Visit Porto Ercole
The popular Tuscan coastal resort of Porto Ercole is on the eastern side of the Monte Argentario peninsula to the south of the Tuscany region. It is dominated by the fortress on a hill above the town and is in the shadow of Monte Argentario itself.
Note: Monte Argentario was an island until the 1700s, at which time two ridges of silt connected it to the mainland and formed the Orbetello lagoon. The Orbotello Lagoon east of the Monte Argentario peninsula is now a protected nature reserve.
As well as its popularity as a summer seaside resort Porto Ercole also has an interesting historic centre and harbour to explore.
Explore Porto Ercole and Monte Argentario
"Portus Herculis" as Porto Ercole was originally an ancient sea-port town and it is still the harbour area, quite a traditional fishing village with colourful buildings and boats in the harbour, where most visitors congregate.
It is said that the original harbour has rather given way to the more modern marina with its emphasis on squeezing in as many boats as possible, an issue that has been of local concern and a cause of contention in the town in recent years.
After enjoying a stroll the harbour you will want to explore the rest of the town. The main monuments in Porto Ercole are without doubt the fortifications that face each other across the harbour so these are a good place to continue your visit.
Fortresses of Porto Ercole
The "Forte Filippo" is a mighty fortress built by Philip II (1556-1598). The fort has four bastions and a single point of access that is across a drawbridge The fort was designed by Giovanni Camerini in the 16th century:
"The name of the brilliant architect of Forte Filippo was Giovanni Camerini, formerly in the service of the Grand Duke of Tuscany Cosimo I [1519-1574] and ‘sold’ to Philip II at the request of the Duke of Alba [1507-1582], then Viceroy of Naples" .
"Forte Stella", with its five-point structure, was begun in 1548 by Giovan Battista Belluzzi (1506-1554) and then was continued by the same G. Camerini:
"Forte Stella, located higher and further away, on the opposite side of the country and the best preserved, is very important for the history of the military art, and was built under the direction of Italian architect Giovanni Camerini " .
Porto Ercole old town and churches
When you leave the fortress you can follow the wall down to Porto Ercole old town, with its steep stairways and dark vaulted passages between the picturesque little houses. You enter this part of the town through the old gateway topped by a clock tower, or directly from the fortress along a path shaded by pine trees.
In the lower part of the village and overlooking the small “Piazza di Santa Barbara”, you can see the Governor's Palace. This was built in the early 16th century under the rule of Siena and was the residence of the Governor during the Spanish domination:
“Another important building is the Palace of the Governor. It was the residence of the commander of Porto Ercole, later becoming the summer residence of the Governor of the State, who resided in Orbetello" .
In the upper part of the old town the Church of Saint Erasmus is an example of 17th century Spanish architecture. The main altar, from the late 17th century, is in polychrome marble.
According to a well-established tradition it was in this church that the great painter Caravaggio (1571-1610) was buried, but recent studies have shown that this is impossible, because Caravaggio was not domiciled in the town. However, it seems that the brilliant artist may have been buried in the cemetery of St. Sebastian at Porto Ercole .
In the Church of San Paolo della Croce you can see a painting of "Saint John the Baptist in the desert", by the Ferrarese painter Gerolamo Sellari (1501-1556), called Gerolamo da Carpi and famous for his portraits.
More reasons to visit Monte Argentario
Orbotello town with its small cathedral and Porto Santo Stefano, the other popular resort on the peninsula, are both pleasant to explore. We recommend you follow the scenic road called the Strada Panoramica for more attractive coastal views, or follow one of the trails across the interior of the peninsula to appreciate the natural environment better.
If you are visiting the Isola del Giglio (Giglio Island) and the medieval village of Giglio Castello you will take the ferry to the island from Porto Santo Stefano.
There are also many sites of natural beauty and beaches in the Maremma Natural Park on the Italian mainland next to the Monte Argentario peninsula. Also on the mainland there are several interesting medieval villages such as Pitigliano.
Porto Ercole is a good place to sample the typical Tuscan dishes based around meat and fish, and it is here that a 'festival of the wild boar' is held each year.
See also Porto Ercole history and etymology (includes references above)
You can find more local travel ideas in the Tuscany guide.