With the summer holiday almost upon us, what better place for you, as a superyacht lover, to be holidaying than Italy? The country of picturesque beaches and La Dolce Vita is also known for its superyachts; the Germans build the biggest, the Dutch the best and the Italians the most. The hot bed of the Italian superyacht sector is the Tuscan port of Viareggio, home base to legendary yacht yards such as Benetti.
It's obvious where the Italians got their love for superyachts from, their ancestors, the Romans, were pretty good at it as well. In 39 AD, the infamous Emperor Caligula had a huge yacht built of 73 metres in length, just as long as an Airbus A380! This qualifies as a superyacht, also to current standards.
You would expect that this huge pleasure yacht was intended for cruising the Mediterranean. The reality, however, was far crazier than that; the wreck of this Roman superyacht was discovered at the bottom of Lake Nemi, south of Rome, in the 15th century. Lake Nemi measures approximately 1.67 square kilometres and is located in the crater of an extinct volcano at a height of 316 metres. For centuries it was rumoured among the fisherfolk of the lake that there was a big ship resting on the bottom. Sculptures and other objects, indicating the presence of a large Roman ship, were dredged up on a regular basis.
Inventor Guglielmo de Lorena set off on an expedition in 1535, utilising a rather revolutionary aid for that period in time; a diving bell. Guglielmo's diving trip was a great success, which can't be said of the recent disastrous submarine expedition to the Titanic. Using his primitive “submarine”, he confirmed what local fishermen already knew for ages; that there was indeed a huge wreck on the bottom of this small lake!
According to the Romans, Lake Nemi was the domain of Diana, goddess of the hunt, a goddess that Caligula felt a certain affinity for. This explains why Caligula wanted to sail his pleasure yacht at this specific holy spot. Although one could wonder whether “sailing” is the right word for a 73 meter long yacht on a lake that is slightly larger than 1.5 square kilometres! In any case, the ship came with all the expected luxuries and was mainly used for those extravagant parties for which Emperor Caligula was infamous.
Right before the start of the Second World War, the ship was brought to the surface by Benito Mussolini; his obsession with the Roman Empire was such that the entire lake was drained for this purpose. It proved a huge project; the excavation started in 1929 and it was only in 1932 that the entire yacht was no longer submerged. Only then did it become clear how big Caligula's superyacht actually was, particularly compared to modest Lake Nemi. But the madness didn't stop here; the archaeologists didn't find one but two shipwrecks!
Mussolini built a museum for the Nemi ships but it unfortunately went up in flames. This caused the wreckage of Caligula's superyachts to, again, fall back into oblivion, making Lake Nemi the exclusive domain of Goddess Diana again.
What remained were the rumours, the stories firing one's imagination and the photographs.
Have a look at the 1931 newsreel here: