The Roman Villa delle Grotte stands on the promontory overlooking the Gulf of Portoferraio, dominating the entire arm of the sea leading to the port of Portoferraio , is located opposite the Roman Villa della Linguella, which closes the bay on the other side.
Given its position and architectural development, it certainly was part of the luxurious villae maritimae that dotted all the islands of the Tuscan Archipelago, built by noble exponents of the aristocratic classes of Rome.
The Villa of
Grotte was built at the end of the 1st century BC. on a p odium , partly natural and partly artificial; in the first half of the 1st century AD. C. is affected by a restructuring, which starts the second phase of life of the villa referable to the late Augustan and Tiberian age.
In all probability it belonged to the noble and ancient family of the Valerii, it was only partially investigated by the Archaeological Superintendence of Tuscany in the sixties and much still remains to be discovered.
The ruins of the villa attracted, starting from the eighteenth century, the interest of travelers and local scholars; thanks to the solidity of the structures, vaults and walls always had to remain partially visible, not only on the lower levels but also on the level of the residential area. It is precisely the vaults of the podium on which the villa stands, so similar to “caves” for those approaching from the sea, that gave rise to the name of the villa itself.
The building, which extended over a total area of two hectares, was divided on two levels: on the plateau were the residential part, with a forepart overlooking the sea, and a large garden facing the hillside; the lower floor consisted of a double terracing structure, which surrounded the villa on the three panoramic sides.
The entrance was located in correspondence with a large rectangular garden ( hortus ), flanked by a covered portico ( ambulatio ), which was to protect from the summer heat or from the winds in the season. colder, which gave access to the residential quarters of the upper floor.
The villa’s privileged vantage point was the large swimming pool located in the center of the residential area, crossed by a large masonry conduit and surrounded on three sides by a large garden bordered by a colonnaded portico ( peristilium ): a portico decorated with terracotta slabs with various subjects, among which the motif of Psyche between zither players and aulòs prevails (visible at the Linguella Museum) and also embellished with plasters with a vegetable subject, to give the impression of a green space even larger than that enclosed by the arcade itself.
The water collected in the conduit flowed into the terrace below, on the sea side, also arranged as a garden and finished in the center by a nymphaeum.
The rooms that developed on the lower level were largely not used except as foundations of the residential floor. Subsequently, a small spa district was created in these rooms with mosaic floors and marble slabs made communicating with the living area through the construction of a staircase. The water supply necessary for the thermal operation was guaranteed by an underground cistern, divided into three rooms.
The decorations of the residential environments were very accurate, according to the current tastes in that period in the capital: the rooms were covered with colored marble or covered with plasters painted with floral motifs, the floors made of black and white mosaic or with colored marble tiles , arranged to create geometric patterns.
Outside, the insertion of the villa into the surrounding environment and the effect it had to arouse on those who approached both from the sea and from the land was carefully studied: the vaults arranged on the sea side, functional both to contain the land and as scenographic effect and the polychromy of the terracing wall, with alternating dark green and white stones, must have characterized the importance and prestige of the residence from afar.
The building was probably abandoned at the end of the first century AD. C., perhaps in a programmatic way and with a real move of the most precious assets, which would explain the absence of more valuable materials and decorations, which it was certainly equipped with, during the archaeological excavations.
Floors and structures were damaged over the centuries by continuous agricultural work, but the most serious destructive intervention was the use of the area for military purposes during the war between France and the Kingdom of Naples for the dominance of the island, at the end of the 18th century. century.
Since then, despite the damage caused by time and especially by man, the remains of the villa still stand majestically on the bay of Portoferraio and offer themselves to visitors to tell their millenary history.
360 ° View of the Grotte
How to reach the Roman Villa delle Gotte
The Villa from the Grotte is located 4 km outside Portoferraio, going towards Porto Azzurro , in the locality of San Giovanni, Le Grotte.