Self Excursions to Gaeta

A brief history and description of monuments and places of cultural and natural interest,

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GAETA

An undiscovered pearl of the Mediterraneum, off the beaten track gaeta
Do it yourself - Walking tour

A little history
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Gaeta is a charming little town of about 24,000 people who are known as Gaetani. It is situated in the Lazio region in the province of Latina.Man has inhabited the Gaeta area since prehistoric times. This theory has been confirmed when they found in a cave of San Felice Circeo, a town near Gaeta, the cranium of Circeo man, close to Neanderthal Man. Caveman relics can be seen in the Local San Felice Circeo Museum.Greek civilization greatly influenced the people in this area, although Gaeta was not a Greek colony. A vase was found containing figures from the myth of Dionysus, and sculpted by Salpion, a Greek who lived in the first century B.C. The bowl was used as a mooring for ships in ancient times. This special bowl and many other artifacts can be seen in the Nation Archeological Museum in Naples.The origin of the name Gaeta is from a book written by Virgil who lived in the 29th century B.C. This book is the source of the stories of the birth of Rome. The story tells of Enea, who was a refuge of Troy, who came to this area looking for new land, as Troy had been destroyed. He came here in a ship with the survivors. Among these survivors was his wet nurse whose name was Gajeta. She died in this area, Gajeta, later changed to Gaeta.During roman times, Gaeta was known as a famous resort with a good harbor for ships. The Via Flacca, (known as Rome Road) leading towards the town of Sperionga was lined with beautiful villas, gardens, swimming pools and mausoleums. The best-preserved villa is

Villa Tiberio
, located just below the Sperlonga Museum. Two Mausoleums are still in Gaeta: Plancus Mausoleum on Monte Orlando, which is the best preserved one in all of Italy, and Atratino Mausoleum, just a block off "Rome Road" on Via Atratina, which is in poor condition because many of the stones were removed during the middle ages in order to build local churches.During the middle ages, Gaeta became a fortified city. It was naturally fortified because of its position on a promontory of land jutting out into the sea. Towers and walls were built around it and it became a castrum. These medieval walls can still be seen today on the promenade to the old Gaeta. At one time you could not see the sea from the waterfront road.In the ninth century, Gaeta separated from the Byzantine government and became an autonomous Dukedom. It successfully fought the Saracens.It was ruled by the Norman Dukes in the 11th century, by the Sicilians in the 12th century, and then had Anjou and Aragonese rulers.It was the northernmost line of the Bourbons during their reign over the Kingdom of Naples. In 1848, Pope Pius IX took refuge here.
He coined the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception in the Annunziata, a local church. He also elevated the status of Gaeta to an Archbishop.
In 1870, Gaeta came a part of Unified Italy. It was heavily damaged during World War II, but has since been rebuilt and is presently a fishing center and a resort town because of the beautiful Serapo Beach and marvelous shores.

Half day walking tour
(Takes approx. 3 hours) Madonna della Soledad
Start from the Central post office, at the beginning of the promenade of Old Gaeta. Go down to the left. There is a small chapel of the Madonna della Soledad, built in 1661 by Spanish governor Alfonso de Montroy. In the old days that was the second entrance to the city. Fisherman used to pay homage to the special Madonna before they would go fishing and also on their return trip. Further ahead, there is the first door to the entrance of Gaeta, the sign says

