A stroll around Varallo

A stroll around Varallo

TypologyItineraries in town

Difficult: easy

Outings on foot

Period advised: all year

From the centre of Varallo, to reach the Sacro Monte (Holy Mountain) of Varallo, you can choose between the old pedestrian path and the funicular which can be found near the square of the Basilica. Or you can come up by car to the foot of the itinerary around the chapels. The Sacro Monte of Varallo, a Unesco World Heritage site since 2003, is the oldest of the Italian sanctuaries (1491) with its 50 chapels and its 800 life-size wood or polychrome terracotta statues, 4,000 fresco figures all representing the drama of the life, passion and death of Jesus Christ. It is set in the greenery of the Riserva Naturale Speciale (Nature Reserve) of the same name which offers evocative glimpses of Monte Rosa and across the valley. At the behest of and planned by the Milanese Franciscan monk Bernardino Caimi, it was created to give others, for whom it was impossible to travel personally to the Holy Land, the opportunity of visiting the sites and reliving the emotions of events of Christ's life in Palestine. The Sacro Monte, made up of chapels which are individually dedicated to a particular episode of the Bible story, is divided into two parts: the first, set on a slope and surrounded by the greenery of the park, concentrates on telling the Bible stories ranging from Adam and Eve to the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, whilst the second, built as a city at the top of the mountain, is presented in the form of palaces and squares; the chapels here are dedicated to the events which took place in the city of Jerusalem, from the Last Supper to the Resurrection, right up to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary.

After the visit to Sacro Monte, leaving either on foot or by funicular, continue to the Chiesa di Santa Maria delle Grazie (Church of the Lady of our Grace). Built between 1487 and 1493, also at the behest of Father Bernardino Caimi, today it is a national monument. The interior is characterised by the spare architectural structure in Franciscan style. The most important part from an artistic point of view is the fresco by Gaudenzio Ferrari in 1513 with its 21 scenes of the life of Christ and which can be found on the dividing wall between the space open to the congregation and that which was originally reserved for church functionaries. Here all the salient Bible stories are retold, starting with the Annunciation to the Crucifixion and the Resurrection of Christ. The route continues through Piazza Ferrari, where there is the monument of Gaudenzio Ferrari and the related house, to get to the 19th century Palazzo dei Musei, which houses the Pinacoteca (painting gallery), the Museo Calderini and the Scuola Barolo. The last was founded in 1838 and is devoted to the amateur study of drawing and sculpting.

The Pinacoteca houses examples of paintings from Piedmont and Valsesia which range from the 15th to the 20th century, with particular attention being paid to artists who worked in close connection with the creation of Sacro Monte. Over time, purchases and donations have enriched the collection which now has more than 300 works by artists from Valsesia and by others, as well as examples of sculptures in wood, terracotta, bronze, plaster, and drawings, aquarelles and a new collection of 165 works of Italian majolica dating from the 13th century onwards. The Museo di Storia Naturale Pietro Calderini is concerned with the natural and geological history of Varallo and Valsesia; it houses collections of beetles as well as paleontological, ethnological and archaeological exhibits (in rearrangement). Continuing our walk through the town centre we pass through characteristic streets such as Via Don Maio, the historical Contrada dei Nobili, Piazza San Carlo, Via Orgiazzi - Vicolo del Vino - Via Alberatone, Via Alberganti - the historical Contrada del Burro - to finally arrive in the one-time Piazza della Tela, nowadays called Piazza Ravelli. All the commercial streets, which have been used for centuries, still show visible traces of previous generations of the town population, embellished by means of courtyards, porticoes, frescoes and balconies. Taking the main street through the town you come to the collegiate church Collegiata di San Gaudenzio, built on a rocky promontory facing the restored Piazza Vittorio Emanuele. Easily reached by means of a majestic stairway which was very modern for its time, the church is encircled by 28 arches. The original building dates back to the 13th century, of which today only the Romanesque bell tower remains. The interior, Baroque in design, consists of a main nave with side chapels which are adorned with paintings from the 15th - 18th century.