Porto Ercole is a small picturesque town, highlighted by an old-age and flourishing fishing tradition, situated on the west coast of the Argentario peninsula. Although it is now particularly noted for being one of the most fashionable seaside vacation resorts in Tuscany, the old town, surrounded by small enchanting rocky beaches facing to a resplendent sea,
preserves almost intact the architectonical and cultural features it had in the past.
Probably founded by the Phoenicians and after inhabited by the Etruscans and the Romans, the town received its current name from this latter civilization who named it after Heracles, the mythological hero, son of Zeus and Alcmene.
Porto Ercole is situated on a bay encircled by impressive fortifications which construction was started in the 15th century by willing of the Republic of Siena. From 1557, when the Kingdom of Spain took the control of the area, new huge defensive buildings were built and the old fortifications were remodelled and strengthened.
The charming old town consists in a labyrinth of small streets and winding ways with perpendicular stairways and shaded vaults flanked by tiny and coloured houses.
We suggest visitors to go into the historical centre through “Porta Pisana” a splendid large gate built when Siena ruled the town, where the clock tower is still standing. On the tower there is a commemorative inscription in honour of the brilliant painter Michelangelo Merisi, nicknamed Caravaggio, who was fated to spend his last days in Porto Ercole. Caravaggio was born near Milan in 1571. In 1606, after a long stay in Rome, he was accused of being implicated in a crime, so he escaped from Rome and took refuge in the village of Palestrina and after in Naples. Subsequently, he went to Malta. When he returned to Italy he went to Sicily and then he travelled again to Naples where he was told about Pope Paolo V mercy.
He went by ship to Porto Ercole, with the aim to continue then to Rome, but for still uncertain reasons he was once more arrested. Caravaggio was shortly released but the vessel had already sailed taking with it all his pictures and belongings, which were carried back to Naples. Seriously ill of malaria, Caravaggio died in the former Hospital of Maria Ausiliatrice on the 18th July 1610. Though his body was never found a certificate attesting his death was discovered on the 19th December 2001 among the old records of St. Erasmus Church in Porto Ercole, which stands in the higher part of the historical centre and represents a splendid example of the Spanish Baroque architecture.
The itinerary of military defence structures mainly consists in the 16th Spanish fortresses of Fort Filippo IIand Fort Stella. Both worth a visit but, as a minimum, Fort Filippo II is not to be missed. It is located on the top of a rocky hill opposite to the huge defence structure of La Rocca, a 15th Sienese fortress completely restored in the second half of the 16th century, overlooking the ideal natural harbour of Porto Ercole.
The design of Fort Filippo II was commissioned in 1558 from Giovanni Camerini, who was designated chief military architect of the “Presidi Spagnoli” by the Duke of Alcalá.
The massive fort represents the grandeur of the Spanish fortifications of the age, appearing proudly, as an immense hieratic guardian watching over the elevated natural platform, which outlines the summit of the wild hill. It has an elongated rectangular form. It angles were strengthened by four triangular bastions with loopholes and watchtowers on the top. On the other hand, several defensive rises were set up along the thick external walls to position the artillerymen. Moreover, to make the fort completely impregnable a drawbridge was added. Deep in the indoors was located a top-security prison consisting in descending passageways with cells and dark icy dungeons. At the present, Fort Filippo II is the site in Porto Ercole where most of the principal cultural acts and art exhibitions are held.
Fort Stella, with an architectonical plant outlined like a six points star and a sized same features inner courtyard, overlooks a big area situated at the rear of the harbour.
Where to eat:
- Ristorante “Il Gatto e la Volpe” (Via dei Cannoni, 3). The restaurant is located to the right of the road running down to port. It is a lovely structure with amazing panoramic views over the bay. Homemade pasta with seafood and traditional desserts are absolutely great.
A full meal is about 40 €.
- Ristorante “La Ribotta” (Loc. Terrarossa). Situated at a short distance from the old town, the restaurant has a romantic inner ambiance, while the external lounge is placed on a gardened panoramic terrace. Its traditional marine cuisine offers a very good variety of handmade pasta, as well as a first-range of fish dishes.
From midnight until 3 or 4 in the morning the structure becomes a pub.
A full dinner is about 35 €.
- “Osteria dei Nobili Santi”(Via dell’Ospizio, 8). It is a friendly small fish restaurant situated in the old town offering an excellent selection of local dishes. Its delicious and abundant antipasti are a must. A full meal is about 30 €.
Main Towns of Monte Argentario
Porto Ercole, Porto Santo Stefano
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