"Porta di Carlo V
."Montagna Spaccata or "split mountain"
Come back and proceed along the road, which is called Lungomare Caboto. At the Italian Post Office, ''Ufficio Postale", turn left onto Via Firenze. Go toward the Mirasole. Take your first left and go up the hill. Follow the yellow and black signs marked Santuario M. Spaccata and Mausoleo M. Planco.Continue straight ahead to Montagna Spaccata and Mausoleo M. Planco whose hours of operation are:
0800-1200 and from 1500-dusk There is no smoking or eating allowed and you must wear suitable clothes-no shorts!
Go straight through the right-hand arch for bathrooms (bagni W.C.) The left-hand door marked "Alla Montagna Spaccata" leads you to Split Mountain. There is a 1,000 lire charge to go through. Usually there is a priest in a little window to your left.
According to the legend, the mountain split three ways after the death of Christ. The blue belvedere sign will take you to a look-out point of the Serapo Beach and the Old Gaeta Promontory.
Go through the small passageway with tiled pictures on the walls. These pictures represent the Station of the Cross. The Station of the Cross is a special procession that Catholic people do during the Lent season, before Easter. The priest stops at each picture and says a prayer commemorating the passion of Christ before his death.
Raimondo Bruno painted these particular pictures in 1849.
At the end of the passage is the Chapel of San Filippo Neri. Above the entry to this chapel is the fall painting of all the stations, plus a painting of the Last Supper. The painter called this grouping 'The Passion of Jesus Christ Our Lord." Inside the chapel is a picture of Christ in Gethsemane and a bust of Philippus Neri. You will see a door to the right, which leads to what used to be the burial place of the monks. At the left are stairs, which descend through a split in the mountain to the Chapel of S S Crucifix (S.S. Crocefisso.)
On the right as you descend the stairs you will see a large hand print with a sign underneath. According to the legend, a Turk, who did not believe that the rock had split at the death of Jesus, touched the rock and said, "If this is true, then let this rock become liquid." As he spoke, the rock liquefied and gave way to the imprint of his hand. As you go down the stairs, you will notice small circles with different symbols impressed in the rock. They represent different special visits to this shrine. One from different saints and nobility personnel that come to visit the Mountain.
Go all the way down into the special Chapel of the Crucifix. The Crucifix is wood from 500's. After viewing the small chapel, ascend the staircase on your left. There is a magnificent view of the split rock and the sea coming between the split.
Walk back to the front gate. Turn to the right and enter the Monastery. It was originally built in 1071 on top of Munatius Plancus Villa. This Monastery, actually known more as a shrine (people come from everywhere to pray for special grace) was very important and was autonomous. It was destroyed several times, but has always been rebuilt
Upon leaving the church, turn to the right, For 1,000 lire per person, you can go down about 200 steps to the Grotta del Turco, a cave where the first split occurred. Turks took refuge in this cave, which is why it was named for them. It is a long and dangerous walk to the bottom.
Above the Split Mountain Sanctuary are the Roman remains of the villa of Munatius Plancus, including the wall in the opus reticulate style and Roman water reservoirs. From Post Office turn direction old Gaeta. At Vic's Bar, cross over to the other side of the street proceeding down the waterfront in the same direction. Passing the tennis courts you will come to a brick wall. Continue along the wall until the opening on your right This is the:

Annunziata Church

On your right you will see a large Baroque Church called the Annunziata. It was built in the 14 century, but was altered many times. It contains well-known paintings by Sebastiano Conca and Luca Giordano. The beautiful wooden choir is from the 17th century. Behind this church is a chapel called the Grotta d'oro. It has a gold-plated caisson ceiling and contains many well-known paintings by Criscuolo and Pulzone. It was here that Pope Pius IX formulated his doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. You can look at this church almost anytime, even if the church is closed, just go to the third side entrance (look for a yellow sign) and ring the bell. Usually the nuns are there and they will show you the church and the Golden Chapel. The nuns are there and they will show you the church and the Golden Chapel. The nuns do not ask for any money, but they do accept tips. If you leave the church from the side door, look directly across the street for steps by the blue and white Fermata sign. Walk up the steps it says "Salita Annunziata." At the top of the stops make a left turn where you will see the remains of a Romanesque church. Continue straight ahead to see a view of the Aragonese-Angioino Castle. On the right you will see the:

Church of San Francesco.

This chuch is neo-gothic style and is built in the form of a Latin cross with a nave and two aisles. Don't miss the view of Gaeta from this church. From the G. Caboto Piazza this chuch can be viewed when lighted at night. This church may only be opened during church services in the morning about 0700 and in the evening about 1800 or on Sunday at 0700 until 1300 and in the evening about 1800.
Facing the front of the church, proceed up the road to the left Keep going straight and follow the road down the hill. At the bottom make an S-curve and proceed up to the castle. On the way up to the castle, you will come to a 15th century Aragonese house.
Look for a yellow sign, which reads: "Supposedly built in the 15th century Aragonese house. Severely damaged by airplane bombs during World War II, it was completely reconstructed in 1970 by private initiatives, society for Reconstructing Medieval Gaeta-Rome.

Anjou-Aragonese Castle

Look for a yellow sign on the wall of the Anjou-Aragonese Castle on the right-hand side which reads: "Anjou-Aragonese Castle begun at the end of The 10th century. Expanded by the Normans and Frederick II. Reconstructed by Charies I of Anjou, Alfred of Aragon and Charies V. Rectangular plan - 3 cylindrical towers.

Bastion

- Mazzini was a prisoner 8/15 -10/15, 1870." The lower part of the castle is Anjou and upper part is Aragonese. Although in former times this castle was richly decorated, at present the inside is used for special classes for the Military. Continue down Via Aragonese.
On your left is a beautiful view of the bell tower of the Duomo of Gaeta.
On your right are two churches: The San Domenico Chuch and the Santa Caterina Church. These two churches are usually closed except for early morning and evenings when they have services. The Church of San Domenico is being restored. Look for the sign, which reads: "Church of San Domenico Gaeta. A Neo-Gothic work with two unequal naves built in 1400 by Alfonso of Aragon. Consecrated by Bishop Ortiz November 11, 1470. Inside frescoes by Mattia Preti and Gravestones, marble inscriptions, coat of arms and decorations are of considerable value."
Continue winding around the promontory and enjoy the beautiful views. Make the hairpin curves down the hill. At the bottom you will continue to the waterfront. You will be on Via Santa Maria Bausan. On your right is the Coast Guard School. On your left is the beautiful little 10th> century church of San Giovanni a Mare. The inside of the church contains frescoes dating back to the 14th century. In front of the church is a plaque, which reads:

