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Orta San Giulio (Novara): Orta San Giulio

Foto Orta San Giulio
Foto Orta San Giulio
Foto Orta San Giulio
Foto Orta San Giulio
Foto Orta San Giulio
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Places  of historical value  of artistic value  of landscape value around Milan (Italy): Orta San GiulioOrta San Giulio is the picturesque village from which Lake Orta takes its name. It is located on the eastern side of the lake, in correspondence of the peninsula that extends towards the inside of the lake.
In the Middle Ages the village was a fortified village with walls and a castle, but today nothing remains of these structures (the first were demolished already in the fourteenth century).
The municipality of Orta San Giulio also includes the Island of San Giulio, which is located right in front of the town's main square, separated from it by a few hundred meters of water.
The town center is completely pedestrianized and especially on weekends it is crowded with tourists.
Despite being a small town, there are really many things to see in Orta San Giulio. In particular, we point out (without any completeness claim):

  • Mario Motta Square (Fig. 1): Located right in front of the island, it is surrounded by ancient houses, partly porticoed, some decorated with frescoes, and houses hotels, restaurants and bars. The presence, on the northern side of the square, of the Palace of the Community (Larger picture) testifies to the fact that the square has long been the central point of the coastal community. The building was built in 1585 by Andrea del Sala and Battista Pandoro (though stairs and bell towers are more recent) and has, on a very small scale, the same structure as the brolettos found in many Lombard cities, including Monza and Milan: a ground floor composed of a portico and a windowed upper floor occupied by a large hall. The hall here is adorned with a fresco depicting the Virgin with San Giulio. Outside there are the coat of arms of some bishops counts of Novara, of the Municipality of Orta and of the house of Sardinia. Above the entrance there is a fresco depicting a Justice among angels, surmounted by the Virgilian verse "Discite Justitiam ammoniti".
    In the square there is also a building with a fresco of the piety which in the past housed the pawnshop.
    From 1228 every Wednesday the square hosts the village market.

  • Church of Santa Maria Assunta: Taking the pedestrian uphill road that starts from the square (Climb of the Motta, Fig. 2, 3) it is possible to reach the parish church of Orta. Despite being small, it is one of the baroque jewels of the Novara area. Its interiors are in fact completely frescoed in Rococo style. Particularly noteworthy are the apse, whose vault is completely occupied by a trompe l'oeil quadratura populated by angels, and the right side chapel (Chapel of the Rosary), whose current aspect is due to the reorganization by Gerolamo Gemelli in the second half of the eighteenth century.
    The church houses valuable paintings, including an Immaculate Conception by Stefano Maria Legnani known as il Legnanino, a Transit of the Virgin by his brother and a Last Supper from the seventeenth century, a copy of the Last Supper by Gaudenzio Ferrari preserved in the Church of Santa Maria della Passione in Milan.
    Also noteworthy is the façade, which combines in a harmonious and original way with the interior, although it was built in 1941.
    Church of Santa Maria Assunta in more detail.

  • Sacro Monte of Orta: Dedicated to the life of St. Francis, it occupies part of the hilltop plateau that lies at the base of the Orta peninsula. It arose following a resolution taken in 1583 by the Community of Orta.
    Initially 30 chapels were planned, but in the end only 20 were built, with construction works going on until the end of the eighteenth century. As a result of this, the chapels created first are in Renaissance style, while in the last ones Baroque prevails, especially in the case of the interior decorations.
    In fact the last chapel was never finished and today it is used as a location for artistic and photographic exhibitions.
    The value of the Sacro Monte of Orta is not only historical and artistic, but also landscape, as the chapels are harmoniously inserted in the woods of the hill and from many points it is possible to enjoy wonderful views of the surrounding areas.
    Sacro Monte of Orta in more detail

  • Island of San Giulio (Fig. 4, 5): It looks like an oval plateau approx. 250m long, 140m wide and almost completely occupied by civil and religious buildings, interspersed with gardens and courtyards. The island is dominated by the bulk of the former seminary in the center and the tall Romanesque bell tower of the Basilica of San Giulio. According to tradition San Giulio was the first to colonize the island, still infested with snakes and other scary animals, after having reached it using his cloak as a boat and his stick as an oar.
    After San Giulio the island became the property of the bishops of Novara and was transformed into a fortress. It suffered numerous sieges, the most famous being that of 962 by Otto I. Just during this siege Guglielmo da Volpiano was born on the island, future Benedictine abbot founder of monasteries, architect, writer, artist.
    In 1844 the large building of the seminary was built in place of the walls and the castle, ruins at that time.
    The island was the summer seat, together with Gozzano, of the bishop count of Novara.
    Over the centuries the center of gravity progressively moved to the village of Orta on the mainland. Nevertheless the presence of the Basilica of San Giulio makes the island still today the religious heart of the Cusian area.
    To the visitor the island offers a walk full of suggestive views among the ancient stone houses.

