The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary







Gaeta (ancient Caieta) is a seaport in the province of Latina in Lazio, Italy. It has a population of approximately 24,000.


Castle of the houses of Anjou and Aragon
Castle of the houses of Anjou and Aragon

During the break-up of the Roman empire, Gaeta, like Amalfi and Naples, would seem to have established itself as a practically independent port and to have carried on a thriving trade with the Levant. Its history, however, is obscure until, in 823, it appears as a lordship ruled by hereditary Itypati or consuls. In 844 the town fell into the hands of the Arabs, but four years later they were driven out with help supplied by Pope Leo IV. In 875 the town was in the hands of Pope John VIII, who gave it to the count of Capua as a fief of the Holy See, which had long claimed jurisdiction over it. In 877, however, the hypatus John (Joannes) II succeeded in recovering the lordship, which he established as a duchy under the suzerainty of the East Roman emperors. In the 11th century the duchy fell into the hands of the Norman counts of Aversa, afterwards princes of Capua, and in 1135 it was definitively annexed to his kingdom by Roger of Sicily. The town, however, had its own coinage as late as 1229.

In military history the town has played a conspicuous part. Its fortifications date back to Roman times, and a first-century mausoleum of the Roman general Lucius Munatius Plancus stands atop the Split Mountain. These fortifications were extended and strengthened in the 15th century, and indeed throughout the history of the Kingdom of Naples (later the Two Sicilies). On September 30, 1707 it was stormed, after a three months siege, by the Austrians under Daun; and on August 6, 1734 it was taken, after a siege of four months, by French, Spanish and Sardinian troops under the future King Charles of Naples. The fortifications were again strengthened; and in 1799 it was temporarily occupied by the French. On July 18, 1806 it was captured, after an heroic defence, by the French under Masséna; and on July 18, 1815 it capitulated, after a three months siege, to the Austrians. In November 1848 Pope Pius IX, after his flight in disguise from Rome, found a refuge at Gaeta, where he remained until September 4, 1849. Finally, in 1860, it was the scene of the last stand of Francis II of the Two Sicilies against the forces of United Italy. Shut up in the fortress with 12,000 men, after Garibaldi's occupation of Naples, the king, inspired by the heroic example of Queen Maria, offered a stubborn resistance, and it was not till February 13, 1861 that, the withdrawal of the French fleet having made bombardment from the sea possible, he was forced to capitulate. Today NATO maintains a base of operations at Gaeta.

Gaeta's historic quarter
Gaeta's historic quarter

Gaetani speak a dialect of Italian that, while similar to the nearby Neapolitan, is one of the few Italian dialects to preserve Latin's neuter gender. Distinctive local cuisine includes the tiella, which resembles both a pizza and a calzone. The town is also notable for its splendid beach and its distinctive brand of olives, marketed throughout the world.

Gaeta has erected a monument to Giovanni Caboto (John Cabot), who according to many sources was born there (although other sources give Genoa).

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Last updated: 09-12-2005 02:39:13