Caorle is known in Italy and internationally as a seaside resort that grew up out of simple fishing villages, with bright, colourful houses in its old town centre. It was praised by a number of illustrious figures in the 20th century – the most famous of which was Hemingway – and it is now known first and foremost as one of the most sophisticated destinations in Italy for a beach holiday.
However, Caorle has much older roots that helped to make it into the place it is today. For example, during the Late Middle Ages it was richer and more important in political and religious terms than both Aquileia and Venice. What’s more, under the Roman Empire there was already a key Northern Adriatic sea port here that was connected to the inland town of Concordia Sagittaria. Many traces of the town’s past can still be seen today. The most significant ones are works of architecture such as the cathedral, which is the most prominent example of all.
The cathedral: history and architecture
Caorle Cathedral, also known as the Cathedral of Santo Stefano Protomartire (Saint Stephen the Protomartyr), dates back to the 11th century and was built on top of the ruins of an Early Christian Basilica. Located alongside Piazza Vescovado, it’s the oldest and most significant building in the town. There are features reminiscent of Byzantine Ravenna in the Romanesque architecture and it has a basilica layout, with a nave and two side aisles. In accordance with the Christian traditions of the time, the cathedral was built on an east-west axis with the entrance on the western side, so that the congregation would be facing east during services.
The cathedral is open to visitors during the daytime every day, except during services. In the summer, it stays open until 11:00 pm. For information call the Parish of Santo Stefano on +39 0421 81028. Guided tours can be booked by calling Mr Roi on +39 339 3638 9541.
Mass times at Caorle Cathedral:
Monday to Friday: 7:00 am
Tuesday to Friday: 6:30 pm
Saturdays: 8:30 am
Saturdays and the days before public holidays: 6:30 pm
Sundays and public holidays: 8:00 am, 9:30 am (Sung Mass), 11:00 am, 6:15 pm (Vespers) and 7:00 pm
Museum of the Treasures of Caorle Cathedral
The cathedral is home to a large collection of priceless items that are considered real artistic treasures. They include:
- A 1st century AD Roman funerary altar known as the Licovia altar, which is found at the base of the tabernacle
- A 13th to 14th century golden altarpiece behind the main altar. It is a masterpiece of Venetian goldsmithing, with visible influences of the Byzantine style in some of its features.
- A 15th century wooden crucifix.
- A 15th century fresco of Saint Christopher.
- A baptismal font from 1587 and some striking Venetian paintings from the 16th and 17th centuries.
The museum is open to visitors on summer weekends, from 8:00 pm to 10:00 pm on Saturdays and from 10:00 am to 12 noon and from 8:00 pm to 10:00 pm on Sundays. For further information, call the Sant’Apollonia Association on +39 041 2702464.
The Bell Tower
Caorle Bell Tower is the most iconic landmark in the town and one of the few original round bell towers that can still be seen today. Standing 48 metres tall and leaning slightly towards the East, it is a separate structure from the cathedral itself although it, too, was built in the 11th century.
Bearing in mind its location near the sea, it is likely that it originally served as a watch tower. With its beautifully balanced array of columns and single and double lancet windows, it is a marvellous example of Gothic architecture. There are seven floors in the round body of the building, with an average radius of approximately 3.3 metres. The 10-metre spire is supported by a round base with a height of 1.5 metres and a radius of 2.8 metres. It is topped by an iron cross standing approximately 2.5 metres tall, with a weather vane on it.
The bell tower recently underwent restoration work and visits can be booked. On summer evenings, the views of Caorle are spellbinding, especially at sunset. Simply climb up the 80 steps and enjoy the sight of the scenery stretching from the sea to the lagoon. For information, contact Mrs Pia Zoia on +39 348 7743459.
The Sanctuary of the Madonna dell’Angelo
Another hugely significant architectural treasure and symbol of the town is the enchanting Sanctuary of the Madonna dell’Angelo, which stands just around the corner from the cathedral and looks out over the sea. It was built in 1751 on top of the remains of what was probably the oldest religious building in Caorle: a little wooden church with a nave and two side aisles that was dedicated to Saint Michael the Archangel. The church has been rebuilt a number of times over the centuries but the reference to him in its name (“Angelo”) has remained until the present day.
It is in a unique location between the rocks and Levante beach, on a headland jutting out into the Adriatic Sea. Over the years, it has become a pilgrimage site that attracts people not only from the local area but also from all over the world.
The sanctuary is open to visitors during the daytime every day in the winter months. In the summer, it is open from early in the morning until 11:00 pm.
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