The Grotto of Emperor Tiberius or Grotta di Tiberio in Sperlonga
Back into the mists of time, according to legend and mythology, in around 1000 BC the Spartans founded a colony by the name of Amyclae close to the present day Sperlonga and lake of Fondi. Sperlonga’s original name Spelunca, was derived from the Latin word speluncae, meaning natural sea caves, many of which are to be found all along these shores.
It is known from contemporary accounts that the Emperor Tiberius was among the prosperous Romans to own villas along the coast of South Lazio. Tiberius was born in 42 BC and died in 37 AD. He ruled as Emperor from 14 AD until his death. He was the adopted son of Emperor Augustus. His sumptuous villa, situated at the base of Monte Ciannito in Sperlonga, incorporated a natural cave. This was transformed into an ornately decorated banqueting hall, where Tiberius dined with guests on an artificial island. The various courses are said to have been served on little boats that were floated across the ornamental sea water pool to the grand emperor’s table. Tiberius narrowly escaped death here, when rocks suddenly fell from the ceiling, killing several of his guests and servants. Tiberius was shielded and saved from the rock fall by his faithful confidant Sejanus. Tiberius also had a villa in Capri.
The Villa and Grotta di Tiberio
The Villa and Grotta di Tiberio can be found at the far end of Sperlonga’s Levante Beach.
The archaeological remains of these Roman dwellings include a military barracks, a marketplace and a small port. These lay buried for centuries in the sand dunes and were only unearthed during the construction of the new coastal road named the Via Flacca during the 1950’s.
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All other photos © Louise Shapcott