Although historians are not agreeing on its origins, Ortona was a seafaring town inhabited by Frentani in the tenth century B.C. who at the same time were living in Lanciano (Anxanum), Vasto (Histonium) and Larino (this place is in Molise).
The town is not a new settlement as it was erected on a Roman outpost. Surrounded on three sides by the sea and by a moat and linked to the hinterland only in the southern part, Ortona was an excellent base on which the local population could organise and strengthen themselves.
The term Ortona means port and this is the main feature of the town and its history, strongly linked with the events of its harbour that even today has an important role on the local economy.
Many industries and developments have been created over the time to make sure the port was always able to satisfy the users’ demands, last but not least a recent modernization that allowed big cruises to stop by the Abruzzo village.
Not only sea
Aside from the port and the numerous bathing establishments where you can spend the day or evening with music of all kinds and lots of fun, Ortona has different things that are worth a visit, especially for those among you interested in history.
Ortona is well known for its history, as it’s the epicentre of the famous World War II Battle of Ortona, one of the worst and fierce battles in the history of warfare.
Colonel Strome Galloway
From his arrival in Italy and until the end of the war, Galloway took part in 25 of the 27 actions for which his regiment was awarded battle honours.
Click the link, if you want to read more about the Colonel Galloway.
At that time, Ortona was the starting point of the Gustav Line, a defensive outpost (ending in Cassino) of strategic importance established by Germans.
History recalls the cease of fire in Ortona when Canadian troops, who relieved the exhausted allied offensive, crossed the river Sangro – certainly not without large spills of blood – and invaded the town defying German and putting the World War conflict close to the end.
Those interested in finding out more about the world conflict should definitely visit the Museum of the Battle of Ortona to which this museum is completely dedicated. The museum is located at 19 Corso Garibaldi.
You can’t also miss a visit to the Canadian Cemetery in the San Donato hamlet. The Canadian Corps selected the site in January 1944, and bodies were brought into it from the surrounding battlefields. The cemetery contains 1,400 Canadian burials, 170 British. Small numbers also from the New Zealand, South Africa, Australia and India.
Churches and local representations
Like most other towns within the Abruzzo region, Ortona also has its own share of medieval churches with the Cathedral of St. Thomas the Apostle to be the most famous because it homes the bones of the Apostle Thomas arrived in Ortona on September 6, 1258, booty taken by captain “Leone degli Acciaioli” when the island of Schio was sacked.
Ortona dedicates two feast days to the Apostle: September 6 and a rather grander affair called “Perdono”, held the first Sunday in May, which is linked to the privilege of a plenary indulgence.
For this occasion, thousands of pilgrims flock to Ortona to follow the historic pageant that also includes the civil celebrations for the re-enactment of the Silver Keys procession. During the Saturday afternoon, following a costume parade, civil authorities reach the Cathedral with the keys held by the Municipal Administration that in pair with those conserved by ecclesiastical authority, allow the opening of the display case containing the sacred body of the Apostle.
Another typical popular celebration held on January the 20th is the St Sebastian, held in the square outside the St Thomas Cathedral. It’s a kaleidoscope of lights, explosions, luminous figures that are created with an intensive popular participation.
The climax of the festival is the steamboat, a small cardboard boat packed with smoke rockets, suspended on a wire connected to the two ends of the square.
Once the rockets are fired, the boat is pushed along the wire thanks to the smoke coming out from the deck. If everything goes smoothly, the steamboat makes a double journey ending his run with a thunderous bang.
The audience is completely involved in show because, according to tradition, the more the travel is complete the more prosperous the upcoming crop year and fishing season will be. At the end of the festival it is a must eating the traditional dish of “puzzenétte vruocchele and stocche” (broccoli and cod) in one of the local restaurants.
The Aragonese castle
If you are interested in castles, the Aragonese one is worth a visit too. Aragonese castle building works started around the XIV century immediately after the invasion of Ortona by the Republic of Venice, who at that time was in rivalry with Alfonso of Aragon; Venetians destroyed the port, the warehouses and the naval arsenal but could not penetrate the walls, which are today partially visible in the old town.
The castle, partially destroyed during the years, has been recently rebuilt and “renovated” so that you can reach it via the famous “passeggiata orientale”, a city promenade that offers a suggestive view on the Adriatic coast.
What to see in Ortona a mare
- Church of Santa Maria of Constantinople
- Church of Our Lady dell’Olivastro, a very little church built around the XVII and XVIII century, just outside the town (about 2km) alongside the main road to Pescara
- Church of Saint Catherine
- Church of the Holy Trinity
- Church of San Rocco
- Tosti Theater
- Passeggiata Orientale
Weather forecast in Ortona
Eating in Ortona
Having their breakfast out is not so common for Italian people, but from time to time you can see them relaxed on a chair while waiting the waiter serving a cappuccino and cornetto (eventually filled in with fresh whipped cream).
If you would like to enjoy the same experience, we highly recommend Bar Caffè Novecento you will find along the main Ortona alley. This is an historical bar and you cannot miss it.
If fresh home-made Italian ice-cream make you nuts instead, well that’s another suggestion for you: New Ice. This is a fabulous Italian “gelateria”