A day in Vercelli
Typology: Itineraries in town
A day in Vercelli
Halfway between Milan and Turin, and easily reachable with the Trenitalia train network and various bus lines, Vercelli awaits you with open arms for a do-it-yourself tour of the city center to discover all its medieval charm and rich artistic and cultural heritage. From the ancient Basilica of Sant'Andrea, the symbol of the city with more than 800 years of history, passing by the imposing Cathedral of Sant'Eusebio and through the historical alleys, you can reach the "living room" of the city: the charming Piazza Cavour where you can delight your palate enjoying one of the many gastronomic specialties of Vercelli.
A full day to explore the European capital of rice
Our city tour can only start from the symbol of the city of Vercelli, the Abbey of Sant'Andrea, which stands majestically at the entrance to the train station surrounded by a lovely tree-lined avenue. Built between 1219 and 1227 at the behest of Cardinal Guala Bicchieri, the Basilica represents a splendid example of Lombardia and Emilia Romanesque style and transalpine Gothic architecture. Inside, there is one of Italy's most beautiful capitular halls and an enchanting rectangular cloister with terracotta frames and paintings dating back to the beginning of the sixteenth century. The Salone Dugentesco, commissioned by the cardinal in 1224, is located in front of the Basilica. It is the oldest part of the former Ospedale Maggiore, built to welcome and care for pilgrims and wayfarers traveling along the Via Francigena. The arched portico and the frescoed inner hall split into three naves are precious masterpieces and are often open thus can be visited during exhibitions and events.
Continuing on Via Galileo Ferraris, located inside the church of San Marco, the ARCA exhibition center hosts cultural initiatives and high-level exhibitions. Among the many, we would like to mention "La Magna Charta: Guala Bicchieri and his legacy. Europe in Vercelli in the thirteenth century". On the occasion of the eighth centenary of the foundation of the Basilica of Sant'Andrea, the city of Vercelli hosted for the first time in Italy the original Magna Charta, in its edition dating back to 1216, signed by Cardinal Guala Bicchieri.
The church of San Bernardo, home of the diocesan sanctuary of Maria Salute Degli Infermi, an important center of devotion, is located on the opposite side of the square. Continuing the itinerary, one can reach the church of San Paolo, which houses two paintings by Lanino; the church of San Cristoforo, built in the first half of the 1500s and boasting splendid masterpieces by Gaudenzio Ferrari, including the altarpiece titled Madonna Degli Aranci; and the church of San Lorenzo, one of the oldest parishes in Vercelli.
Piazza Cavour: the city's "living room"
Passing through Via Crispi, one reaches Piazza Cavour that in the past was known as Piazza Maggiore, located in the heart of the historical center, a meeting place for all the people of Vercelli and the most important square in the city. Overlooked by the imposing Torre dell'Angelo, it is characterized by pointed arch porticos dating back to medieval times. The monument dedicated to Camillo Benso Count of Cavour, built in 1854, stands in the center of the square. This square is the perfect place to eat a hearty lunch of rice in one of the traditional trattorias. And why not tasting a panissa dish? A Vercelli dish par excellence with rice, beans, red wine, and salam d'la duja. But if you want to fall in love with the historical center of Vercelli, all you have to do is to spend a few more minutes enjoying the warm spring sun in one of the many bars with dehors, tasting one of the traditional sweets such as a slice of truffle cake or a few bicciolani, Vercelli’s aromatic cookies.
The ancient Broletto, the original headquarters of the Municipality from 1200 to 1800, is just a few steps away from Piazza Cavour and is another square much loved by the people of Vercelli: Piazza Palazzo Vecchio, or in slang "Piazza dei Pesci" [Fish square - Ed.] is a reminder of the fish market that in the past was held here. The square is overlooked by the Civic Tower, the oldest in Vercelli, which highlights the perfectly fitting name of the "towered city".
Continuing along Via Foa, one reaches the Synagogue, the first in Italy to be built in a stand-alone building, constructed between 1875 and 1878. Continuing along the street, one can find the church of San Giuliano, embellished by a work of art by Lanino, and Casa Centoris, famous for the elegance of its inner courtyard, whose Bramante-style facade was recently restored. A real jewel is the adjacent Volto dei Centori. This narrow and picturesque covered alley leads to Corso Libertà, the most famous street in the city. Palazzo Tizzoni, the historical home of one of the most important Ghibelline families of medieval Vercelli, is located in the square by the same name. The frescoes that decorate the hall at the entrance are particularly interesting, the only known secular work painted by artist Guglielmo Caccia, aka "Il Moncalvo". Both buildings can be toured only on selected days dedicated to the valorization of the artistic heritage.
A fantastic museum heritage
Continuing along Corso Libertà, on the right, in the former monastery of Santa Chiara, one can find the MAC Archaeological Museum that displays findings of the ancient Roman city known as Vercellae. Turning left, you can find the Borgogna Museum, the second art gallery in Piedmont in order of importance. In addition to the vast collection of paintings, furnishings, and art items, it hosts the picture gallery of Vercelli's Renaissance paintings collected by the Institute of Fine Arts since the nineteenth century. Next to the museum, one can admire the Gothic church of Sant'Agnese in San Francesco. A little further on, across Piazza San Francesco, you can reach the Visconti Castle, with a quadrangular plan, built starting from 1290 known to have become first a Savoy residence, then a prison and, from 1838 to date, the headquarters of the Court. Unfortunately, for this reason, it cannot be toured. Walking along Via Carducci, with a short detour to Via Verdi, a characteristic cobblestone street full of artisan stores, it is possible to visit the Leone Museum. The Renaissance-style Casa Alciati hosts findings dating back to the Paleolithic, Neolithic, Bronze, and Iron ages and a Roman hall that holds some of the oldest proofs of Vercelli's history.
At the end of Via Verdi, one can reach the Civic Theater, built in 1812-14 and inaugurated on July 4, 1815, with the opera "Evelina". Still today, the Civic Theater hosts a variety of theatrical performances. Walking along via Monte di Pietà, one finds piazza D'Angennes, full of historical buildings starting from the Archiepiscopal Palace, continuing with the Museum of the Treasure of the Cathedral, the Cathedral of Sant'Eusebio, and the Archiepiscopal Seminary.
The Archiepiscopal Palace, a Renaissance building of great historical value, hosts on the first floor the Museum of the Cathedral’s Treasure that collects precious relics, jewelry masterpieces, liturgical furnishings, and the "Vercelli Book", a famous codex written on parchment in Anglo-Saxon language dating back to the tenth century. The Cathedral has an imposing Baroque facade and was built as a cemetery basilica starting in the fifth century, then rebuilt in 1570. The Archiepiscopal Seminary was built in 1572. The oldest portion was designed by Filippo Juvarra. The Agnesian and Diocesan Library are housed here.
A quick walk on the gardens of Kennedy Park under the shade of its majestic trees will take you to the vicinity of the train station where your tour of the city started.