Terracina Italy has more to offer than its fabulous beach.
The beaches of Italy are always a drawcard for Italians and tourists to soak up the sun while enjoying the clear blue waters. Terracina is one of those beaches on the shores of the Tyrrhenian Sea, not quite a two-hour drive south of Rome. What we discovered was a modern history of canals, an ancient Temple, a taste experience like no other and a place to unwind and relax. In summer, the population of 45,000 doubles as holidaymakers come to enjoy the beautiful beaches.
Things to See and Places to Visit when Staying in Terracina
A Little Bit of History
Terracina was once an essential seaport due to its strategic location. With the Volscian Hills reaching the coastline and the Pontine Marshes surrounding the city, there was no passage on land to the south.
Each period of its history has left its mark on the city – stretching back some 2,500 years. Before 1934, Terracina was part of the region of Rome but now comes under the Lazio region.
Canals of Terracina
Our Airbnb host Denny alerted us to the history of the canals within Terracina. The area was once a marshland and with outbreaks of malaria in 1520, Pope Pius Vi instigated draining the marshes, but it was not completed.
We learnt that it was Mussolini in the 1930’s who hired Venetians to drain the swamps, so that the land could be productive. It was clearly a great success when the rows of greenhouses are observed, and the delicious local produce is tasted.
Walking back from the beach promenade towards town, you will find small boats moored along the canals. It’s around here you will see some of the local fish markets and seafood restaurants.
Old Town of Terracina
One of the places to see in Terracina has to be the old town. We found the access to the hillside old town was a little unusual when using MapsMe. We were led to an old staircase which took us up a few flights of steps, emerging onto the cobblestoned streets of the medieval old town. Quite ingenious.
But it was when we walked through the old archways into Piazza del Municipio; you discover more of the history of Terracina. It’s here you see the remains of an old Roman Forum, find ancient sculptures on display at the Museo Civico and the Cathedral.
A stop at a small café gave us time to read up on some more information on offer from the Museum. It was great to see the local teenagers taking part in a group activity near the steps of the cathedral. To think there are still paving slabs here from that period.
San Cesareo Cathedral we found was built on top of two old Roman temples, these were dedicated to Roma and Augustus. You can still see the columns of the ancient temple, along with the pulpit resting on columns of lions, and the Roman bath on the steps at the entrance. We discovered the tub was used to boil Christians. Eek!
The Bishop’s Palace dated back to the Carolingian period with a renovation carried out in the 17th century.
Temple of Jupiter Anzur
What remains of the Roman Temple of Jupiter Anxur sits atop a cliff overlooking the Terracina. As you enter the town it’s one of the first attractions you see, and one of the key things to do in Terracina.
Only the vaulted basement of the temple remains plus some smaller ruins. The entrance cost is €6 (cheaper if you are resident) giving you access to explore but also to a magnificent view.
The views from the Temple are spectacular, and on a sunny day, it’s easy to see Mt Vesuvius in the distance. We made two visits. Once for sunset and once in the early morning to capture the light on the old town. The best vantage point, if you don’t want to pay an entrance fee, is the last bend of the road before reaching the temple carpark.
Tip: Access by road is the best option if you want to reach the temple on foot. But if visiting from October, remember to bring a torch as there are no street lights when making your way back down to the old town.
The Appian Way
When you enter Terracina from the east, you pass by the cliff face which changed the direction of the Appian Way (Roman road connecting Rome to Brindisi) This cliff once extended further to the shoreline and was why the Appian Way had to be travelled inland and over the hills.
Roman engineering in the time of Trajan used slaves to cut back the cliff by 36m to allow traffic to pass. Can you imagine the effort of scaling the cliff to achieve this result?
If you take a walk to the cliff face, look up and search for the axe-marks and roman numerals. These indicate where the incisions were made.
Sunsets to Remember Forever
We’ll just let these photos tell the story.
