The Grottoes of Catullo
At the far end of the peninsula of Sirmione, set in a beautiful scenic area, are the remains of a Roman villa known as the “Grottoes of Catullo”, the largest private dwelling ever built in northern Italy.
In the Renaissance the term “grotto” or “cavern” was used to designate collapsed buildings, overgrown with vegetation, into which one entered as if they were natural grottoes.
This tradition, which dates back to the 15th and 16th centuries, identified this site as the villa of the Catullo family, the Latin poet who died in 54 B.C.
Verses by Catullo unequivocally prove that he had a home in Sirmione, although it is not certain that he was precisely in this area.
Sirmione was part of the area of the countryside around Verona, and is known in the ancient world for having been a resting stop along the road linking Brescia to Verona.
The first detailed depiction of the remains of the villa is a relief from the early 19th century.
Important excavations were then executed by Girolamo Orti Manara, who published his findings in a work that remains of vital historical importance.
The superintendency for historical buildings initiated excavations in 1939-40, and work on restoration in 1948.
More recent studies have allowed researchers to prove the presence of an earlier construction, seemingly supporting the hypothesis that the architectural work seen today is the result of a single project which established both the orientation and the division of the internal spaces.
The villa is designed on a rectangular profile (m. 167 x 105), with two wings on the short sides, and occupies a total area of ??more than two hectares.
Large foundations were built to address the problem of the sloping rocks in which the building rests, while in other areas large sections of rock have been cut.
The remains visible today are thus on different levels: of the northern sector, for instance, only the grandiose buildings remain, whereas nothing is left of the living quarters.