The Roman emperor Tiberius, famous as the first successor of Augustus, chose Sperlonga to build a very special villa in a cave, one that still amazes the visitor.
For years the villa had been forgotten and for this reason it has kept some of its treasures that can be seen today in the museum. The discovery of the villa is almost accidental: it was 1957 and the engineer Erno Bellante was undertaking construction of the Via Flacca near Sperlonga.
A treasure was extracted from the sand of the Antro di Tiberio (Caveof Tiberius). A large circular basin was filled with thousands of marble fragments. The find was renamed “Odissea del Marmo“.
A memorable moment, news that went around the world and that brought to Sperlonga numerous illuminati. Essays and articles were written. The discovery involved all the local inhabitants, who did not only participate in the discovery but also organized surveillance groups to avoid that the findings would be taken to Rome.
So, there was a popular rebellion that stopped transfer the sculptures, and endeavoured to leave them on the site. Thanks to this revolt today there is the National Archaeological Museum based in Sperlonga.
After a long and difficult restoration, four main sculptural compositions representing the exploits of Ulysses and the return of the wanderers are now recognizable. The sculptural groups include the assault of the Scylla monster on Ulysses’ ship in the centre of the circular basin; then the “Pasquino” (recently identified with Ulysses carrying the corpse of Achilles) and the abduction of Palladio by Ulysses and Diomedes.
These were placed respectively on the left and right appendages that separate the circular pool from the front quadrangular basin. Finally, at the bottom of the cave, there was the large sculpture that represents the blinding of Polyphemus by Ulysses and his companions, at first known as Laocoon “.
The cave of Tiberius is open to the sea and is a section of a large villa dedicated to festivals.
Many times doubts have been raised concerning whether the belonging of the villa-cave were of the emperor Tiberius. There are, however, elements that prove the validity. The term praetorium (generally used to indicate the residence of the emperor) is cited by Suetonius, in the aforementioned passage. Another element is the presence of a vast barracks to collect the Praetorians, imperial guard.
The historians Svetonio (Tiberius, 39) and Tacito (Annali IV, 59) tell of a fortuitous event occurred in 26 AD in this cave when a collapse occurred during a banquet inside the cave praetorium cui Speluncae nomen – near Terracina.
The collapse caused numerous deaths and the emperor Tiberius was saved thanks to the immediate advent of Seiano who protected him with his body by acting as a shield. For this gesture of great faithfulness he was granted the position of the governor of Rome, while he eventually retired to Capri.
The most recent discovery took place on March 9, 2018 when two fishermen found a capital of Greek origin, which testifies even more the commercial link between Italy and Greece. The capital of 1 meter in diameter, perhaps dated around 80-90 BC. or in the first century AD, may have belonged to the villa of Tiberius.
The proof that the capital does not come from under the sea and had fell from a ship, is testified by the top having been in contact with the light many times before this find. This very recent recovery testifies even more the historical importance of this site and gives it even more charm.