Capri is a resort island reached by boat from Naples. When you arrive, take the funicular to the piazzetta (little square) where It Started In Naples was filmed starring Sophia Loren and Clark Gable. From here, walk two kilometers along narrow roads lined with white washed buildings and where hotel carts zip past. You’ll end at the eerie remains of Emperor Tiberius’ villa, called the Jovis Villa.
The emperor’s summer villa still exists in Sperlonga, but Tiberius exiled himself to the Jovis Villa with its stunning views of the sea. He then left the day-to-day ruling of Rome to his ruthless praetorian guard Sejanus.
The two historians who documented Tiberius’ life, Tacitus and Suetonius, claim that by the time he lived in Capri, he was a depraved man. Known by his subjects as “Biberius” for his hard drinking, Suetonius seemed to almost enjoy the detailed descriptions of Tiberius’ time on the island. Seutonius wrote:
“Bevies of girls and toy boys, whom he had collected from all over as adepts in unnatural practices and who were known as spintriae, would perform before him in groups of three to excite his waning passions. A number of small rooms were furnished with the most indecent pictures and statuary obtainable, as well as the erotic manuals of Elephantis; the inmates of the establishment would know from these exactly what was expected of them. He furthermore devised little nooks of lechery in the woods and glades of the island, and had boys and girls dressed up as Pans and nymphs posted in front of caverns or grottoes, so that the island was now openly and generally called “Caprineum.””
Leaving the governance of Rome to his ruthless Sejanus, Tiberius was no less ruthless on his island. Suetonius also said:
“In Capreae they still talk about how the place at the cliff top where Tiberius used to watch his victims being thrown into the sea after prolonged and exquisite tortures. A party of marines was stationed below, and when the bodies came hurtling down they whacked at them with oars and boat hooks, to make sure that they were completely dead. An ingenious torture of Tiberius’ devising was to trick men into drinking huge draughts of wine, and then suddenly to knot a cord tightly around their genitals, which not only cut into the flesh but prevented them from urinating.”
Tiberius became so ruthless while exiling himself on Capri that upon his death at the age of seventy-seven, he was denied the usual divine honors of a Caesar and mobs of people in the streets of Rome yelled “To the Tiber with Tiberius.” They refused even to bury his body.
Today, beaches and quiet nature make this island beautiful. The Blue Grotto is the main tourist attraction, which would be a wonderful experience – if it wasn’t also a real assault on the pocketbook.
You pay a fee at the harbor and a boat takes you along the sheer cliffs until you reach the opening of the grotto. Here, you’re required to pay another fee to get into a row boat. The rower then tells you to lie down in the boat. He pulls at a chain strung through a small rock opening and the boat rushes inside. You enter a cavern where startling electric blue ambient light shines from the bottom of the water. The rower sings a song – often this is O Sole Mio but we got something from the Spanish group Gypsy Kings – his voice echoing throughout the cave along with the many other boatmen. He then asks for a tip before you leave his rowboat… and asks for an additional tip after that.
It’s brief, has a measure of magic but is, above all, an expensive experience that may leave you with a Tiberius-like sense of fiduciary perversity.
Getting There: You can catch a fast hydrofoil (aliscafo) to Capri every hour of every day at the Molo Beverello port in downtown Naples across the street from Castel Nuovo. Slower ferries (whether a nave or traghetto) depart from the nearby Calata Porta di Massa port. Check timetables (orari) at any tourist office or on-line at the ferry and jet services, including: Caremar and SNAV.