Mozzarella di Bufala (Buffalo Mozzarella)
If you think you know what mozzarella tastes like, then think again. Terracina is worth a day trip just to taste the mozzarella produced locally here. Buffalo Mozzarella has been produced here since the arrival of Buffalo around the year 1000AD.
Denny, our Airbnb host, told us we had to try it. Of course, we have eaten mozzarella of varying textures, but for someone to describe a ball of mozzarella with so much enjoyment, had us intrigued.
Down to the local supermarket, we went. Denny had given us instructions to purchase the freash mozzarella from the deli. They keep it in a bucket at the back of the counter.
We then watched as a ball of mozzarella was retrieved, weighed (only €2) and placed in a bag. Now all we had to do was try it.
Not wanting to wait too long to experience the taste, we retrieved the mozzarella from the bag of liquid and took our first bites.
Oh wow – the mozzarella tasted fantastic from the texture and flavour. It was so smooth and delicious, we ate the whole ball and knew we had to buy more.
Fresh Seafood along the Beach Promenade
Seafood is always one of our favourites, and there is plenty of restaurant choices along the seafront promenade. Denny had given us the recommendation to try one of the local restaurants where you can select a plate costing upwards of €5 and fill it with the seafood on display.
Calamari is always a must for us along with a starter of fried sardines, before choosing another dish of local fish.
Day Visits from Terracina
Only 20 minutes from Terracina is the old hilltop town of Sperlonga overlooking its beautiful white sandy beaches dotted with beach bars and restaurants. Even in October, people were still swimming with at least 20 surfies enjoying the moderate waves.
The watchtower you see jutting out from the base of the old town is one of many along the coast to Gaeta. In the 6th century, they were used to forewarn of attacks from the Saracens.
Villa of Tiberius and Sea Grotto is the main attraction of the town. Sculptures celebrating the deeds of Odysseus were discovered here in the cavern. If you walk south to the end of the beach from the old town, you will end up at the grotto. But if you want to see the sculptures, then the museum on the left before the grotto is where you will find them.
These are the islands you can see when visiting the Temple of Jupiter Anxur. This archipelago is made up of 6 islands, but only Ponza and Venetone are inhabited. Although we didn’t visit this time, we have read how popular these islands are for swimming and diving.
A ferry service is available from Terracina and will undoubtedly be a place we explore next time we visit Terracina. Here is a link to book an online ferry ticket OK Ferry.
This port town throughout history has been a military stronghold. When you look up above the port you’ll see the Angevin-Aragonese castle, still used for military purposes today.
Monte Orlando is also a place to visit while in Gaeta. This hill is now an urban nature park where you can explore and learn of named fauna, or find the ancient Roman Mausoleum of Lucius Muniatus Plancus.
But is was Montagna Spaccata that held our interest. To the left of the monastery, is a gate to the entrance to the Grotta del Turco (Grotto of the Turk). This split in the rock has created a cavern with the incoming sea. The legend is the rock split on the death of Jesus at Calvary.
Straight ahead from the gates is a small chapel with frescoes. But it is the walk down from here through the rock formation where you find a lower chapel. From here it is a short climb up to a lighthouse set amongst the rocks.
Tiella was a recommendation from Luca who we met at Arcomagno who said we must try this favourite dish. Tiella is a pie filled with seafood (octopus) and vegetables and washed down with a glass of wine, it made for a perfect lunch.
Where to Stay
Our Airbnb was with Denny who was more than a Host during our stay. Denny spent time providing us with places of interest to visit, where to find good local food and about Terracina’s local history. But we have to say, the best piece of advice was buying Mozzarella di Bufala.
Terracina – a must see travel destination
So, when you next plan your visit to Italy, consider planning an Italy road trip. A road trip has the added benefit of allowing stops at lesser known places like Terracina. It’s a reward to discovering more stories and of course tasting lots of fabulous foods.
To discover more of what to see and things to do in Italy, then take a look at some of these posts.
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