The city beneath the town


The city beneath the town


Discover what treasures are hidden in Orte

“The Underground Orte”.

“The Ottava of Sant’Egidio”.

“Glimpses of the river Tiber”.

Since ancient times, the town of Orte has represented a road junction of crucial importance. Being situated in the vicinity of both the river Tiber and the railway station.

Within the Agro Falisco, Orte is the district located further north, and such a geographical positioning has always endowed the town with great strategic value. A visit to Orte offers a number of alternative itineraries.

For instance, the intricate reticle of underground tunnels can be explored, retracing the elaborate structure of the city’s water supply network. For centuries the town of Orte has housed the diocese, and is therefore rich with works of sacred art, some of which are conserved in the town’s museums. The structure of the old town centre presents medieval features, such as its subdivision into the famous Seven Contrade, which function today as an access to collective memory. The town of Orte is also a convenient point of access to reach the rest of the Agro Falisco. Here you can in fact find: the A1 Motorway exit, the exit from the Orte-Ravenna Superhighway, and the railway station, which is reached by both the Firenze-Roma and Ancona-Roma train lines.

Starting from Orte, the river Tiber flows all the way to Rome, drawing the line of the Agro Falisco’s eastern border. Come and visit this town of the Lazio region and discover the traditions of its territory!

Did you know… the turning point of the conflict between the Romans and Etruscans, took place near the Lake of Vadimone, in the whereabouts of Orte, with a great battle which at last saw the victory of the Roman army. Nowadays the lake has almost dried up completely. 

Did you know… the turning point of the conflict between the Romans and Etruscans, took place near the Lake of Vadimone, in the whereabouts of Orte, with a great battle which at last saw the victory of the Roman army. Nowadays the lake has almost dried up completely. 

The history of Orte

The origins

At its very origins, the town of Orte rose in the 4th century B.C as an Etruscan settlement, even though different artefacts from the Paleolithic era have been found in the area. The Etruscans settled upon the tuff rock hill where the current town of Orte lies today. There are some doubts regarding the origins of such a name, but it’s likely it comes from Horta or Hortae.

It wasn’t long before the Etruscans found themselves at war with the Romans, who were at that time going through a period of great expansion. The acme of this conflict is to be individuated in the two battles which took place on the Lake of Vadimone (310 and 283 B.C) and resulted in the final victory of the Romans. 


Rome and the Tiber

Under the rule of the Romans, the town of Orte experienced a period of great splendour. The construction of the Via Amerina, carried out in 241-240 B.C, made Orte a road junction of crucial importance. The section of this ancient road which passed by the town, crossed over the river Tiber in that point. The great and ancient imperial bridge, with five arches and as many towers, still represents the city’s coat of arms today. In that very same period the River Port of Seripola and the nine-arched aqueduct were also built, so as to meet the inhabitants’ need of a water supply. 


The Byzantine period

As Christianity arose, Orte’s development progressed, particularly during the 7th century A.D when the town became the episcopal seat. It is for its strategical relevance that the town played a prime role in the historical events of the Byzantine period. During the 8th century it was subsumed by the Patrimony of Saint Peter of the Tuscia area, and shortly after it became a point of contention against the Langobardic, in the struggle to gain control over the area between Rome and Ravenna .This was one crucial part of the so-called “Byzantine Corridor”, and it is also in this time that both the town’s gates and ramparts were built. 


The Late Middle Ages

During the following centuries, Orte deeply experienced the political instability of the time and the Church’s controversies. Then, starting from the Late Middle Ages, once again the town demonstrated its importance, drawing up its first charter in the year 1200, and reconfirming itself as episcopal seat. The town maintained its independence, also appointing its own bishop, and this newly acquired liberty is represented by the symbolic red and white of the city’s coat of arms.

In the meantime, over the years, a number of suburbs had developed along the slopes of the tuff rock hill. These abodes were progressively abandoned throughout the course of the Langobardic invasions. As a consequence of the town’s increase in population, buildings rapidly developed in height, sustained by the characteristic small archways we still see today. Furthermore, it is between the 13th and 14th century that Orte became home to a university. 


The town quarters

The internal conflicts between the Guelphs and Ghibellines during the 10th century, instilled an aptitude of great democracy in the community of Orte. The town’s chief was flanked by magistrates, and the Head of the Council had to be replaced every fifteen days.

The construction of the seven different town quarters dates back to those years. They departed from the main square, and each one was named after its own titular saint. There was also an eighth, the Contrada of Capo Castello, where the defensive fortress was located. Here a number of Lords selected by the papacy, dwelled over the years, at least up until the time after the despot Antonio Colonna, the Rocca was destroyed by the people of the town. 


The collapse of Ponte di Augusto and the decadence

The great bridge which crossed over the river Tiber, during the 16th century endured a number of floods, which resulted in the definitive collapse of the structure in 1530. After which the bridge was never reconstructed.

This was a time of great difficulty for the town of Orte, as not only had it suffered the plague in 1846, but also, at the wish of Pope Sisto V, the Via Flaminia had replaced Via Amerina as the main route of connection. A new bridge, crossing the river Tiber, known as Ponte Felice, was built nearby the Rocca di Borghetto, in the area of Civita Castellana. The Via Flaminia soon became the new main road of the area, and it was not long before the episcopal seat was also relocated in the Diocese of Civita Castellana.


The railway

The slow decline of the town of Orte finally came to an end when in 1864 the pontifical railway was built, stretching from Rome to Ancona. In these years, a small suburb started to develop, revolving around the train station, and today it goes by the name of Orte Scalo.

During the Second World War, both the suburbs and part of the main town were razed to the ground by the bombing, though they were later rebuilt. The transit at first of the motorway (Autostrada del Sole) and then of the E45 in the whereabouts of the town, restored Orte’s original status of a crucial road junction alongside the course of the river Tiber, representing an access point to the northern part of the Agro Falisco. 


Such a compelling history is testified by the several monuments and works of art it has left in this town. Come and discover all there is to see! 

Where is Orte


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