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The mountains behind Formia seen from Gaeta.
I stopped at Mola (Mill), a small
town on the shore, near the site of the ancient Formiae;
this is the post where the baggage of all persons travelling
to or from Naples is examined by the custom-house officers.
The quay before the inn is one of the most delightful situations imaginable, for it is sheltered (..) by towering mountains that encircle the eastern side of the bay, and supply it with streams of excellent water; the bay expands in front,
with the city of Gaeta rising out of its bosom; orange groves
hang over the water, and perfume all the environs.
Henry Swinburne - Travels in the Two Sicilies. 1777-1780
View eastwards from the elevated ground behind the centre of modern Formia; in the foreground Torre di Mola and in the distance modern Minturno
Mola di Gaeta greeted us with the richest of orange-trees; we remained there some hours. The creek before the
town, which the tide flows up to, affords one the finest
of views. (..)
On the shore here I found, for the first time in my life, a
starfish, and an echinus thrown up by the sea; a beautiful
green leaf, (tethys foliacea) smooth as the finest bath paper,
and other remarkable rubble-stones, the most common being
limestone, but occasionally also serpentine, jasper, quartz,
granite, breccian pebbles, porphyry, marble of different
kinds, and glass of a blue and green colour. The two last mentioned specimens are scarcely productions of the neighbourhood. They are probably the debris of ancient buildings; and thus we have seen the waves before our eyes playing with
the splendours of the ancient world. We tarried awhile, and
pleased ourselves with meditating on the nature of man, whose
hopes, whether in the civilized or savage state, are so soon
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe - Italian Journey - February 1787 - translation by Charles Nisbet
Views from Formia: (above) Gaeta to the left and Mount Orlando to the right; (below) Mount Vesuvius
Following the line of coast, on the right, till the eye reaches at last the horn of the crescent, one sees at a moderate distance the fortress of Gaeta on the rocks. The left horn stretches out still further, presenting to the beholder first of all a line of mountains, then Vesuvius. Goethe
Torre di Mola: (left) in 2017; (right) in the 1990s
Most of the Grand Tour travellers who described Formia in their accounts saw it during their journey from Rome to Naples along Via Appia. They left the Papal State at Terracina and crossed first a malaria-stricken land and then some forlorn mountains until they reached two medieval settlements which stood on the site of ancient Formiae: first Castellone, perched on a hill top and surrounded by walls, then Mola di Gaeta, a fishing village protected by a small castle of the late XIIIth century. In 1819 the two settlements were united into a township which was called Mola e Castellone until 1861 when it was renamed Formia.
Roman "piscinae" (fish ponds)
The day was already some hours old when we
greeted the gladsome Gulf of Gaeta. The fishers were returning to terra firma with their booty, and the strand was
all alive. Some were carrying away their sea-plunder in
baskets, others preparing their nets against a future
take. Goethe (account of his friend Tischbein)
Many fishponds were located adjacent to villas, in seaside coves and inlets or in lagoons, where they could be fed by both salt and fresh water. More expensive to construct than freshwater ponds, these coastal enclosures were costly and often quite elaborate. (..) As Varro asserts, the appeal of fishponds is to the eye rather than the purse, which is emptied rather than filled by them. "For in the first place they are built at great cost, in the second place they are stocked at great cost, and in the third place they are kept up at great cost". Even though these were saltwater ponds, fresh water was used to control salinity and temperature and, more importantly, to create the brackish mix of salt and fresh water so favoured by fish. (..) Although seaside fishponds could be excavated from rock, they more commonly were constructed using a hydraulic concrete composed of volcanic ash (pozzolana), lime, and aggregate.
James Grout - Encyclopaedia Romana - 2017
Cryptoporticus of a Roman building near the fish ponds
To investigate this interesting line of coast with ease and advantage the traveller should hire a boat and coast along the shore where the foundations of many antique edifices are visible on the shore that is inundated by the sea.
Sir Richard Colt Hoare - A Classical Tour through Italy and Sicily - Journey from Rome to Beneventum on the Appian Way in 1789 - 1819
The fish ponds belonged to a lost villa which was built on an artificial terrace by the sea. The underground structures which supported it were used as warehouses to store wine and other commodities. This villa brings to mind one which was celebrated by Martial in his epigrams (X:30 - Bohn's Classical Library):
O delightful shore of salubrious Formiae; Apollinaris, when he flees from the city of stern Mars (Rome), and wearied lays aside his anxious cares, prefers you to every other spot. (..) At Formiae the surface of the ocean is but gently crisped by the breeze; and though tranquil, is ever in motion, and bears along the painted skiff under the influence of a gale as gentle as that wafted by a maiden's fan when she is distressed by heat. Nor has the fishing-line to seek its victim far out at sea; but the fish may be seen beneath the pellucid waters, seizing the line as it drops from the chamber or the couch.
