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The Grottoes of Catullus in Sirmione is an archaeological site of ruins of an ancient Roman villa. It is open to visitors every day but Monday.
The Grottoes of Catullus in Sirmione is an archaeological site of ruins of an ancient Roman villa. It is open to visitors every day but Monday. (Nancy Montgomery/Stars and Stripes)
The Grottoes of Catullus in Sirmione is an archaeological site of ruins of an ancient Roman villa. It is open to visitors every day but Monday.
The Grottoes of Catullus in Sirmione is an archaeological site of ruins of an ancient Roman villa. It is open to visitors every day but Monday. (Nancy Montgomery/Stars and Stripes)
The Grottoes of Catullus is neither a grotto, nor relevant to the Roman poet Catullus. Still, it's a nice walk among very old stones.
The Grottoes of Catullus is neither a grotto, nor relevant to the Roman poet Catullus. Still, it's a nice walk among very old stones. (Nancy Montgomery/Stars and Stripes)
The Grottoes of Catullus, the ruins of an old Roman villa in Sirmione, offers an archaeological lesson and numerous photo ops.
The Grottoes of Catullus, the ruins of an old Roman villa in Sirmione, offers an archaeological lesson and numerous photo ops. (Nancy Montgomery/Stars and Stripes)
The "grand pilone" or big pylon, in the Grottoes of Catullus is one of the foundation elements of the villa built for wealthy Veronans beginning at the end of the 1st century B.C. The architectural site is located at the tip of the Sirmione peninsula.
The "grand pilone" or big pylon, in the Grottoes of Catullus is one of the foundation elements of the villa built for wealthy Veronans beginning at the end of the 1st century B.C. The architectural site is located at the tip of the Sirmione peninsula. (Nancy Montgomery/Stars and Stripes)
The Grottoes of Catullus, an archaeological site and museum in Sirmione, showcases the ruins of what was a huge Roman villa perched above Lake Garda centuries before Alaric, king of the Visigoths, invaded Italy and sacked Rome in 410, a decisive event in the decline and fall of the Western Roman Empire.
The Grottoes of Catullus, an archaeological site and museum in Sirmione, showcases the ruins of what was a huge Roman villa perched above Lake Garda centuries before Alaric, king of the Visigoths, invaded Italy and sacked Rome in 410, a decisive event in the decline and fall of the Western Roman Empire. (Nancy Montgomery/Stars and Stripes)
The Grottoes of Catullus, an archaeological site and museum in Sirmione, had a thermal bath system, service passageways, elegant public rooms, large terraces and more at a time most people lived in huts.
The Grottoes of Catullus, an archaeological site and museum in Sirmione, had a thermal bath system, service passageways, elegant public rooms, large terraces and more at a time most people lived in huts. (Nancy Montgomery/Stars and Stripes)
A small museum near the entrance to the Grottoes of Catullus in Sirmione has on display mosaics and pottery shards of the area.
A small museum near the entrance to the Grottoes of Catullus in Sirmione has on display mosaics and pottery shards of the area. (Nancy Montgomery/Stars and Stripes)
The Grottoes of Catullus, an archaeological site and museum in Sirmione, showcases the ruins of what was once a huge, lavish Roman villa. It brings to mind the poem "Ozymandias," by Percy Bysshe Shelley: Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair! Nothing beside remains..."
The Grottoes of Catullus, an archaeological site and museum in Sirmione, showcases the ruins of what was once a huge, lavish Roman villa. It brings to mind the poem "Ozymandias," by Percy Bysshe Shelley: Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair! Nothing beside remains..." (Nancy Montgomery/Stars and Stripes)

On a June trip to Sirmione, the charming town on Lake Garda, I did what many tourists do and visited the Grottoes of Catullus.

There aren’t any grottoes there, nor was Cattulus, the classical Roman poet in love with Lesbia, in attendance.

Still, it was hot during the visit, nearly 95 degrees. Arguably too hot to tour what are the remains of the largest Roman villa in northern Italy.

The archaeological site and museum is open all year. However, viewing what remains of the ancient mansion, along with its cypress trees, olive groves and panoramic lake in the autumnal light might be ideal.

The capacious ruins are thought today to be from a grand home built between the end of the 1st century B.C. and 1st century A.D. for some 1 percenters from Verona.

Now it costs just 8 euros (about $8.80) for visitors to wander among the ruins of the villa, some 550 feet long and 350 feet wide, and its nearly 5-acre site. To the uninitiated, it might look like a lot of rocks and arches. But signs in three languages explain how the multi-story villa was constructed and what individual rooms were used for. Drawings show how it might have looked in all its splendor.

A small museum at the entrance traces the history of the area, from the formation of northern Italy’s lakes through glacial melt, to the earliest settlements and Sirmione’s place on the trade route connecting Rome with the Alps and beyond. It also has a collection of tools, pottery shards, buttons and coins from past settlements, and parts of surviving mosaics found in the area.

The ruins retain their name for understandable reasons. When they were first discovered and before they were excavated, they looked like caves. And Catullus did have a nice house in the area — he wrote about it in his poems — but at an even earlier time.

montgomery.nancy@stripes.com Twitter:@montgomerynance

TIMES: 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday through Monday. Closed Tuesdays. Closes at 2 p.m. on Italian holidays. Winter hours 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

COSTS: Adults: 8 euros; 18 and under: free

FOOD: Sirmione is full of cafes, restaurants and gelato stands.

INFORMATION: Online: grottedicatullo.beniculturali.it/index.php?en/1/grotte-di-catullo-home

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