  • Basilica of San Giulio: It is located on the island and represents, from the artistic point of view, the most important monument of the entire Novara area.
    The first version of the church, smaller than the current one, is likely to have been actually founded by San Giulio himself in the fourth century. The church that can currently be visited is however a later version from the Romanesque period, further modified and enriched in the following centuries, so as to be characterized by a peculiar and harmonious mixture of Romanesque and Baroque elements.
    The general structure and the external appearance, including the bell tower, are typically Romanesque. Note that the facade is visible only from the lake and that access is through a side entrance.
    The interior, a Latin cross, is enriched by innumerable frescoes, from the Romanesque and Gothic ones on the columns and in the aisles to the Baroque ones that adorn the vaults of the central nave, of the transept and the apse basin. The Romanesque ambo placed in front of the presbytery is of great historical-artistic importance.
    Basilica of San Giulio in more detail.

  • Church of San Nicolao: It is located at the entrance to the Sacred Mount. It too is a very old church, probably dating back to the 9th century. The building was radically transformed and redesigned between 1591 and 1607 by Father Cleto from Castelletto Ticino and dedicated also to Saint Francis, coinciding with the construction of the convent for the Capuchin friars and the first chapels of the Sacred Mount of Orta .
    The current architectural structure is inspired by the lower basilica of San Francesco d'Assisi. The pronao in front of the façade was added in 1926. The Romanesque bell tower can be dated to the centuries twelfth/thirteenth and is part of the original building.
    The interior of the church is rich in wooden furnishings in "Capuchin-Franciscan" Baroque style, in walnut with briar inlays framed by dark woods.
    On the side walls there are four large altars, decorated with Baroque and Rococo canvases.

  • Oratory of San Rocco: Small baroque church built in 1631 north of the central square. The facade is rather sober and marked by four pilasters. The tympanum at its top is curious, with a rounded tip and a large shell in relief inside.
    Above the entrance a fresco of San Rocco and above this a window with a striking baroque frame, in contrast with the two windows at the sides of the entrance, totally devoid of decorative elements.
    The single nave interior recalls, refarding the style of the decorations, that of the Church of Santa Maria Assunta, with apse and ceiling decorated with quadratures and skies populated by angels.
    In 1930 the church had to be demolished but was saved by the intervention of the Poli family who took charge of the restoration interventions.

  • Church of San Quirico: Originally dedicated to Saints Giuditta and Quiricus, it is a church of very ancient origins, built in a place where pagan religious buildings were already present, even from pre-Roman times. It was also dedicated to San Michael.
    The church was renovated and enlarged at the end of the fourteenth century, when its interiors were frescoed with the currently visible paintings. At least at the level of the apsidal basin the new frescoes were painted on older ones made in the twelfth century.
    The cycle of frescoes is unique and coherent and is dedicated to the Christian mystery, from its origins to its fruits represented by the saints and by the works of mercy. It is likely that in the past for a certain period the church was also the parish church.

  • Oratory of San Bernardino: It is located as the crow flies just halfway between the Oratory of San Rocco and the Church of Santa Maria Assunta. It was built in the fifteenth century, but its present appearance dates back to the eighteenth century. Its interiors are therefore rich in frescoes and baroque decorations.

  • Oratory of the Trinity: It is another small Baroque church, built in 1727 by the will of the men of the Contrada of the Moccarolo, and contains frescoes by Luca Rossetti, a painter who worked in the eighteenth century also for the parish church.

  • Oratory of Santa Caterina: Small oratory of the late eighteenth century located in the Legro fraction (south of the proper Orta San Giulio) and recently restored. Externally it is characterized by the curved pediment.