"Church of San Giovanni a Mare. Built in 10th century. Romanesque basilica plan with 3 naves. Byzantine cupola wall frescoes. Altar frontal from the 14th century. Constructed from a Roman sarcophagus. " To get into the church, ask at the restaurant "La Gaeta", they will be able to get in touch with the woman who has the keys to the church.
Continue along the waterfront noticing the bell tower with arches and mullion windows. Roman columns, stones and sarcophagi, depicting the biblical Jona being swallowed by the sea. Follow the walkway on the left side of the church. GO behind the church and turn right. Behind the church to the left is the museum Diocesi. Duomo and the Diocesi Museum:

Duomo of Gaeta is the main church of the town. Its style is heterogeneous because it has been reconstructed so many times.
The facade is Neo-Gothic and was constructed in 1908. Inside there is a 13th century Pascal candle that illustrates stories from the lives of Jesus and Saint Erasmus; he is the patron saint of Gaeta. On the main altar there is a painting of his martyrdom, 15th century painting done by C. Saraceni. Go down the steps if the chain is open, or asks the priest, to go look at the beautiful marble chapel dedicated to Saint Erasmus. Again, this church is only opened during church services either in the morning or in the late afternoon. If you have a group of person, you can have it open on special hours.
To the left of the church is the Museo Diocensano which contains paintings from the 13th century to the 18th century. It is open only on Sundays from 0900 to 1100.

Gaeta Museum

Proceed down the road to the Piazza Papa Gelasio where the tree line begins. On tile right you will find the Centro Storico di Gaeta, a small museum containing frescoes from medieval churches, Roman artifact rotating exhibits and a library. Posters and Italian books on local history are sold here. The Gaeta Museum is open Monday through Saturday from 1600 - 1900 and Sunday from 1000 - 1200. The entrance is free of charge. There is a collection of all the paintings that were in various churches of Gaeta.
When leaving the museum, proceed straight ahead on the left side of the road passing by all the shops. You will also pass by a yellow sign, which says, "Antico Palazzo Municipale" or Old Municipal Palace built in 1475 by Fenrrante De Aragone. It was then restored in 1852 by Ferdinando of Bourbon.Follow the road to the right passing by a small central plaza - a monument for those military members who have died in battle. Continue on, ending your tour at the central post office.

Monte Orlando and the Mausoleum of Munatius Plancus

When you come out of the Split Mountain Sanctuary, go straight. Make your first right and follow the Mausoleo M. Planco sign. Take a wide left sweep and right hairpin turn at the Stabilimento Grafico Military sign. If you go past a shed for city busses, you have missed the turn. Continue making hairpin turns to the top of Monte Orlando; come up to a little square with a modem ruin on the left. In the summer there is a bar open- A sharp left turn leads you to a statue of Mary and Jesus. From here, you can get an overview of Gaeta, You are now on Monte Oriando, which is a promontory jutting out into the Bay of Gaeta. On your left is the Serapo Quarter with its beautiful beaches and the Tyrhenian Sea. On your right is the modern Porto Salvo Quarter, which races the Gulf of Gaeta. Below you, but not visible, is the Sant' Erasmo Quarter, which consists of the walled medieval city.
Return to the square and take the road between the bar and the ruin, which will lead you to the Mausoleum of Munatium Plancus. Plancus was one of Caesar's generals.
He died in 22 B.C. and was buried in this mausoleum. Around the outside of the mausoleum symbols of war can be seen- Over the entrance is a plaque which reads:
"Lucius Munatius Plancus, son of Lucius, grandson of Lucius and great grandson of Lucius, consulcensor, twice general, member of the seven-man college of epulones, triumphed over the Raeti, with booty from the war, built the Temple of Saturn, created the territory of Beneventum in Italy and founded the colonies of Lyons and Raurica (Basel) in Gaul."
This mausoleum is the most complete tomb of its type in the country. It is forty-five feet high and ninety-seven feet wide. The inside contains a circular hall with four funerary chambers leading off it, a plan that shows the influence of the Etruscan Tomb at Cervetri. Beside the entrance is a small ladder. This leads to the top of the tomb. From here the entire panorama of Gaeta can be viewed. To visit the mausoleum during the winter, you must call the Commune of Gaeta at least one day before and they will have someone open it. During the months of July and August they have various hours. It usually changes from year to year. The entrance is usually free of charge, but it is very hard to find open. However, it is well worth a hike up there for the view.
Come down from the mausoleum; proceed back down the hill the same way you went up from the central post office.