Talking about the Walls of Gaeta is really a misnomer because they have been almost totally distroyed throughout the years.
The original walls were built in successive stages as far back as the 9th century. At this time, Gaeta had to defend itself against the Saracens. As time passed, the walls were amplified and strengthened. There were walls to the sea [leading to the port], and there were walls built that lead to "the isthmus of Montesecco"[Giuseppe Napolitano in Del Comune Di Gaeta]. The walls toward the land had a moat and a draw-bridge!
There were ramparts on the sea with several batteries, and there were bunkers. At one time, the military citadel was almost impregnable and proved it by holding off the attacks of many foreign armies. In the late 1800s, Gaeta lost its title of fortress of the Kingdom.
But, even then, its fortifications stood as a testimony to its brilliant past. Starting in 1917, demolition began against the ancient walls. Today, there are only a few left [some near the Montagna Spaccata and the fortifications on Monte Orlando].
I find this bit of history very disconcerting. There are all kinds of walls that I have photographed here in %gaeta, but they are not the orginal Gaeta Walls.
All the post cards that I saw of the mausoleum in Gaeta called it "Toree di Munazio Plano" which would be Tower of Munazio Planco.
I found out that Plancus was one of Caesar's generals who died in 22 B.C. and was buried in this mausoleum.
Supposedly, this mausoleum is the most complete tomb of its type in Italy. It is huge. We were never able to see the inside of it but were told that the inside contains a circular hall with four funeral chambers that lead off of the hall.
In 2006, I made another journey to see the Mausoleum. It's quite a trip, especially when you walk the last 1/2 mile through difficult terrain alone! It's still as imposing for me as it was in 1997.
Beside the entrance is a small ladder that leads to the top of the tomb where an entire panorama of Gaeta is possible. You must call the Commune of Gaeta at least one day in advance so they can have someone open it. In July and August they have various hours for visitation, but it constantly changes!
It's nice that there is no entrance fee, but we found that it is selcom open.
Over the entrance is a plaque that reads:
"Lucius Munatius Plancus, son of Lucius, grandson of Lucius and great grandson of Lucius, consulcensor, twice general, member of the seven-man college of epulones, triumphed over the Raeti, with booty from the war, built the Temple of Saturn, created the territory of Beneventum in Italy and founded the colonies of Lyons and Raurica (Basel) in Gaul."
The plaque says all that one needs to know about Munatius Plancus.
With all the wandering that Allan and I in Gaeta, it's a wonder we are able to "discover" new items, but we always do.
1. The San Biagio church remains as seen at night against a palace at the entrance of Via Begani. I think that it represents all the other churches in Gaeta that have been destroyed either by time, war, or man's stupid desire to progress. There are about 60 churches over the years that have been destroyed in Gaeta by one means or another.
2. In the Ancient Center of Gaeta as we were walking back to our Bed and Breakfast last one evening, we came across this ancient column within a wall of a home.
3. We saw this tiny chapel as we were walking home one afternoon. It looked as though it were a church, and the plaque indicated that was true.
4. On our way back from climbing Monte Orlando one afternoon, we took another path back to our Bed and Breakfast, and we discovered a lovely home with unusual landscaping, especially this large and beautiful Palm Tree. It really looks as though it is a giant Pineapple!
5. I love details about architecture, and when I saw the small balcony and the door and it's wonderful trim [especially the mask face in the center, I just had to snap a photo.
Be sure to check out the three new photos from 2006
Before we left Gaeta, Allan and I made sure we went back to beautiful Serapo Beach once again. It was so warm that people were actually sunbathing [76 degrees!]
The famous Serapo Beach is located on the northern side of Monte Orlando at the base of the Split Mountain.
This beach welcomes many Italian and foreign visitors each summer. When we were in Gaeta and went to Serapo Beach, it was at the end of February and the beginning of March; thus, it was a near empty beach.
However, in the summer, the beach is entirely covered with large white umbrellas and vivid blue chairs which mark the plots of sand for the sun worshipping masses. There is hardly room to move on the massive beach. People are required to pay to rent a spot to lie on the beach.
