was then rebuilt. But hardly two years later, in August 1534 Sperlonga underwent the invasion of the Ottoman corsair Barbarossa, called Khair Ad-Dìn, who had landed to kidnap the beautiful Giulia Gonzaga in Fondi. The tower was destroyed.
17th CENTURY – THE TURKS ARE BACK
While rebuilt in 1611, on 4 July 1623 Truglia Tower was demolished by a new Turkish invasion. The village was sacked, the houses were burnt and many of the inhabitants were killed.
Story goes that the invasion was due to the betrayal of Such a Genovese from Gaeta, who had been kidnapped from the Turks, while he was transporting some eels to Rome the day before. In exchange to his freedom he would bring them to Sperlonga. Few days later, the traitor, out of curiosity, went on board one of the Galleys which had reached Gaeta, where he found one of the Turks who had sacked Sperlonga. When this one saw him, he started shouting: “Here is the one who betrayed Sperlonga!” Once got made, Genovese went on the run. He was since then called Stamurat, which is the arabic for “renegade”.
18th-19th CENTURY – LOOK-OUT, JAIL AND THEN CENTER OF THE GUARDIA DI FINANZA
Truglia Tower flourished again in the 18th century and provided a safe look-out for the whole coast.
After the Italian unification in 1862, the 11th Infantry regiment division (from Piedmont) garrisoned Sperlonga under Lieutenant Pavero. Along the beach between Sperlonga and Terracina a Neapolitan soldier had been hiding for almost two years. Giuseppe De Bonis, escaped from Gaeta, was waiting and hoping the return of the King. Pavero set him a trap and captured him. The Neapolitan walked in chains, among the armed soldiers, to Sperlonga and was imprisoned in Truglia Tower.
On 9 April 1862 the Neapolitan soldier was shot to the back by a bunch of Piedmontese in Campo delle Monache part.
This is the only firing squad that ever occurred in Sperlonga and the only accident that ever happened between Neapolitans and Piedmontese in this village.
From 1870 to the 1969 Truglia Tower has been used by the Guardia di Finanza.
Today many marriage ceremonies take place on the terrace of the tower.
What’s that fresco painted on the walls of the old cloister in Sperlonga?
Read this if you want to be prepared while planning your wine tour in Sperlonga
When you walk through the alleys of the old Sperlonga village you’ll be surprised by a very characteristic “piazzetta” with a tiny old well in the middle.
That’s part of the very first building in the old town. It was the monastery built from the Benedictine monks in the 1100 A.D.
On one side a big fresco covering the white walls will catch your attention. It’s more like an old comic, with different scenes telling the story of the invasion of the pirates in 1534 in drawings and verses. The fresco is not very old, it might have been painted in the 1960s by an unknown artist.
But it tells a true story.
At the dawn of a warm and sunny august day, in 1534, a pirate’s fleet driven by the terrible Khayr ad-Din, known in Italy as “Il Barbarossa” (the Readbeard) landed in Sperlonga. He had been charged by the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent to take him the best italian treasures and kidnap the most beautiful italian girl: the princess Giulia Gonzaga. She was born in Modena but was living in Fondi after he had married the count Vespasiano Colonna. Il Barbarossa used to destroy everything he found on his way. So when he ordered some “sperlongano” to show him the way to the Princess’ castle in Fondi and told him he would have spared his family and house, the man did not even think about that and took him to Fondi. Fortunately, when the pirates reached Fondi the princess Giulia wasn’t there anymore. She had been warned by her faithful servants and could run away through a hidden tunnel from her castle. She was beautiful and clever!
Have a look at that piazzetta and take a picture by the well!
What about Cecubo, the wine of the old Romans? And how the Monti Cecubi winery was born?
The Cecubo is one of the wines that you’ll taste during your ancient Roman wine tour experience. So let’s learn something about it!
The historian Strabone said it was “excellent and substantial”. The Greek physician Galeno decribed it as “pleasant, of good tone, of strong food substance, excellent for the intelligence and for the stomach.”
The Cecubo was considered one of the most delicious wines in the Roman age. It was in fact reserved for the last toast in the banquets. The Cecubo represents the identity of a country, around Sperlonga. The Emperor Tiberius himself (and his mother Livia) owned vineyards near their holiday’s villa. And they used to grow up the grapes of that so well-known Roman wine.
We believe that “Cecubo” derives from caecus (blind), joined to bibere (to drink) and that these words were fused together to name “the wine of the blind one”, Appio Claudio Cieco (i.e Blind), who was the builder of the Via Appia, through the hills of the Monti Cecubi.
Right on those hills, facing the sea near Sperlonga, the Monti Cecubi winery was born, managed by the Schettino’s. They bought an ancient farm at the end of the ’90s and were determined to take the oenology back in those lands . The job started from a small vineyard next to the farm. The oenologist could identify some local varieties like the Abbuoto, and planted some more common vinegrapes like the Vermentino, the Fiano, the Falanghina, the Cabernet Sauvignon and the Aglianico.
Monti Cecubi vineyards covers now around 100 hectares among Itri, Fondi and Sperlonga. The soil composition, the exposure, the influence of the sea, the strong temperature variation between day and night, allows Monti Cecubi to produce intense, fresh and longlasting wines, as pure expression of this country. The recipe mixes the ancient tradition with modern technology, a limited production and organic farming.
So let’s make the experience: come discover Cecubo, the Roman wine!