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Bill Thayer

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Orbetello

A town of southern Tuscany: 42°26N, 11°12E. Altitude: 3 m. Population in 2003: 14,700.

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Orbetello in a nutshell: Sienese Gothic to your left, 16c Spanish to your right.
The 14c Duomo and the Palazzo di Spagna, residence of the Spanish viceroys.

Orbetello is an odd place all around. It is quite undoubtedly ancient — Roman for sure, probably Etruscan before that — yet there is no trace of it in ancient literature or the geographers of Antiquity. It is sited on a narrow spit of land projecting into a salt-water lagoon enclosed by two natural causeways: is it on the sea or not? Its more recent history, too, is a bit unusual for a central Italian town: before passing briefly to the Austrians and then to the house of Naples and unified Italy, from 1557 to 1707 it belonged to Spain. (In addition to a Viceroy's Palace, the Spaniards left mostly fortifications.)

Frazioni

Like most of the comuni in Tuscany, Orbetello includes in its territory some smaller towns and hamlets, of a few hundred inhabitants if that, with a certain administrative identity of their own: as elsewhere in Italy, these are referred to as the frazioni of the comune (singular: frazione, literally a "fraction"): a complete list of them follows, linked when possible to further information.

Albinia Ansedonia Fonteblanda Giannella Neghelli Orbetello Scalo S. Donato Talamone

A somewhat larger website will eventually be forthcoming, especially since I have more photographs of the cathedral. Right now:


[image ALT: the carved head of a bearded man peering out of a quatrefoil. It is a detail of the Cathedral of Orbetello, in Tuscany (central Italy).]

[ 1 page, 2 photos ]

The Duomo, however, is home-grown Italian. An extensive revamp in the 17c spared the façade of 1376, an elegant work of the Sienese school. Now I was in Orbetello very briefly, around noon on New Year's Day — not a cat in sight — so the church was very closed: all you'll see here then is some of the finely carved and somewhat mysterious exterior.


[image ALT: A stylized representation of a metal hand-mirror, taken from the binding of a book. It is an Etruscan mirror motif representing that book, George Dennis's 'Cities and Cemeteries of Etruria'.]

The serious student with an interest in the Etruscans, and even more so anyone who loves the picturesque, will enjoy the brief chapter of George Dennis's Cities and Cemeteries of Etruria. Not that much about actual Etruscan remains, but some interesting topographical and source information, and the piece conveys a good feel for the town in an impressionist sort of way.


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Page updated: 1 Aug 05