Shores near Rome: Torvajanica


Without going too far from Rome’s city centre, driving along the SR 148 Pontina, it is possible to reach the lovely Torvajanica. The opaque sky of the metropolis is a distant memory in front of the blue unlimited see that appears in front of you and when you look at the sun, a silver line seems to invite you to cross over towards a faraway land, full of light.

On this shores, by the mouth of the river Numicus, which is now the trench of Pratica di Mare, landed Aeneas millenniums ago, like Virgil describes in the Aeneid. The legendary hero, during his flight from defeated Troy, landing on this shores, fulfilled his destiny of returning to the ancient motherland Latium of Dardanus, who was the hero’s ancestor and Troy’s founder.

Every year, on the symbolic date of 21st June, at sunset, on the very same day and in the very same spot identified as the scene of the event – the summer solstice and the mouth of the Numicus -, a local cultural association commemorates the arrival of the Trojans on the coast. Actors and dancers attend the event.

This beautiful seaside resort of the Roman shoreline extends for 8.5 km, between Ostia and Marina di Ardea and owes its name to the Tower of the Vajanico. The popes built in the 1500s in order to guard and protect the territory against the Saracen pirates. At the beginning of 1900s Torvajanica’s coast was almost completely abandoned because of malaria spread in the swamps of the Pontine Marshes.

Those waterways made the beaches particularly rich in fish and molluscs. During the thirties, when the substantial recovery of the Pontine Marshes and of the coast ended, the first dwellings were built, and the first humble fishermen families came from South Italy in seek of a better fortune. The first shacks and seaports for their boats were built on the shores. Even though their life conditions were not so comfortable, this first settlements coloured the soil with a simple life.

On winter nights, when the wind blows heavily on the stormy sea, the old men say that the cries of a young wife of a Sicilian fisherman can be heard. They say that on a stormy night, the woman, not seeing his husband getting back, run out of the shacks and saw in the distance the boat of the unfortunate man upside down and at the mercy of the waves. She entered the sea and shouted his name in despair, but a giant wave crushed on her and unfortunately she died as her spouse.

The tower of the Vajanico was destroyed during the war operations of the Germans in 1944, but the rebirth of Torvajanica came shortly after, at the end of the war, when the inhabitants started to bring the fish on Rome’s market. Soon the poor shacks became comfortable and safe dwellings and the little fishermen village became a real town.

During the fifties, this immaculate oasis – unique for the richness of the Maquis shrubland – set amidst the sea and the sweet slopes of the Alban Hills, began to attract many tourists. The peak was reached in the wonderful sixties: the fortunate alchemy between natural beauty, closeness to the capital city and the Romans Castles, the presence on the very spot of the cinematographic studios of De Laurentis during the period of the Mammoth Productions.

Torvajanica became a tourist attraction with immense possibilities. Celebrities like Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Roger Vladim, Jane Fonda wanted to stay in Torvajanica while the films were shot. Ugo Tognazzi decided to settle there. Many other celebrities of the Italian cinematographic jet set and the Romans professional elite followed his line and the “Villaggio Tognazzi” was born. Good cuisine is another central them that has always accompanied and characterised Torvajanica.

A proof is the presence of many restaurants able to enhance the delicious treasures of Our Sea: the fish caught out of the sea day by day by fishermen, who are the real pioneers and guardians of the historic memory of this town. They are the creators of the most important Vajanic tradition; the procession to the sea in honour of the Madonna dell’ Assunta on August 15th gather dozens of boats and tens of thousands of believers on a natural parterre of ten kilometres of water edge.

Many years have passed, but history still repeats itself. Many extra European people seeking for fortune land on this places, as it happened in the past. It feels like Aeneas has come back many times on this shores, in a thousand different features: as a young fisherman from the South of Italy or as an extra European person or even as anyone who has ever received tender comfort on the sand of these legendary location.