Orbetello international airport

Airports are mostly non-places, anonymous malls and lines for checking-in, security, passports, and boarding. Not so Orbetello international airport. Where….?

Secreted in the eastern walls of the immense Renaissance defences of this Tuscan causeway town, with lagoons either side, are the remains of an airport. The entrance has a Renaissance aura as did the terminal itself, astride the east-facing ramparts. From here a wide iron stairway led across the wide ditch to open ground and the sea-plane terminus beside the serene bay. It’s all largely gone today but with a little imagination this heyday is not hard to imagine. An underwhelming park and a marina have replaced the splendour of international air-travel.

Orbetello airport

From this airport the fascist supremo and aviator, Italo Balbo flew in 1930 to Rio de Janeiro, and then in 1933 to Chicago. The first was the 1930 flight of twelve Savoia-Marchetti flying boats made between 17 December 1930 and 15 January 1931. The Chicago venture was even more spectacular. The Crociera del Decennale featured the so-called "Italian Air Armada." From 1 July to 12 August 1933, 24 seaplanes flew in eight legs via Amsterdam, Derry, Reykjavik, Cartwright, Shediac, Montreal to the Century of Progress World Fair at Chicago, landing on Lake Michigan.

The seaplane port

Later governor of Libya, he perished when his sea-plane was shot down by friendly fire in 1940, and until about 1970 his remains were interred at Tripoli. Now they are to be found close to the airport he had known so well in a mausoleum that pays tribute to his courage (rather than his politics). Of course, for fear of vandalism the mausoleum is locked, but like the airport it brings to mind another age which Orbetello today might do well to add to its list of sights alongside its beaches.

Italo Balbo's mausoleum

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