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This was the Roman Portus Herculis of antiquity, but finds from a a pre-Roman settlement testify to even remoter origins. Porto Ercole is set in a bay and climbs up a little headland on the eastern coast: though it is a centre for fishing and a bathing resort with every amenity it has retained its ancient appearance despite modern tourist installations. Dominating the whole are the colossal fortifications, masterpieces of XVI century military architecture, that Philip II of Spain had built to defend the Stato dei Presidi.
The harbour and sea are dominated on every side from the heights of the fort La Rocca and this is faced by Fort Filippo and Fort Santa Caterina while Fort Stella rises from a distant hill. The old part of the township is reached through an ogival gateway in the Sienese style, cut into the encircling town walls that in earlier times linked the Rocca fort with that of Santa Barbara, but, today, these have all but disappeared. The original nucleus, formed of a maze of narrow streets surmounted by arches, dark alleys and steep flights of steps cut into the rock, has an atmosphere that never fails to evoke a response. Looking out over the little square of Santa Barbara is the Palazzo del Governatore which was built at the beginning of the XVI century by the rich Sienese banker Agostino Ghigi. The mansion was plundered and destroyed by the Saracen pirate Cair Heddin Barbarossa, but rebuilt under Spanish domination and was used as the residence of the governor of the fortress. During the Second World War it was seriously damaged and has since been restored.
Of the original building there remain only the porches and the facade. At the end of the same square stands the bastion of Santa Barbara, an ancient Byzantine light-house that the Sienese transformed into a small fort. The most ancient church in the township, standing almost directly below the Rocca fort, the church of S.Erasmo, is where the painter Caravaggio was buried after his dramatic death in the locality in 1610. Botany lovers may, with the permission of the owners, visit the luxuriant park of Villa Corsini, also know as Casa Bianca, which stands between the lower town and the old walled town. A mile to the north of the Porto Ercole harbour is Marina di Cala Galera. Here, boats of considerable tonnage can put in at one of the best organized tourist landing places on the Mediterranean.
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