Keeping up with my running theme of search engine terms that lead folks here…

I lived across the Golfo di Gaeta from the eponymous city (Gaeta) for two years.  Perched high on a hill in Maranola di Formia, I woke up each day to a stunning view of one of Italy’s most beautiful coastal cities.  Gaeta doesn’t have a train station – it used to, but now the station’s site makes a great parking lot for Atratino’s – so it’s off the event horizon for most travel guidebook writers.  Lucky, lucky me.  Two years of living near a charming town that backpackers miss.

There are still plenty of foreign tourists in Gaeta, but they arrive courtesy of the U. S. Navy.  As the Navy draws down its presence there, we’ll eventually get to the point where the only Americans who go to Gaeta are people who were formerly stationed there, travelers who knew people formerly stationed there, or historical die-hards who love religious history and cool Italian church architecture. 

If you’re Catholic, Gaeta has special religious significance, because it was from Gaeta’s Golden Chapel that the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception was proclaimed in 1853.  This teaching, which means that Mary, mother of Jesus, was conceived without Original Sin, was accepted and understood to be true by the Church long before the official proclamation date.  Still, it happened in Gaeta.

Another famous Catholic site in Gaeta is harder to find.  It’s Montagna Spaccata (“Split Mountain”) a formation of two high rocks, with a sharp cleft between them, that juts out into the sea.  You can only see this from a boat or by hiking up Monte Orlando to the monastery, which is now run by the missionary order of the P. I. M. E. Fathers.  This international order took over the monastery when the local diocese could no longer support it.  There’s a trail that leads out to the rock formation.

Local legend has it that Montagna Spaccata was formed on Good Friday, as Christ died on the cross.  This is why Monte Orlando is swamped by pilgrims every Easter Monday (“Pasquetta” in Italian), which is a holiday in Italy.  They trek up to the monastery to pay their respects…and kick off official Italian beach season with another type of family journey, later in the day.

Gaeta has a local pride that both typefies Italy and defies classification.  Gaeta’s ancient history ties the city closely to Rome.  Linguistically, the residents might be closer to Naples, but they cling to their status as residents of Lazio (the Italian region that includes Rome) with tenacity and what a non-Italian might call chutzpah.  They may sound like Napolitans, but they aren’t.  Quite.

This, to me, is Italy in microcosm.  Each town, each region, is special, unique and distinct.  When your history dates back over 2500 years, you have a right to local pride.  Gaetani have been fishing and sailing in their gulf for centuries; they’ve passed on family traditions to dozens of generations.  Their beautiful city is well worth a visit, I promise.

Hat tip and grateful thanks: Monsignor Bob Sable, who introduced me to the P. I. M. E. Fathers, their love of Oreo cookies, Gaeta’s history, and Rome’s presepi (Nativity scenes).