ROME -- Not everything along the Riviera of Ulysses is related to the ancient gods.

Split Mountain, or Montagna Spaccata, in Gaeta, caught my attention with its panoramic views and historical significance. There is no ancient mythological connection here, but there is plenty of lore, as the mountain is supposed to have split during the Crucifixion.

Visitors can descend into the Grotta del Turco, where they can see and touch a hand print purported to have been left in the stone wall of the grotto by a disbelieving Turkish sailor some centuries before.

Visitors also can visit the Chiesa Trinita (Church of the Trinity) and take in impressive views of the Mediterranean from a vantage point on the mountain. This is a stop strictly for walkers, as motorcoaches are required to park some five minutes away.

The Pastena Grottos fit into our itinerary. The grottos were discovered in 1966 by a scuba diver and take at least an hour to explore. The caves are said to date back a million years and offer a spectacle of mysterious formations, complete with bats, in a huge, watery setting.

The last stop loosely tied to our mythological theme was Rieti, about 48 miles north of Rome.

A walled city, Rieti was named for the mother of Romulus and Remus and is, supposedly, situated in the exact center of Italy.

Important sites include the beautifully ornate Santa Maria cathedral and basilica, a former papal seat, and the Rieti theater, with its hand-painted ceiling dating to the late 19th century.

The city is surrounded by mountains, where everyone from Mussolini to the pope is said to have skied at one time or another and where modern visitors pursue the sport of paragliding.

Rieti is located in the province of Sabina, made famous -- or infamous -- by Roman soldiers who carried off a number of local women and thus started a war.

For the record, that really happened.

JDS Travel News JDS Viewpoints JDS Africa/MI