Capri has never failed to attract visitors and one such visitor was the Emperor Tiberius, in fact he was so enamoured with the island that he became a frequent visitor and eventually built his own holiday retreat, Villa Jovis (Villa of Jupiter).
Situated on the cliff top overlooking the Bay of Naples, the Sorrentine Peninsula and the neighbouring islands of Ischia and Procida, this once palatial retreat of the emperor is the largest of the island’s twelve Roman villas.
A large proportion of the property remains and, after excavation work in 1937 by the archaeologist Amadeo Maiuri, the site underwent restoration by the Lysis Association and the Council of Capri in the 1990s and is now open as a tourist attraction.
Villa Jovis is a 2km walk along Via Tiberio, and although a large portion is ruins, you can still see the grand scale of the buildings giving you a clear idea of how Tiberius lived during his stays on the island. The villa is laid out in sections linked by corridors and stairways and, although over the years most of the frescoes and other artefacts have been removed and donated to museums, it is still worthy of a few hours of your time.
The north facing apartment, with its view over the bay housed the emperor’s private rooms, while the south facing one was used solely for the administration of the villa and servants quarters. Parties and lavish receptions took place in the villa’s eastern apartments and on warm summer evenings guests could stroll through the open walled west wing with its covered promenade and formal planted borders and views down to Anacapri.
The site houses the small Church of Santa Maria del Soccorso where stands a statue of the Madonna which is clearly visible from the sea below.
One of the marvels of the villa is the water system. Perched where it is posed a problem due to the perennial lack of fresh water on Capri, so to combat this a series of cisterns and containers had to be constructed. The centre of the villa housed a number of tanks built to collect rainwater which was then directed along a network of internal canals to four purpose-built reservoirs. The villa’s communal baths were situated in the southern wing and much of the water was diverted here. These baths were heated by braziers and divided into the traditional frigidarium, tepidarium and calidarium (cold, tepid and hot baths).
Behind the villa is the notorious Salto di Tiberio (Tiberius’ Leap). A stairway leads down from the villa to the 330 metre high plateau where it is said servants and subjects that had fallen out of favour with the emperor were thrown to their death onto the rocks and sea below.
To reach the villa walk from Piazza Umberto I (Piazzetta di Capri), then take Via Le Botteghe, followed by Via Fuorlovado, Via Croce which finally puts you onto Via Tiberio. For up-to-date opening hours contact the Tourist Information office based in Piazza Umberto I.
One word of advice: Wear comfortable and sturdy footwear for your visit.