The origins of the town
The origins are lost in legend: in the myth of Ulysses, who so Homer narrates – spent more than a year here, seduced by the sorceress Circe; but also in the myth of Aeneas, who, according to Virgil, buried his beloved wet-nurse Caieta here (the town is in fact supposed to be named after her).
What is certain is that in Roman times Gaeta became an important harbor and a prestigious holiday destination for emperors, patricians, consuls and senators. Here they built sumptuous villas with gardens, nymphaea, temples and mausoleums; many of their imposing ruins remain to this day.
Located on a rugged peninsula, Gaeta is a natural stronghold; easily defended.
At the beginning of the Middle Ages it offered sanctuary from pirates . In the middle of the 10th century, freed from the Saracens, the town became an autonomous duchy, with its own army, statutes and even its own currency (the follaro).
These factors allowed Gaeta to develop extensive trade links across the Mediterranean, and be regarded as the fifth Maritime Republic.
In 1140 Gaeta was conquered by Roger II of Sicily and became part of a unitary kingdom, remaining so for the following seven centuries. Placed in a strategic position between the Papal States and the Kingdom of Naples, Gaeta reinforced its fortification through the centuries.
The castle, towers, bastions and walls were reinforced to withstand siege after siege.
At the same time, new religious and civic buildings were constructed, together with new churches as well as aristocratic and royal palaces that hosted Ladislaus Anjou-Durazzo, Joan II of Naples and Alfonso V of Aragon.
After the Spanish conquest of the Kingdom of Naples, in 1504, Gaeta was further reinforced with fortifications and an impressive military contingent. It was from the port of Gaeta, in fact, that the Papal fleet that in 1571 defeated the Ottoman Empire at Lepanto, Greece, first set sail (the standard of that epic battle, given to the town by the captain Marcantonio Colonna, is now in the Diocesan Museum).
1734: Gaeta is conquered by Charles III of Spain, founder of the Nea- politan line of the Bourbon dynasty (I Borbone).
In 1848 Pope Pius IX sought refuge from the Roman Republic in Gaeta.
Then there was Garibaldi's Expedition of the Thousands, the fall of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, the retreat of Francis II Borbone to Gaeta with his wife Maria Sophie, sister of the Empress of Austria "Sissi"....and, in 1860-61, the siege of the town by the Piedmont army.
The dramatic and devastating siege came 2 to an end, after 102 days, with the surrender of the King.
The 13th February 1861, under the walls of Gaeta, the Borbone dynasty came to an end and the unification of Italy was complete.