It is a municipality in the province of Novara, situated on the homonymous lake, surrounded by hills of different sizes, covered by forests and dominated by the nearby peaks of the Alps. In the middle of the lake, right in front of Orta, lies the island of San Giulio, an enchanting island which houses the basilica of San Giulio and several colorful villas surrounded by bougainvillea. The historical centre is located at the end of a promontory, characterized by a single road that runs parallel to the shore, with two rows of houses, one near the lake and one more internal. The buildings of different eras feature small windows and roofs of black stone, each one is independent and separated only by narrow alleys.
Orta was fortified by a defensive wall, destroyed in 1311 and never rebuilt.
Discoveries of artifacts evidence that the area was inhabited since Prehistoric times, followed by the slow colonization of the Romans. It then became part of the Lombard's dominion, that were defeated by the Franks in 773. With the collapse of the dynasty of Charlemagne and the division of France, there was a period of clashes between the local feudal lords for the conquest of isle. Whilst the contenders battled, the local bishops took advantage of this situation and redeemed the privileges and the benefits produced in the meanwhile. In 950 Berengario II obtained the rule over the area from the bishops and only in 957, at the first important siege, Litolfo, son of Ottone I, after several attempts, managed to defeat Berengario. The dominion of the Bishops and Counts of Novara lasted from the VII to the XVIII century. Orta was conquered and sacked by the Sforza in 1524 and by Bonifacio Visconti in 1528. During the XVII and XVIII centuries, the bishops rule submitted a period of weakness, until, in 1767, the Bishop Balbis Bertone ceded to King Charles Emmanuel III of Savoy the rights to rule over the territory. After the conquest of Napoleon and the Congress of Vienna, the bishop of Novara regained possession of these lands until 1817, when Cardinal Morozzo ceded them again in favor of King Vittorio Emanuele I.
Not to miss:
- the Parish Church of Santa Maria Assunta, with its façade embellished with Renaissance decor, is located at the end of a steep path, paved with stones, Known as "motte", which originates from the main square. The church built in 1485 and rebuilt in the XVIII century, features three naves and is enriched inside by the XVII and XVIII century paintings of Rossetti, Cantalupi and Orgiazzi and preserves a painting by the Procaccini that represents St. Charles;
- the Basilica of San Giulio, built on the island of San Giulio in Romanesque style, partially destroyed in the XVII and XVIII centuries, it is flanked by a bell tower of the XI century. It preserves inside a black stone pulpit supported by four columns, early Romanesque frescoes of the XV century and stucco decorations in Baroque style;
- the path of the Sacred Mountain which runs from the top of the hill which overlooks the peninsula of Orta San Giulio. This is a sacred itinerary punctuated by twenty chapels dedicated to the life of St. Francis. The chapels feature porches with late Renaissance style decorations, all built in the XVI century, except for one chapel added in 1788 with the late-Baroque elements. Throughout the route, which connects various localities in Piedmont, Lombardy and surrounding regions, is an extraordinary synthesis of architecture, sculpture and art;
- the Town Hall of the Community of Riviera, built in 1582 in the main square, is the emblem of the area. It features a porch on the ground floor, a large meeting hall on the first floor, an outside staircase and a large irregular stone roof. The façade is decorated with frescoes depicting the coat of arms of the municipality and those of some local noble families;
- the Gemelli Palace, situated near the parish church, dating from the XVI century, consists of three buildings and features an imposing façade decorated with paintings;
- the De Fortis Palace built in Neoclassical style;
- the island of San Giulio.