Orta lies on a peninsular, in the centre of which rises Sacro Monte, the Holy Mountain. Around its base, old houses are clustered, built with stone walls and dark roofs of 'piode': slate-like slabs. Certain of these buildings are fine frescoed palaces; almost all the houses have secret, walled gardens. The streets are cobbled and often steep. The heart of Orta is the flagged square, Piazza Motta, walled on three sides by frescoed houses and porticos and with its cafe tables outside in the sun all year round. The square opens on the west side to the lake, where small boats ply back and forth to the island from the jetty flanked by colourful flower beds and shady trees.
The symbol of Orta is the Hortus Conclusus, the enclosed garden
In November 2013 Orta was the victim of a terrible wind that tumbled the cypress tree, the symbol of Orta, in the municipal gardens. This seems ominous: alas, the pretty little town of Orta is, too, dying, yielding to the onslaught of mass tourism. The older residents pass away and, because of the high cost of apartments and houses, whether to rent or buy, and an almost total lack of essential services such as public transport, greengrocers and bakers, young couples prefer to live outside Orta. The Town Council prefers a constant flux of tourists that pay parking fees rather than those who stay for a week or longer at hotels. This policy is killing Orta, it is turning into a kind of Disney-land in summer, when it is impossible to move through the streets for the crowds, the street musicians, artists and beggars, only to become an empty theatre, a ghost town, in winter.
An open letter from the well-known author Sebastiano Vassalli to the former mayor of Orta in the national newspaper Corriere della Sera 21/07/2012 celebrates the poet Ragazzoni, born in Orta (cutting below)