  • Church of Santo Stefano: Small Baroque church located in the Carconio fraction (south of the proper Orta San Giulio). Inside it has two chapels, the chapel of the Mater Dolorosa and that of St. Luke. In particular, the latter contains decorations made by Giorgio Bonola (1657-1700), a local painter, Giacomo Parravicino, known as il Gianolo (1660-1729), a Valtellina painter and by Pietro Romagnolo from Lugano.
    In the dome of the chapel there is instead the Ascension of Christ, while to the right there are some characters from the old testament: Moses with the tablets of the Law and King David with the harp.

  • House Marangoni (now Capuani) also known as House of the Dwarves: It is located along the Motta Climb which connects the main square of the town with the Church of Santa Maria Assunta. It represents the oldest house in Orta, having been built, it seems, at the end of the fourteenth century.
    It is not a grandiose building, but its structure makes it easily recognizable: it is in fact a low and wide building, with only ground floor and first floor. The façade includes a portico that extends across the entire width and is punctuated by two stone columns with a square section. On the columns rests a large wooden architrave that supports the entire upper floor. Under the portico there are four doors, while the upper floor has four windows, so small that they caused the house receive the name "House of the Dwarves".
    The facade is decorated with three frescoes depicting the Annunciation, the Ascension and the Madonna and Child.

  • Palace Penotti Ubertini (Fig. 3): It too is located on the Motta Climb, almost at the top, just below the Church of Santa Maria Assunta, to the left of it looking from the square. The neoclassical façade comprehends two balconies in the central body and a large doorway from which carriages and wagons passed to access an internal courtyard.
    The palace was originally supposed to belong to the Gemelli family. The builder - Paolo Gemelli - had it built in the first decade of the eighteenth century.
    Currently the building is used as a location for both private and corporate events.
    Noteworthy also the fifteenth-century loggia of the rustic building next to it.
    See also www.palazzoubertini.it

  • Gemelli Palace (Fig. 2, on the left): It too is located on the Motta Climb, right in front of Palace Penotti Ubertini. Compared to the latter it is taller and more imposing, with the rounded connection of the walls with the roof frescoed with mythological late-Renaissance decorations attributed to the Fiamminghini. It is therefore also more ancient, dating back its construction to the fifteenth century.
    Unfortunately, the decoration of the proper facade has been entirely lost, and it is only possible to glimpse decorations depicting feminine figures (probably symbolizing the four seasons) and a frieze with cupids. The building is composed of two distinct parts that probably had two distinct functions in the past; while the main building has rooms intended for residential use, the minor one, probably built slightly later, also houses service rooms.
    The building also includes an Italian garden, used for events and celebrations. The interior contains refined and elegant spaces. The interior rooms host splendid frescoes.
    Portraits of the lords who owned the palace are displayed in the reception hall.

  • Villa Bossi: Built in the sixteenth century, it is located just north of Motta Square, on the lakeshore, and is now the seat of the Municipality. The villa has a beautiful garden overlooking the lake.
    The facade looks towards the garden and the lake, allowing a splendid view towards Pella, Ronco and the Sanctuary of the Madonna del Sasso. The building has undergone several changes and extensions over the centuries. Unfortunately, the interior retains very little of the furnishings of the past.

  • Villa Crespi: It is located outside the town, at the beginning of the peninsula on which the Sacro Monte of Orta stands. It was built, starting in 1880, by the industrialist Cristoforo Benigno Crespi on an original project by Angelo Colla.
    In eclectic style, the residence presents architectural solutions unusual for the area, in particular numerous references to Arab architecture and, in particular, a tall minaret-shaped tower. In contrast the imaginative nature of the details, the overall structure is very simple, with a rectangular plan and no protrusions along the facades, just interrupted by the four-arched portico on the side facing the garden.
    The interior walls, decorated with stuccos, reproduce the same motifs as those on the facades.
    Also noteworthy is the large park, populated by large trees and precious essences.
    Currently the villa is home to a luxury hotel and restaurant: www.villacrespi.it.

  • Painted walls of Legro: Many walls of the Legro fraction are home to valuable murals, created by artists from all over Italy and Europe who have ventured into telling the films shot in the past on Lake Orta. The murals, as many as 45 works, are found along a street of the town called "The Cinema Street".


Categories: Places of historical value of artistic value of landscape value


Orta San Giulio (Novara, Italy)