Fresco fragment from Il grotte di Catulle, Sirmione, Italy

We visited the ruins of the astonishingly large Roman villa in its spectacular setting at the tip of a peninsula at the southern end of Lake Garda. Because many of its stones were re-used to build later buildings, not many decorative artifacts have survived, but there are some very fine plaster fresco fragments on view in the museum at the site. This one is of the boats that must have been a frequent sight from the villa, as the lake was an important transportation artery toward the mountainous region to the north. I was touched to see that the one sculptural fragment recovered from the site was a head of a Dioscuri (Castor and/or Pollux), a god who protected mariners, and the subject of Schubert’s lovely song “Lied eines Schiffers an die Dioskuren”.

The site is called Il grotte di Catulle because it is traditionally associated with the family of the Roman poet Catullus, who mentions visiting “Sirmio” in a poem. The large villa dates from a later time than the poet, but there is evidence that this structure replaced an earlier villa, so it is possible that Catullus did indeed view Lake Garda from this wonderful vantage point.

Information on the site is most plentiful in Italian, but the wiki entry includes some photos of the villa itself