Along the southern shore of Lake Garda, a two-mile promontory projects into the water. At the very end of it lie the ruins of a large Roman villa. The oldest part of the structure dates back to the first century B.C., but most of the villa was built about 100 years later. By the third century it was abandoned, and over time it was incorporated into the city walls of Sirmione, the nearest town.
During the Italian Renaissance, many Roman poets were rediscovered, Gaius Valerius Catullus among them. In one of his poems, Catullus describes his return to a home in Sirmione, which led 14th century scholars to believe that the villa on Lake Garda was the country house of the famous poet. This is unlikely, as most of the villa was built after Catullus’ death, but regardless of the true owner, the place became known as the Grottoes of Catullus. It became a popular destination for scholars and nobles.
The complex was renovated in the 20th century and it is now a museum and archaeological site. Some areas in and around the villa have yet to be excavated. It is considered one of the most impressive examples of Roman villas in northern Italy. At its prime, the villa consisted of two large residential areas with a garden in between, surrounded by long colonnades, and decorated with porticoes and terraces.
Surrounding the villa are a number of olive groves, some several centuries old. In recent years, the harvest of olives has been used to produce Grotte di Catullo extra virgin olive oil.
Know Before You Go
In the summer, the site and museum are open from 8:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. on weekdays, and from 9:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. on holidays. In the winter, the museum is open on from 8:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. and the archaeological area is open from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays. During winter holidays the entire site is open from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. The site is closed every Tuesday, and on January 1, May 1, and December 25. Check the website for schedule changes. Last admission is 45 minutes before closing time.
Tickets cost €8. For €14, visitors can get access to the Grotte di Catullo archaeological area with Archaeological Museum of Sirmione, the Castello Scaligero of Sirmione, and the Roman villa in Desenzano del Garda.