The “Grotte di Catullo” are the most impressive and best preserved remains of Roman Villa in northern Italy.
This villa is traditionally attributed to the famous poet from Verona, who lived in the 1st century BC, but today we know that the construction of the villa took place largely after his death. This historical error is due to the fact that Catullus loved to spend his time in Sirmione, and this suggested a connection between the poet and the remains of the villa. Over the centuries, many chroniclers and travelers visited the ruins, but the first systematic studies were made in 1801 by General Lacombe-Saint-Michel, officer of Napoleon Bonaparte‘s army.
The archaeological site covers an area of about two hectares, and is a great test of architecture. To avoid, in fact, the natural inclination of the ground, some impressive reinforcement works were built in some parts and in others the rock was cut.
The villa, only partially excavated, had a rectangular plan, measuring 167 x 105 meters, and consisted of three floors. The first two are well preserved while the third one, containing the master’s rooms, has been dismantled over the centuries to obtain the stone necessary for new buildings, the same fate that has suffered for example the Colosseum in Rome.
In 1999 the Archaeological Museum was inaugurated within the site, very beautiful and recommended to be seen. The museum houses numerous findings from the villa but also from other archaeological sites of Lake Garda, and is organized into three main sections:
- The prehistoric section, dedicated above all to finds in the lake-dwelling areas.
- The Romanesque section, dedicated to the findings made inside the Grotte di Catullo but also from other sites such as the villa of Toscolano and the villa of via Antiche Mura, also in Sirmione).
- The medieval section, dedicated to the finds of the church of San Pietro in Mavino and other surrounding sites.
Recently, the large olive grove of over 1500 olive trees, some of them centuries old, has been recovered, and the olive harvest for the production of extra-virgin olive oil has begun again.