Capri is an island off the coast of Italy, in the Bay of Naples that has been a celebrated ‘beauty spot’ and resort since Roman times. Its features are a litany of postcard views: the Marina Piccola (Small Harbor), the Belvedere of Tragara, which is a high panoramic promenade lined with villas, the limestone masses that stand out of the sea (the ‘Faraglioni’), Anacapri, the Blue Grotto (‘Grotta Azzurra’). Above all are the ruins of the Imperial Roman villas.
Tacitus records that there were twelve Imperial villas in Capri. Ruins of one at Tragara could still be seen in the 19th Century. Suetonius reports that when the foundations for the villa were being excavated, giant bones and ‘weapons of stone’ were discovered, which Octavian Augustus ordered to be displayed in the garden of his main residence, the Sea Palace, one of the first displays of fossils.
‘Augustus’ successor Tiberius also built a series of villas at Capri, the most famous of which is the ‘Villa Jovis’ one of the best preserved Roman villas in Italy. The Augustus gardens, belonged to the villa of Friedrich Alfred Krupp, son of the founder of the German steelworks who lived in Capri in the late 1800′s. Built on the ruins of ancient Roman structures, the gardens were donated by Krupp to the Town of Capri, which later named them for the Roman emperor.
After visiting Capri in 29 BC, Caesar Augustus was so taken with the island’s beauty that he bought it from the city of Naples, giving up the nearby island of Ischia – much larger and richer – in return. Legend has it that his successor, Tiberius, who lived there from 27 to 37 AD, built twelve villas, dedicating them to the twelve gods of Olympus. From the most magnificent of these dwellings, the ‘Villa Jovis’, he ruled the Roman Empire. Other emperors spent time in Capri, which was visited and inhabited by Roman nobles up through the fourth century AD.