Photographer's Note

Nightshot of the island of San Giulio on the Orta lake.

Infos from

"The Wrought Iron Balconies of the Old Slate-Roofed Houses

“The place, bizarrely, is called Orta. Someone who knew how to see, my father says, once defined it a watercolor painted by God” (M. Werner, Terraferma).

Arriving from Gozzano, the lakeshore drive coming in to Orta is resplendent with 19th-century neoclassical houses with gardens of blossoming azaleas and camellias. One enters the village among elegant buildings from the 1600-1700s, with arcades opening onto gardens sloping down to the lake. Piazza Motta is like a parlor closed on three sides by porticos, in the shade of which small shops do a brisk trade, while the café terraces have tables reaching right to the water’s edge.

The sharp lines of a Renaissance building, the Palazzo della Comunità della Riviera (1582), immediately capture one’s attention. This building is a symbol of the long self-government that this community has enjoyed. Continuing down Via Olina, one comes to the Olina house, the Hospital from 1602 and, at the intersection where the road rises slightly, the Monti Caldara house (17th cent.) with its lovely wrought iron balconies, a feature seen on many houses in the village. Just a bit beyond is the 17th-century Bossi house, today the Town Hall, with the entrance opening on a garden ending at the lake.

Farther down are the oratory of San Rocco (1631), various 18th-19th-century homes (Gippini and Tosi houses, and the Durio and Motta villas), and Via Bersani, with many medieval elements. On the right side of the Salita della Motta is the 15th-century Casa dei Nani (Dwarves’ House), so called because it has four small windows above the wooden lintel, and nearly opposite there is another old building from the 16th century. To the left stands Palazzo De Fortis Penotti with its beautiful neoclassical façade, and on the right, the late Renaissance Palazzo Gemelli.

At the top of the hill is the Church of Santa Maria Assunta, built in 1485, whose present-day appearance betrays an 18th-century adaptation; it has a marvelous stone portal, with capitals carved in floral and animal motifs. Passing along the walls of Palazzo Gemelli, one comes to the uphill road leading to the San Quirico cemetery and then to the Sacro Monte.

The final stop is the Island of San Giulio, which emerges 400 meters from the shore. Seen from the lake, the tall bell tower of the Basilica, the gardens, and the neat little houses seem to form an enchanted palace rising alone among the castle ruins. A large part of the island is occupied by the Seminary (1844).

The Basilica has undergone changes in various periods. On the site of the primitive church founded by St. Julius in 390, another church was built in 800, later damaged in the 10th century. The main apse remains of this older structure, while the nave and aisles were built in the 10th and 11th centuries. The magnificent ambo, carved from local stone (the same used for the portal of the parish church) in the 12th century, is considered one of the finest works of Romanesque art in Italy. The four columns, each differing from the others, support parapets decorated with tightly interwoven sculptures. The frescoes are from the 14th-16th centuries.

Leaving the church, a road circles the entire island. Near the lake are the old houses of the canons, today private residences."

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Additional Photos by Giorgio Mercuri (giorgimer) Gold Star Critiquer/Silver Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 3429 W: 12 N: 2250] (35017)
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