I'm certainly glad that we were there in off season; even though it was not warm enough to swim, one day we were able to sit on the beach and enjoy the lovely sky, water, and sand without hordes of people.
The reason Serapo beach is so popular is because of the very fine sand and the crystalline sea of the Tyrrhenian coast.
Where the beach is located (between the promontory of Monte Orlando and the Catena hill) makes it possible to stay on the beach from the morning right up to the evening.
In addition, the beach is located very near to the urban center of the newer portion of Gaeta and is convenient for shopping and eating in one of the many restaurants.
Whether you visit in the off season as we did and actually see the beauty of the natural environment, or you visit in the summer and become one of the thousands who lie on the beach under the white umbrellas, it's a place worth seeing and experiencing.
When I tearfully said goodbye to Gaeta in 1997, I did not think that I would ever see it again. Since that time, I have often daydreamed about the beautiful Bell Tower and Duomo. I'm happy to say, that I certainly did see it on this 2006 visit and enjoyed even more.
SEE NEW PHOTOGRAPHS
One of the landmarks of the medieval portion of Gaeta is the elegant late Romanesque bell tower that has a roof made of colored ceramic tiles.
This medieval area is referred to as Sant' Erasmo and it a picturesque region with its narrow streets, small hidden stairways and the Angevin-Aragonese defensive complex. One person called the medieval district "an open-air museum built at the footsteps of Monte Orlando..."
The Duomo is at the base of the original center of the medieval quarter. It was built on the ruins of the 7th century church of Santa Maria del Parco where the corpse of the patron of Gaeta, St. Erasmus, was buried.
It is filled with many art works. There is the crypt that was made in 1600 that has one nave and is covered with stuccos, reliefs, and marble tarsias. Above the altar, there is a painting called "The Martyrdom of S. Erasmo".
The base of the bell tower of this Duomo is made up of many blocks that came from Roman monuments such as the Mausoleum of L.S. Atratino. Also from that mausoleum is the columns and sarcophagus to the sides of the stairway of the entrance.
We could see this bell tower from the window of our apartment. What a view to enjoy each day, huh?
Mt Orlando is a protected natural park. From the top you can admire the views of Serapo Beach on the Tyrrhenian Sea, the Gulf of Gaeta, the town of Gaeta, and "Old Gaeta". At the top of Mt.Orlando you can visit the Mausoleum of Lucio Munanzio Planco, one of Caesar's generals. Also, remains of old fortifications still exist which can be explored, so bring a flashlight.
The "Old" section of Gaeta is a medieval urban development which was built upon the foundations laid during the Roman period. Heavily damaged during World War II, the recontruction is still in process. Nothing is more relaxing then following the walkways and imagining those who have walked them hundreds of years before. Please thou, be courteous, these are peoples homes.
Upon reaching the top of Mt. Orlando, but slightly below the mausoleum is a series of tunnels, stairs, and old gun placements. They form a circle around the top of Mt. Orlando. Old tracks are still visible at the lower level, where carts would have carried the munitions and supplies to the various areas. Bring a flashlight, but watch you step.
Once again (2006), Allan and I travel to the Top of Monte Orlando. This time, we were 9 years older; however, it seemed much easier this time. See All the new photographs. It's visible at a distance [even by night] because of the lighthouse. This is really not a mountain but rather a promontory.
When we first arrived in Gaeta [ in 1997), we knew very little about the town. We went to the military base because Allan was in the Army Reserves, and he thought we could get valuable information from American military people. He was correct. The MP on duty took us all around Gaeta and showed us the ropes, so to speak. He showed us how to see all of Gaeta by going to the top of Monte Orlando.
That first time, with him, we were able to get a quick peek at the city.
About two days later, on our own in our leased car, we drove to the military base and parked the car in the lot. Then, we walked the gravel path to the top of Monte Orlando.
We saw ruins (best preserved in all of Italy), the Plancus Mausoleum, the large statue of Mary and baby Jesus, and breathtaking views of Gaeta Bay.
We could also see the entire city--both old/new. It was quite a sight with the castle, the bell tower, our pink apartment building, and the Civic Building beside our apartment. We were both in awe of this incredible place we would be staying for a few months.
