The mysterious sea grotto of Montagna Spaccata, or Split Mountain, is a natural wonder found on Monte Orlando, a protected natural park in Gaeta.
According to local stories, God was so distraught at the crucifixion of Christ that He made the earth shake and let out a lightning bolt which created three giant cracks in this mountain. The Sanctuary of Santissima Trinita, or Holy Trinity, was built during the 11th century by the Benedictine monks to honor this event.
During the 9th century, Gaeta was invaded by Saracen pirates who used Montagna Spaccata as a hideout. According to legend, one day a Turkish sailor was walking along the mountain, mocking the stories of how it came to be broken apart, and (depending on whom you ask) saying to his fellow sailors that if it were true, then the mountain must be made of cheese. As he said this, he placed his hand on the wall of the mountain and somehow his hand sank into the rock which became liquified, leaving an imprint of his fingers.
I remember seeing this imprint for the first time when I was younger, giving me the chills. It still does every time I see it.
As you walk through the mountain, you will come upon what looks like a stone bed. It is said that San Filippo Neri came here to meditate and slept here for the rest of his life.
In the 1400's, a large boulder broke off and fell in between where the mountain split. A chapel was built here dedicated to the crucifix.
If you walk further down, you will arrive at the natural grotto, La Grotta del Turco, or The Cave of the Turk, where the Saracens used to hide out. Unfortunately you cannot walk all the way down to the water anymore because it is blocked off.
Many pontiffs, saints, and bishops have visited here over the centuries to pray. Today it is the home of the PIME missionaries.
For more information, see Gaeta Comune website (Italian) and Pime website (Italian).
Here's some exciting news about this magical place - the prequel to Game of Thrones, Blood Moon, was being filmed here last summer!
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