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Sperlonga: face to face with Polyphemus

On the Riviera of Ulysses, a masterpiece of Hellenistic sculpture.


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Where is


Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Sperlonga, SR213, Sperlonga, LT, Lazio, 04029, Italia (0m s.l.m.)


What it is and where it is

Sperlonga is a picturesque fishing village, perched with its white houses on a rocky outcrop. The name of the village probably alludes to the grotto ("spelunca"), called Tiberius' grotto because the emperor owned the large villa on the nearby promontory that included it as a nymphaeum. Very pleasant is the walk through the narrow streets of the medieval nucleus, then reaching the ancient Truglia tower, stretching out toward the sea: from the terrace the view sweeps from the coast, dotted with other towers, to the distant profile of the Aurunci Mountains.

Why it is special

Sperlonga is the reference point for visiting the stretch of coastline that, under the control of the ancient Capovento tower, stretches toward the cliffs of Punta Cetarola: a dozen kilometers of scenic coastal road leading to Gaeta. The surface area of the protected zone is 115 hectares, 82 coastal and 33 marine: dividing them is a series of beaches bordered by a strip of Mediterranean scrub. For bird-watchers, the spectacle unfailingly offered by peregrine falcons and cormorants.

Not to be missed

Some people think that archaeological museums are a bit boring, and they have a point, but this is not the case. In the museum of Sperlonga, in fact, one is confronted with an extraordinary marble Odyssey, the work of three famous Rhodian sculptors: Athenodorus, Agesander, and Polydero (authors also of the famous Laocoon now in the Vatican). The most impressive sculptural group is theBlinding of the Cyclops Polyphemus, with the central figure alone more than five meters long, topped by the exceptionally expressive Odysseus.

A bit of history

The stretch of coastline between Sperlonga and Formia is referred to as the "Ulysses Riviera" because of the legend that points to it as one of the landing points of the Homeric hero on his return journey to Ithaca. Confirming this was the 1957 archaeological discovery of the large sculptural groups inspired by the Odyssey that adorned the so-called Grotto of Tiberius, attached to the Roman emperor's villa in Sperlonga.


One of the surprises offered by the trip is gastronomic in nature. The typical products of the coast between Sperlonga and Gaeta, in fact, are all found in a preparation that has the merit of simplicity: tiella, a kind of savory pie that between two layers of dough amalgamates the flavors of the sea and the countryside. It is, as the name suggests, a very popular dish, a "pan" that is prepared in the family, by bakers and delis. It is eaten hot, but it loses none of its goodness even cold, in a picnic version.

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Francesco Soletti

The Grotto of Tiberius? Impressive-then there's Sperlonga with its maze of narrow streets.