Tomb of Cicero
The road from Castellone is lined with fragments of ancient edifices. One is
particularly conspicuous near the bridge of Itri. The
first story is square, upon which rises a round tower,
crowned by a square turret full of holes like a dovecote. (..) It was
erected on the spot where Cicero was killed; it answers in
point of situation to the descriptions given us by Plutarch
and others of the place where the assassins (by order of Antony), who had taken
a nearer road to the shore, hid themselves, and intercepted the litter, which for greater security had been
brought through dark and secret walks. Swinburne
Antiquities still increase as we proceed onward towards Mola. A little further on the left is another sepulchral edifice within a vineyard and opposite to it the lofty round building before mentioned which is called the Tower of Cicero. On recalling to our recollection the history of this illustrious orator an involuntary sigh is heaved to his memory for here he spent many a social hour and here he fell by the hands of a vile assassin. Colt Hoare
Other images of the Tomb of Cicero
He stretched his neck forth from the litter and was slain, being then in his sixty-fourth year. Herennius cut off his head, by Antony's command, and his hands. (..) When Cicero's extremities were brought to Rome, it chanced that Antony was conducting an election, but when he heard of their arrival and saw them, he cried out, "Now let our proscriptions have an end". Then he ordered the head and hands to be placed over the ships' beaks on the rostra, a sight that made the Romans shudder; for they thought they saw there, not the face of Cicero, but an image of the soul of Antony. (..) I learn that Caesar (Augustus), a long time after this, paid a visit to one of his daughter's sons; and the boy, since he had in his hands a book of Cicero's, was terrified and sought to hide it in his gown; but Caesar saw it, and took the book, and read a great part of it as he stood, and then gave it back to the youth, saying: "A learned man, my child, a learned man and a lover of his country". Moreover, as soon as he had finally defeated Antony, and when he was himself consul, he chose Cicero's son as his colleague in the office, and it was in his consulship that the senate took down the statues of Antony, made void the other honours that had been paid him, and decreed besides that no Antony should have the name of Marcus. Thus the heavenly powers devolved upon the family of Cicero the final steps in the punishment of Antony.
Plutarch - The Life of Cicero - Loeb Classical Library - 1919
Archaeologists did not find any actual evidence of the tomb having been built by Cicero's son, however they did not find any evidence to the contrary. The circular part of the tomb was most likely built in the Xth century by the rulers of Gaeta and it was used as a sentry tower until the XIXth century. The image used as background for this page shows the monument in an 1861 engraving.
Ruins of Roman tombs between the Tomb of Cicero and Castellone
In my return to Mola, I visited many ruins of ancient
villas, tombs, and gardens, dispersed over the delightful isthmus that joins Gaeta to the main land. Swinburne
It was already daylight when we arrived at the ruins of the ancient town where are many remains of sepulchral monuments. Goethe (account of his friend Tischbein)
Fountain of S. Remigio between the Tomb of Cicero and Castellone
An inscription on a milestone of Via Appia which was found between Terracina and Formia indicates that Emperor Caracalla ordered the replacement of the paving of the road in that section in the year 216. Archaeologists are of the opinion that this fountain near Formia was part of the improvements made at that time.
"Villa di Cicerone" (Villa Rubino): (left-above) terrace by the sea; (left-below) polygonal wall of the most ancient settlement (see those at Segni);(right) dovecot or small tower
We now enter Castellone and the commencement probably of the ancient city of Formiae. From this spot to the end of Mola di Gaeta we find an uninterrupted succession of antiquities. Those on the right hand of the road are the most conspicuous the first belong to the Villa Patrizi (..) and lastly those near Mola which are vulgarly called the Villa of Cicero. Colt Hoare
We were obliged to bargain at La Villa di Cicerone for our dinners, and we were in consequence far better served, at a more moderate price. The hotel has, as its name implies, the reputation of being on the site of one of Cicero's nineteen villas. (..) Our bedroom (..) commands a beautiful view over the sea, and enjoys the fragrance of a well-stocked orangery extending from the back of the house to the shore. (..) The blue waters of the Mediterranean are now sparkling beneath the rays of the setting sun, I must positively go and submerge myself in them, in spite of these effeminate Italians, who tell me that they are yet too cold, and "fanno molto male" (are bad for your health).
Arthur John Strutt - A Pedestrian Tour in Calabria and Sicily - 1842
Detail of a drawing by Carlo Labruzzi, a painter who travelled with Sir Richard Colt Hoare, showing the stucco ceiling of a hall at "Villa di Cicerone"
La Villa di Cicerone is
charmingly situated, and in its Garden
are Ruins of what is denominated Villa
Formianum; but probably that Villa
was more distant from the sea, and near
the Cenotaph of Cicero.
Mariana Starke - Travels in Europe for the Use of Travellers on the Continent and likewise in the Island of Sicily - 1839 Edition - based on travels made in 1824-1828
Cicero himself wrote about Formianum, his villa at Formia, and other ancient writers mentioned it. There is no definite evidence that Villa Rubino at the foot of Castellone is the actual villa of Cicero. It might have been to its west, closer to Gaeta.
S. Erasmo, the main church of Castellone: (left) ancient columns in the portico; (centre) necropolis upon which the church was built; (right) 1698 funerary inscription celebrating Andrea Laudato, Duke of Marzano and landlord of Villa di Cicerone
A number of antique columns varying in their sizes and proportions which have been brought hither from other edifices render the church of S. Erasmo very antiquated in its appearance. The neighbouring cities of Formiae and Minturnae have probably furnished the greater part of these decorations which are almost on the eve of being again buried under ruins as the foundations of the structure are in a very tottering condition. Strong buttresses are now building and the columns are casing with a wall of masonry which will convert them into heavy pilasters. Colt Hoare
St. Erasmus, Bishop of Formiae, was executed in 303 during the persecution ordered by Emperor Diocletian. The relics of the saint were moved to Gaeta after a Saracen raid in 842.
Move to see other monuments or works of art of Formia which were not mentioned by Grand Tour travellers or move to:
Amphitheatre of Capua
Other monuments of Roman Capua
Ancient Capua at New Capua
Grand Tour Travellers' Gaeta
Gaeta - Churches