Gaeta is a well known and popular seaside resort in the province of Latina, perched on a spur of Mount Orlando which faces onto the bay of the same name, whose history is lost in the mists of time. There are various hypotheses on the origins of its name: according to Strabone it comes from "gaetas" (a term used by fishermen to explain the location, with clear reference to its morphology, protected from winds and storms), according to Diodorus, however, it derives from "Aietes" (father of Medea), and finally, according to Virgil from "Cajeta" (the name of the nurse of Aeneas, who was buried by the Trojan hero in this area).
The earliest settlements date back to the VIII century B.C., later in 345 B.C. the town fell under the influence of Rome and soon became a popular resort for wealthy patricians and senators, also thanks to the construction of Via Flacca, much shorter than the Via Appia. After the fall of the Roman Empire the territories were subject of continuous raids and attacks by Barbarians and Saracens. For this reason, thanks to its favorable geographical position, the center strengthened its defense and became a "castrum" surrounded by fortified walls and protected by a castle. The Duchy of Gaeta was officially founded in 917, when Giovanni Gaetani I assumed the title of Duke. Gaetani I kept the rule over the city until the XII century, when this noble family was dispossessed by the Normans, who, however, left to the inhabitants of the town numerous privileges. Over the following centuries the town submitted the domain of the Swabian, Angevin and Aragonese and Bourbons, becoming what was then called "the key or gateway to the Kingdom of Naples", where Kings and Popes often sheltered, which encouraged the construction of major civil and religious buildings.
The coastline is a succession of beaches and coves, interspersed with rocky cliffs and antique watchtowers.
Sites of Interest:
- the Angevin-Aragonese Castle, whose original building probably dates from the VI century, during the wars with the Goths, and was completed in the VII century, during the Lombard period. Fortified in 1223 by Frederick II, the current structure consists of two sections built in different periods: the lowest by the Anjou and the higher up by the Aragonese. The later Angevin wing, instead was built later and was, until recently, the military prison of Gaeta. In the dome of the highest tower of the castle is located the royal chapel, built by Ferdinand of Bourbon in 1849;
- the Mausoleum of Lucius Munanzio Planco, a Roman magistrate, which is located on top of Mount Orlando and dominates the entire city. It features a cylindrical shape plan and inside is divided into a corridor with four morgues;
- the Mausoleum of Lucius Sempronius Atratino, circular in shape and in strong decay;
- the Roman Mausoleum, also known as Sepolcreto Maritime, dating to the I century B.C., features a rectangular building with cruciform death chamber;
- the Cathedral of Saint Erasmus, which stands in the place where once in the VII century, was located the Church of Santa Maria del Parco, where the fugitives bishops from Formia used to shelter. Enlarged in the X century, to preserve the relics of St. Erasmus and to emphasize the victory over the Saracens, today it features a façade in neo-Gothic style, with a portico surmounted a travertine with a three arched window, flanked by smaller two arched windows and a rose window. The interior, instead, is in XVIII century neo-Classical style. The Bell Tower, finally, in Arab-Norman style, dates back to the XII century;
- the Sanctuary of the Santissima Annunziata, founded in the XIV century to provide shelter and assistance to the poor. It was restored in Baroque style in 1624. The façade, designed by Andrea Lazzari, is surmounted by a belfry with a clock in majolica. It houses valuable manuscripts, an altarpiece by Andrea Sabatini from Salerno, paintings by Sebastiano Conca and a Cave of Gold (or Chapel of the Immaculate Conception), named so for the presence of an imposing carved and gilded coffered ceiling;
- the Church of Saint Lucia, whose original structure dates back to the XVII century, was mentioned for the first time in a document of 976. Still evident in the apses are traces of the early church. It is currently disused and is owned by the Town Hall;
- the Church and Convent of San Francesco, founded in 1222 by the Saint of Assisi, during one of his visits to evangelize the people of Gaeta. It currently features a neo-Gothic style with three naves lit by lancet windows with stained glass. The structure is preceded by a wide staircase, at the center of which stands a statue that depicts Faith, holding the cross;
- the Shrine of the Holy Trinity (or Sanctuary of the Split Mountain), built by Benedictine monks in the XI century on the slopes of Monte Orlando. The current appearance is the result of renovations made in the XIX century by the fathers of the Alcantarini order;
- the Church of San Giovanni a Mare, built in the X century by Duke John IV of Gaeta. It is one of the most picturesque medieval buildings of the city with an Arabian dome. The floor is slightly inclined (to allow the outflow of sea water during the high tide) and visible is the reuse of Roman construction materials (in particular the columns and the sarcophagus, which is used as an altar);
- the Church of St. James (XVIII century), rebuilt in the XX century, which contain important works of art;
- the Church of the Nativity (or of the Olive Tree), incorporated into the adjacent Palazzo San Giacomo, was remodeled in 1854;
- the Church of Santa Caterina (XII century);
- the Church of San Domenico (XIII century);
- the Church of St. Jude or St. Onofrio, in neo-Gothic style, today remain only ruins;
- the Church of Santa Maria della Catena (XVII century);
- the Church of Santa Maria di Porto Salvo, originally a monastery of the Augustinian Fathers;
- the Church of Santa Maria della Sorresca (XVI century);
- the Church of St. Cosmas Vecchio, already mentioned in a parchment of 997;
- the Church of San Carlo Borromeo (XVII century);
- the Church of the Blessed Lady of Sorrows;
- the Church of St. Michael the Archangel with the adjoining monastery, dating from the IX century;
- Porta Carlo III and Porta Carlo V;
- Palazzo Ladislao;
- the Diocesan Museum.