Caorle’s origins can be traced back to the Roman age, when the current Porto Falconera was the Portus Reatinum for sailors and ships that navigated the Lemene river towards the Roman cities of Julia Concordia and Opitergium (today known as Concordia Sagittaria and Oderzo). However, there were much earlier settlements in this area: this is demonstrated by the discovery of a protohistorical village dating back to the Bronze Age (almost 1500 years before Christ) in the countryside around San Gaetano.
Caorle’s Roman origins are confirmed by the astonishing archaeological discovery of a roman ship from the 1st century A.D., found off the coast of Caorle, completely intact and with its precious cargo of amphorae. Only a tiny part of Caorle’s history is known, as in the case of its current name. It was called Caprulae, perhaps because the island was inhabited by goats or because of the cult of the pagan goddess Capris. It was also called Bella Petronia, perhaps in honor of the roman writer Petronius Arbitrio, of the 1st century A.D., that some believe was the first tourist in this area, as an ancient roman house has been discovered close to the lagoon.
With the fall of the Roman Empire, Caorle became one of the most important cities on the coastline, so much so that it played an essential role in the founding of Venice, where the people from the mainland found a refuge in the remote islands of the lagoon, after the devastation of the barbarian hordes who burnt Aquileia, Concordia Sagittaria, Oderzo, Altino and Padua. Caorle housed the refugees from Concordia and became bishopric. In 1038 A.D. the building of today’s Cathedral was finished. Over the following centuries the town grew and became “powerful and full of people”. It provided ships and sailors for the Venetian fleets, but its decline coincided with the fall of the Venetian Republic “La Serenissima”.
After the Hapsburg rule of the 1800s and after the two World Wars, the 1950s saw another re-birth, linked to the tourist economy that in a short time brought wealth and development. Today the borough of Caorle is one of the largest in Italy; with many hectares of reclaimed land dedicated to agriculture and many valleys that separate the mainland from the swamps.
The main Cathedral was built in 1038 A.D. on the remains of a pre-existing church from the VIII century and is dedicated to Saint Stephan Protomartyr, whose skull is preserved inside. The Cathedral is in Romanesque-Byzantine style and is divided into three naves; the central nave is closed to the outside by a semi-circle with seven facades; while one lateral nave houses the baptismal font and the other the monstrance. To the sides of the main door there are two Byzantine bas-reliefs from the X century. Inside there is a marble altar, some excellent paintings and a gold altarpiece with six panels, from Cyprus. Next to the Cathedral is the majestic and imposing bell tower built in 1070 and 48 mt. high, with a strange cylindrical shape and a central loggia with 24 openings, symbolizing the hours of the day. It has also been used as a watchtower. It was built in the same style as the Cathedral and shows how important Romanesque influence was in that area. Each year in the month of July, the bell tower “burns” thanks to a firework display in honor of the Blessed Virgin, together with a procession from the Church of the Madonna dell’Angelo.
The Sanctuary of the “Madonna dell’Angelo”
The Sanctuary of the Madonna dell’Angelo is the most beloved church of the inhabitants of Caorle, because it contains a statue of the Virgin Mary, who protects the fishermen and the city. It also contains a marble throne that the fishermen saw floating on the water, together with an image of the Virgin. It was brought to shore with fishing nets and placed where the church stands today. The church’s bell tower is also a lighthouse. Every five years, the statue of the Virgin is taken in procession from the “Madonnina” church to the Cathedral and then to the fishing port, where it is placed on a boat and taken out to the sea, with a solemn procession made up of all the boats of Caorle’s marine.
Town center: Rio Terrà
Rio Terrà means “underground canal”, because till the mid XIX century, Caorle was completely crossed by canals. During the Summer season, thousands of tourists come here for their evening stroll, while the rest of the year the inhabitants of Caorle use it for socializing. The appeal of the sea in Wintertime is obviously not as strong as in summer, but this environment, which can only be compared to the multi-colored Venetian island of Burano, is truly one of a kind. In Spring, one is constantly gazing upwards at the beautiful balconies full of flowers. In Autumn the atmosphere created by the mist coming from the sea accentuates the warmth of the inviting bars and restaurants.
The breakwater rocks of Caorle seafront, a bulwark defending the historic center from high tides, has become one of the town’s symbols. The Scogliera Viva shows a series of sculptures carved in Euganean trachyte (the paving stones of Venetian villas). It is the result of the work of numerous artists from all over the world, who return to Caorle every year in July, so that passers-by can watch them creating their new pieces of art.