Can’t decide whether to take your holidays in Italy or in Spain? You can have it both ways in this corner of Tuscany that was once a little bit of Spain. Porto Santo Stefano, Porto Ercole and Orbetello are three towns on the Monte Argentario peninsula which conserve reminders of their 150 years (1557-1707) as a Spanish enclave or presidio.
Epigraphs and funerary monuments in the churches record governors and soldiers who died here far from their homeland, Spanish family names abound and local speech includes dozens of archaic Spanish words.
More visible testimonies are the majestic doorway and city walls of Orbetello and fortress-castles constructed by military architects. Surrounding the yacht harbors of Porto Ercole and Cala Galera are Forte Filippo, named for the warrior king, Forte Stella with its star design, and La Rocca overlooking the beach where Caravaggio died. The Fortezza of Porto Santo Stefano and the Polveriera Guzman (gunpowder depot!) in Orbetello have both recently been adapted from their former military uses to become local history museums. Several 17th century palaces built by the military rulers have been restored and one lone windmill, the last of a long line, still stands forlornly in the lagoon, similar to those of Don Quixote’s la Mancha. Adapted from Mary Jane Cryan’s soon to be published Etruria Past and Present – Travel, history and itineraries in central Italy.
Resident in Italy since 1965, historian, author of guides and books on Italy and Italian history, publisher, cruise ship lecturer and founder of Elegant Etruria travel consultancy. Mary Jane was one of the first contributors to Italian Notebook in 2007. Sign up for her blog
50yearsinItaly for more stories about life in central Italy.