Monte Orlando and the Montagna Spacata
At the summit of the peninsula is the headland of Monte Orlando, which is a protected natural park. It is a paradise for bird watchers and nature lovers. Access to Monte Orlando is only on foot or by a shuttle bus during summer months. As you ascend the mountain you will pass the statue of the Madonna and Child which looks out protectively over the beautiful Bay of Gaeta. Closeby is the old NATO naval base, which has been downsized in recent years.
The Regional Natural Park of Monte Orlando
Within the park there are several paths and mountain bike trails along which you can wander and take in the magnificent panoramic views. The area of sea in front of the park, known as the Blue Oasis, is a Marine Reserve which protects both fauna and flora, and has spectacular cliffs and several marine grottoes. The rocky cliffs are perfect for free climbers with climbing routes of different gradings of ability.
The Bourbon Military Fortifications of Monte Orlando
Also within the park are the ruins of the formidable military fortifications that were put in place by King Charles V, Napoleon’s army and the Bourbons. These include lookout posts, batteries, gun emplacements, barracks, powder magazines, tunnels and barracks. Read more about the History of Gaeta Castle and Fortress. These were also utilised by the Germans during their occupation of Gaeta during the Second World War.
The Roman Mausoleum of Lucius Munatius Plancus and the Gaeta Lighthouse
Monte Orlando is dominated by the imposing circular tomb or mausoleum of Lucius Munatius Plancus (c. 87 BC – c. 15 BC). It is said to be the best preserved of Roman tombs in the whole of Italy. Plancus was a He died in 22 BC. Atina was the birthplace of Lucius Munatius Plancus, a renowned Roman senator, consul, censor and military general. He founded two Roman colonies, that of Lyon in France (Lugdunum) and Basel in Switzerland (Augusta Raurica). Nearby is Gaeta’s lighthouse which is 14 metres tall. The remains of two Roman villas and water cisterns have also been found on Monte Orland0. One property is thought to have belonged to the aforementioned Plancus, while another may have been the villa of Gaius Fonteius Capito.
The Sanctuary of the SS Trinità – The Split Mountain – The Turk’s Grotto
Also on the headland, on a lower level, is the Sanctuary dedicated to The Holy Trinity, located on what has become known as “La Montagna Spaccata“, the “Split Mountain“. This is a natural phenomenon that has become the focus of religious legend. It is said that the mountain was split during a tremendous earthquake at the moment of Christ’s death, and three deep vertical crevices were formed.
One of these is known as the “Turk’s Grotto” as it was used as a hiding place by Saracen pirates. By descending the very steep steps to this cave you will discover what seems to be a hand-print in the rock. It is alleged that this belonged to a Turk (a Saracen invader) who refused to believe the legend. Mentioned above. He is said to have touched the rock and said, “If this is true, then let this rock become liquid“, and as he spoke, the rock softened and left the imprint of his hand. Gaeta was plagued by Saracen invasions for 60 years, from 846 until 915, until they were finally defeated in the Battle of Garigliano. Descending further is the site where in the 15th century a huge stone fell down in between a deep crevice and became wedged there. On this suspended rock was built the tiny Chapel of the Crucifix / Chapel of San Filippo Neri in 1434, overlooking the sea. Legend also has it that San Filippo Neri lived in this cave and there is an indent in the rocks that is said to have been his bed.