Nymphaea in Castel Gandolfo: Part 1 The Doric Nymphaeum

When one thinks of Castel Gandolfo, it is often the adorable town, Lake Albano and the Pontifical residence that first come to mind. However, located only a few meters off the shore of the lake, lies not one, but two nymphaea dating back to the 1st century. Once part of Emperor Domitian’s vast summer villa, these majestic sites are well preserved and worth discovering. 


On the occasion of European Heritage Days, the Soprintendenza Archeologia had a special opening and free guided visit of the Doric and Bergantino Nymphaeum which we took part in.


But first off, you may ask what exactly is a nymphaeum? It is a Roman building or room, often a natural grotto with springs, containing a fountain and adorned with plants , flowers and sculpture, and on occasion a shrine dedicated to nymphs and deities.

PART 1: The Doric Nymphaeum

Our first stop was the Doric Nymphaeum, which is located only a few meters from Lake Albano near the intersection of Via Gramsci and via dei Pescatori. Completely carved out rock inside the lake crater, its name derives from the Doric decoration that adorn the fountain space above the niches.


It’s believed the main purpose of this nymphaeum was a place of rest and cooling off, especially in the summertime, as it is noticeably fresher inside than out, and one can only imagine it was built to enjoy the elegant architecture and lake panorama from the inside.


Discovered at the beginning of the 18th century, the nymphaeum is generally attributed to the Domitian era (1st century AD), while other scholars suggest it identifies with one of the shrines created by Emperor Claudius.


The nymphaeum has a barrel vault ceiling and entrance, the latter draped with ivy to replicate the romanticism of the past. The rectangular room (11 x 6 meters) has a magnificent 8 meter high ceiling, and its walls are adorned with double series of niches, most likely to hold statues, topped by a Doric frieze.


Waterfalls and cascades were once in the center; a spectacle of water works fed by aqueducts in the crater, and helped by a system of water pipes and cisterns placed behind the central wall.


Our  guide,  Dott.ssa Simona Carosi, Funzionario Archeologo (Commissioner for Archaeology)  then led us to the second nymphaeum in Castel Gandolfo. Interested?  Continuing reading: Part II  Bergantino Nymphaeum 

How to visit:
The nymphaea are generally closed to the public and can only be visited by contacting the Soprintendenza Archeologia, Belle Arti e Paesaggio of Roma. Guided tours are organized once every 3 months or so and are advertised by the Soprintendenza ABAP-RM-MET, the Municipality of Castel Gandolfo and/or local archaeological associations such as GAALNA

These tours are usually free and in Italian language.