The Lake Orta, with its millennial history and tradition is certainly one of the most beautiful lakes in Italy.
… A Lake like the eyes of the sky, an island like its pupil…
It is the most western Subalpine lakes, originated by the southern front of the Simplon glacier, located at the east of the Lake Maggiore separated by the Mottarone.
A dominating surrounding nature, between mountains and hills, offers a romantic and relaxing location, typical of the lake atmospheres.
The distance from the cities and from the smog is made also more evident by the green landscapes and the traditional towns and the architectures which characterize the lakeside villages and the villages in the near hills.
The first inhabitants of the San Giulio Riviera have been very probably Ligurians, who were afterwards influenced by Celts.
Like all the Novara area, its inhabitants were first conquered by Gauls and then invaded by Romans.
At the end of the 4th century, Christianity came in the Riviera thanks to the brothers Giulio and Giuliano who abandoned the Greek island of Aegina in order to escape the persecutions against Christians.
The two brothers with the approval of Emperor Theodosius destroyed the pagan temples to build in the same place Christian churches.
Giulio and Giuliano built so ninety-nine churches and, as they thought that their time was almost finished, hurried up to build the hundredth church and prepare a grave where to rest for ever.
Giulio left so his brother in Gozzano and went to the shores of the lake where he could see a little island which was uninhabited by men but where it was known that there were many dragons and snakes. He did not find any boat, so he laid his mantle on the water, he went on it and with the help of his pilgrim’s staff he finally reached the island.
“Only armed with the Sign of the Cross” he chased the snakes and he began to build his last church on the summit of the rock.
According to the tradition, after he laid the foundations, he began again the construction in a more accessible place of the island, where today there is the Basilica.
At the end of the constructions, in 392 he died and he was buried in his hundredth church.
In the Middle Ages the lake was known as the lake of San Giulio and only from the 18th century on the current name of Lake Orta (Cusio) started to emerge, from the main town of the lake, Orta San Giulio.
In Orta the car traffic is restricted, the luxuriant vegetation absorbs the course of sounds. The climate in which you walk is appropriate to the interior life. A Medieval architecture gem composed by charming narrow lanes, with an enchanting atmosphere.
Piazza Motta is the main square in the centre of Orta, starting point for trips towards the San Giulio Island. The Broletto, a 16th century palace, was the first town hall of Orta. In front of it there is a large ascent called “Motta”, taking its name from the homonymous square.
On the sides there are the historical houses and palaces among whose Palazzo Gemelli and Palazzo Penotti Ubertini.
On the top of the flight of steps, there is the Santa Maria Assunta church, built in 1485 and rebuilt in the 19th century, which is today the parish church of Orta.
SAN GIULIO ISLAND
On the San Giulio Island there is a Benedictine monastery, where the silence is culture. The ancient Seminary was built in 1844 and is today an Abbey hosting the Benedictine nuns community.
The island is dominated by the San Giulio Basilica, desired by the Saint in the 4th century, where you can admire the frescoes reproducing images of Saints and paintings realized by pupils of the painter Gaudenzio Ferrari.
From the Motta ascent, a cobblestone lane leads to Sacro Monte, recognized as a World Heritage and protected by UNESCO.
It is composed by twenty chapels with frescoes, which are completed by full size terracotta statues groups illustrating the life of St. Francis of Assisi.
The visit of the chapels allows the study of the different artistic models linked to the change of cultures and taste.
But the element with the greatest artistic value is a Pietà, revered with the title of Mother of the Redeemer.
It is a wooden sculpture of German origin dating back to the 10th and 11th centuries according to scholars. The statue is embedded in a Baroque niche and is embellished by two crowns.
LEGRO, THE PAINTED VILLAGE
The “painted village”: Legro. A little hamlet located in the outskirts of Orta, a walk through the little lanes of the town, where the historical centre has been decorated with a series of frescoes on the walls of the houses by artists coming from everywhere in Italy and Europe. The topics of the paintings reproduce the movies made on the Lake Orta and the stories of the poet Gianni Rodari.
THE MONTE MESMA
Located in the Ameno municipality, it is a protected area, inside the Special Reserve of the Piedmont Region.
On the top there is the Monastery of the Franciscan Friars Minor and the 17th century church. In front of the churchyard there is a wonderful view on the whole lake and in distance on the Monte Rosa.
THE BUCCIONE TOWER
Continuing towards the southern part of the lake, on the heights above Orta, there is a watchtower built since the 12th century.
The castle is the symbol of the proud independence of the San Giulio Riviera and is situated in a very strong location, which allows to dominate the lake and all the Novara plain and from which it is possible to see the San Gaudenzio church of Novara.
THE LAKE ORTA FOR GREAT STORYTELLERS
- Gianni Rodari was born in Omegna, a town located in the northern part of the lake, and wrote a short story about the San Giulio Island, “Twice upon a time, Lambert the baron”: http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/C’era_due_volte_il_barone_Lamberto
- Location of the meeting between Nietzsche and Lou Andreas Salomé: On the Lake Orta, Nietzsche began to write, after the refusal of Lou Salomé, his critical works, among whose the famous “Thus Spoke Zarathustra”.
- Honoré de Balzac: La Comédie humaine
- Mario Soldati: 44 short stories for the summer
- Enea Silvio Piccolomini: Eclogue