Located on the southern side of the promontory, Porto Ercole is a small marine gem, a sought-after destination for elite tourism. Here history, culture and art mingle with the scents of the sea and the colors of summer, which, from the store windows open along the Marina, attract vacationers strolling by.
The history of Porto Ercole runs in sections through that of Porto S. Stefano, the village located on the northern side, continuing, for some periods, independently. Its origins are Etruscan but ancient maps speak of Portu Herculis as a landing place on the sea route from ancient Rome to Provence. Later the small port came under Margherita Aldobrandeschi, who began to have the first fortification erected, and then passed to the Orsini.
The village began its real development only in the 15th century when it was purchased by the Republic of Siena; the city walls were built and some coastal towers still exist today. In 1555, the small fortified center was the protagonist of Spain’s victory over Siena allied with France.
The “Taking of Porto Ercole,” the last bastion of the Sienese Republic, was of great importance and was depicted by Vasari in the Sala dei Cinquecento in Palazzo Vecchio. Siena had equipped the town with as many as nine fortifications shortly before the defeat but of these, only the Rocca has survived to the present day.
The other forts, which exist to this day: Strong Philip, St. Catherine’s e Fort Star were built by the Spanish when the whole promontory became part of the Status of Principals with capital Orbetello and Porto Ercole experienced its heyday as did its port, which grew in importance on a European level.
History and art chase each other through the village when a dying Michelangelo Merisi better known as Caravaggio, the greatest painter of the Renaissance, arrives on the beaches of Feniglia. The painter, on the run and housed in the small sanatorium behind the ancient Church of St. Erasmus, died on July 18, 1610, bringing with him the mystery of some missing canvases that writings report were with him.
The story continued quietly until the 1960s when, with the construction of the marina in Cala Galera, just outside the town, Porto Ercole suddenly becomes a major tourist destination that international show business personalities, European royalty and politicians choose as their summer vacation destination.
Like all places associated with seasonal tourism, the vitality, which is more dormant in the winter period, takes center stage with the warm weather and the many tourists who flock to the beautiful beaches and coves during the day while in the evenings they flock to the Marina for aperitifs and then dinner at one of the many clubs open late.