The walk is steep and rocky at times. You have to be in pretty good shape!
Serapo beach is one of the biggest, sand beaches in Italy, and the town about triples it's size in the summer vacation months (mostly August). If you come in September or June, it'll still be warm enough to be at the beach, and the crowds should be gone, the ugly umbrellas should be taken down off the beach and the costs should be down too. You can get to the beach easily. When you come into town on the bus, you'll be on the water. Gaeta is a peninsula, so just walk perpendicular from the water, and you'll hit the beach. It's probably only about a five minute walk if you go up the street that the post office is on the corner of. It's the next street up from the one Bar Triestina is on (going in the direction the bus came into town). Turn right at the post office, and you'll see the beach in a few minutes.
One of the greatest activities that the Italians engage in is the daily walk.
It's always a grand time for socializing, observing the new "threads" that people are wearing, and stopping to buy a Gelato cone.
But, Sundays are the very best.
Everyone, and I mean Everyone, comes out to parade up and down the Pier Promenade. Small stands are set up for selling candies, nuts, children's toys, sunglasses, CD's, just to name a few.
The children run to the small park to play; mothers and fathers proudly display their newest addition to the family who is riding in an elaborate baby carriage.
At the time we stayed in Gaeta, the Chicago Bulls were at the height of their glory, and the locals would always ask us (being from the Chicago area) about MICHAEL JORDAN.
One Sunday afternoon as Allan and I were joining the Promenade walk, we saw a horse drawn carriage with a driver and a mother, father, and little girl. We inquired and found out that each Sunday the carriage rides are available.
The photograph is the picture that I snapped when we first saw the horse and carriage.
On our 2nd trip to Gaeta, we went up to see the Aragonese Castle viewing what changes had been made. Still not open to the public, yet, lots of the scafolding has been taken down, & much of the renovation is complete. I so wish, as do most locals, that the castle would open to the public.
I took this panoramic view of Gaeta's Aragonese Castle from the incline behind it. I never tired of looking up at the imposing structure. It dominates the whole medieval center, & its rocky sides seem to slope into the sea.
It can be divided into an upper (Aragonese Castel) & a lower part (Angevin Castle). The lower part has an irregular shape, & its 2 sides are located toward the medieval quarter & Monte Orlando.
The upper part has a rectangular shape & a cylindrical tower in 3 of its angles.
Its origin is still somewhat mysterious. We know that it had development in the Norman Age & in the Suevian Age & that it was ordered to be destroyed by Pope Gregorio IX in 1229. It was rebuilt by the Angevins.
Then it underwent transformations under Alfonso Aragonese (after 1436) & served as a magnificent royal residence.
There is a yellow sign on the wall of the castle on the right-hand side which reads:
"Anjou-Aragonese Castle begun at the end of the 10th century. Expanded by the Normans and Frederick II. Reconstructed by Charies I of Anjou, Alfred of Aragon and Charies V. Rectangular plan - 3 cylindrical towers."
It was being renovated in 1997.
The castle was, at one time, turned into a prison, and it still had the bobbed-wire fence around it and guards to keep people out while the renovation was going on.
Today it is used for special classes for the military.
What a shame that the public is denied access to this historic place. I can just imagine the views of Gaeta and Gaeta Bay from the Castle!
Well, the mausoleum dominates the view or rather is visible from as far away as Formia and with binoculars probably Scauri as well. It features in many photos of the Gulf of Gaeta in most books that talk about the History. It is also famous for the fact that it has managed to retain its outer covering where so many monuments have failed..........it has become among the best preserved of the Mausoleums in Italy.
Once you've seen Planco's mausoleum, said to be the best preserved of all in Italy, it is time to see the Atratinus one.
If I understood correctly, this mausoleum was open to the public for the jubilee year (2000) for the last time. It is said to be too dangerous now and so its inside information has been transferred to Planco's mausoleum.....(see travelogue).
I have yet to figure out or be told of the significance of these modern (?) statues. At first I thought of the three wise monkeys but I don't know. They were occupying one of the four cells of Munazio Planco's Mausoleum.