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The Strange Roman History of Lake Nemi: Ships, Caligula & More

Friday Jun 5, 2015


When traveling in Rome, you may hear the whispers of the stories surrounding the short lived Emperor, Caligula, and the two enormous wooden ships that once belonged to him. These Caligula ships were dedicated and built to the moon Goddess Diana on Lake Nemi, Italy. In Roman mythology, Diana was the goddess of the hunt, the moon, and childbirth, and was associated with wild animals and woodland creatures.


The Rich Roman History of Lake Nemi, Italy

The largest of the Lake Nemi ships resembled one of the Emperor’s palaces and was adorned with marble mosaic floors of many colors, inlaid ivory on the walls, heating, plumbing, and steam baths. Everything was quite remarkable looking even for the royal standards of that time. Caligula himself is generally depicted by historians as a cruel power-hungry man who was noted for many excesses and strange desires. His floating palaces, the ships, were attached to shore by chains and bridges so that people could come and go as he pleased. At 250 feet long, there was plenty of room for decadent parties, large pets, and sporting activities.

Unfortunately, (or perhaps not) the emperor Caligula had a very brief reign.  He ruled from 37A.D. to 41A.D. for a period of three years and ten months. His downfall? An assassination by members of the Praetorian Guard, who were sickened by his depraved behavior and reckless spending. He was twenty-eight years old. Because of the scantlake-nemi-ships historical record, Caligula’s final resting place has become the subject of debate, but many think that his body was buried in the Mausoleum of Augustus, in Rome, and still lies there today.

Sometime after the death of the Emperor, the ships tragically sank to the bottom of Lake Nemi, Italy, taking all of their treasures with them. There is some speculation that perhaps they simply floated on the lake until they leaked and became too heavy with water to stay afloat. Other analysts have speculated that Caligula’s successor, Claudius, a more kind and practical ruler, may have had them sunk to help obliterate the memory of his predecessor.



Resurrecting the Caligula Ships

After hundreds of years with many excavations and restorations, the Caligula ships were brought out of the water and put on display in a large museum dedicated to the Lake Nemi ships, the Goddess Diana, and the treasures that were found in those floating palaces. During the Second World War though, the two ships were completely burnt to ashes after a nearby bomb set the museum on fire.

Today, the Lake Nemi Museum still exists in the same building after being restored and reopened in 1953. The spaces once taken up by the two mighty ships are now occupied by one-fifth scale models that were built in the naval dockyard near Naples, and various artifacts that had escaped destruction. The people of Rome and Lake Nemi, Italy have found other ways to preserve and restore what once was.


Modern Attractions for Your Own Visit to The Lake Nemi Ships

The Festival of Nemoralia (sometimes known as the Festival of Torches) was once celebrated by the ancient Romans either on August 15th or on the August Full Moon, in honor of the goddess Diana. Worshippers would form a twinkling procession of torches and candles around the dark waters of Lake Nemi (sometimes now called ‘Diana’s Mirror’ because of the extremely clear water). Today, the festival still takes place and people from all over the world come to see it every year. Rent a car in Rome this summer and you too can take part in the festivities and explore the beautiful regions surrounding the Italian capital.



Lake Nemi today is still a beautiful place and a very popular summer tourist destination. Formed by the crater of an old volcano, there is plenty to see when vacationing here. After visiting the Caligula ships museum, see all that Rome has to offer by exploring the Pantheon, the Colosseum, St. Peter’s Basilica, and the Sistine Chapel (just to name a few). In Italy’s capital, you’ll be captivated for days by all the attractions there are to see and remember that Kemwel can provide you with the versatile transportation you need at affordable price with some of the best travel deals and promotions around. Peruse your options online or give one of our travel experts a call, toll-free at 1-877-820-0668 to get started planning your next vacation!

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