Lago d’Orta – Lake Orta – an unknown gem to discover

Lago d'Orta
Lago d’Orta – Isola di San Giulio – Photo © Rollopack

Lago d’Orta (Eng. Lake Orta) is a lake in northern Italy west of Lago Maggiore.

It has been so named since the 16th century, but was previously called the Lago di San Giulio, after Saint Julius (4th century), the patron saint of the region; Cusio is a merely poetical name.

Its southern end is about 22 m. by rail N.W. of Novara on the main Turin-Milan line, while its north end is about 4 m. by rail S. of the Gravellona-Toce railway station, half-way between Ornavasso and Omegna.

Its scenery is characteristically Italian, while the San Giulio island (just W. of the village of Orta San Giulio) has some very picturesque buildings, and takes its name from the local saint, who lived in the 4th century.

The chief place is Orta San Giulio, built on a peninsula projecting from the east shore of the lake, while Omegna is at its northern extremity.

It is supposed that the lake is the remnant of a much larger sheet of water by which originally the waters of the Toce or Tosa flowed south towards Novara.

As the glaciers retreated the waters flowing from them sank and were gradually diverted into Lago Maggiore.

Lago d'Orta
Lago d’Orta – Photo ©
Lago d”Orta – The monuments

The largest structure on the island is the Basilica of Saint Giulio.

The large island (just W. of the village of Orta) has some very picturesque buildings and takes its name from a local saint (Saint Julius), who lived in the 4th century.

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Romans inhabited the area around the lake, and then it was part of a Longobard duchy.

The territory of Lake Orta belonged to the Church and to Milan, becoming part of the Kingdom of Sardinia towards the end of the 18th century.

Orta San Giulio has a very pleasant climate, made mild by the presence of the lake.

It is worth visiting the Palazzo della Comunita’, of the 16th century, and the parish church, of the 15th century.

At little more than a kilometer away there is the interesting Sacro Monte (Holy Hill), a wooded hill with a religious complex made up of around twenty chapels dedicated to Saint Francis, put up between the 16th and 18th centuries and decorated with frescoes and sculptures.

Friedrich Nietzsche

There is no plaque whatsoever to record the event, yet among the illustrious visitors, Orta can boast the towering figure of a great philosopher as Friedrich Nietzsche stands out.

We don’t know much about Nietzsche’s short sojourn at Orta. Even less about the crucial role, it played in his overall anguished existence, being the cause of a turning point in the development of his thought.

Lago d'Orta
Lago d’Orta – Photo © dot79

In the month of May 1882, a very young Lou Salomè, a Russian woman with great charm and intelligence (most outstanding among the extraordinary figures of the “belle èpoque”) spent a few days at Orta; she was accompanied by her mother, Nietzsche, and Paul Rùe, a mutual friend.

Leafing through their correspondence during the months before the travel, a trace is clearly fond of the former’s impatience to make the acquaintance of the young Russian, who, in her turn, was no less eager to meet him.

Therefore for a while, there was “a party of four” on their journey back to the north from the Grand Tour. It was on that occasion, upon Nietzsche’s proposal, that the party made its way towards Orta.