One of the most important pilgrimage sites in Italy are the Sacri Monti, or Sacred Mountains, that are located in the northern part of the country. These mountains are actually nine groups of churches and chapels created in the 16th and 17th centuries. Along with their religious significance these structures are also noteworthy for their architectural features and wealth of amazing art. For these reasons the Sacri Monti were named as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2003.
The Sacri Monti are divided between the Lombardy and Piedmont regions of Italy, with two in Lombardy and seven in Piedmont. These locations are surrounded by majestic dense woods and sparkling lakes, and the structures are filled with beautiful frescoes and statues. The chapels built among the sacred mountains depict various important episodes in Catholic religious life and are filled with religious imagery. The idea of the Sacred Mountain devotional complex built on the slope of a mountain dates back to the late 15thcentury when the idea was popular throughout Europe and eventually spread to the New World.
Mount Belmonte is located above the town of Valpergo in the province of Torino. The mountain looks over the landscape of Piedmont. The idea to create a religious complex in this naturally beautiful area was originally spawned by Friar Michelangelo da Montiglio, who put together a team of artisans to bring his vision to life. Work began in 1712 and took over a century to complete. Inside the complex on Mount Belmonte is a sanctuary that dates back to medieval times and that contains thirteen chapels dedicated to the Passion of Christ. The chapels were built on a circular path surrounded by chestnut and oak trees as well as large rocks that have a pinkish hue.
The architecture of all the chapels is drawn from nature and they have large halls and a circular layout. The Number 1 and Number 8 chapels are the most important as they contain the most artistic work including beautiful terracotta sculptures. Several frescoes used to decorate these buildings have also recently been discovered.
Mount Crea is one of the highest hills in the area and is located in the Allessandria province. The construction here began in 1589. There is an ancient Marian sanctuary located on Mount Crea along with several chapels dedicated to the triumph of the Madonna. There are a total of 23 chapels built in the 16th, 17th centuries and 19th centuries. The older chapels are decorated with marvellous frescoes and terracotta sculptures by famous artists while the newer chapels have much simpler adornments.
Mount of Domodossola
The sacred Mount of Domodossola is the northernmost of the Sacred Mountains. The path to its complex starts from the center of the town of Domodossola and leads upthe hill. The construction on Domodossola was started in 1656 by the Capuchin monks of the area. The local citizens also contributed substantially to building the complex in terms of labor and money.
The theme around the complex is the Passion of Christ and the episodes of the Via Crucis (Stations of the Cross). The beautiful Sanctuary of the Crucifix, which holds two chapels, was built in 1657. All the other chapels in the area were built in different locations on the mountain. Today there are 15 different chapels located on the sacred mountain that took over two centuries to build. The architectural styles of these structures range from Neoclassical to Baroque.
Mount of the Holy Trinity of Ghiffa
The Mount of the Holy Trinity of Ghiffa is located on the shore of Lake Maggiore in the Verbano Cusio Ossola province. The complex enjoys beautiful views of the lake below and the surrounding mountains. There are three main chapels on the mountain and two small ones that have been joined to the Sanctuary of Via Crucis. The larger chapels were built in 1605 over the remains of an old medieval oratory. In the 18th century various elements were added like frescoes, the portico and the stone columns.
Mount of Oropa
The Mount of Oropa is located close to the city of Biella and its complex was built in 1617 and consists of 12 chapels dedicated to the life of the Virgin. The chapels were built in parallel rows and have varying interior designs and were built in two parallel rows.
Mount of Orta
Located on Orta Lake this mountain has a complex dedicated to Saint Francis of Assisi. The 12 chapels depict various scenes from the life of the saint. Construction began in the 16th century and took over a century to be completed. The chapels have been decorated with beautiful frescoes, statues and other beautiful works of art.
Mount of Ossuccio
The Mount of Ossuccio is located close to the town of the same name. The construction on this mountain started in 1635 and 15 different chapels were built, dedicated to the Mysteries of the Rosary. The architecture is mostly Baroque in style and has been decorated with beautiful terracotta and stucco works. The frescoes on the interior walls were painted by several famous artists.
Mount of Varallo
The Mount of Varallo is located in Valsesia and is considered to be the oldest and most important sacred mountain. The work on Mount Varallo began in the 15th century and the chapels here have been richly decorated with frescoes, paintings and images that depict various scenes from the life of Christ. There are 45 frescoe-laden chapels in all that hold more than eight hundred statues.
Mount of Varese
The sacred Mount of Varese is located above the town of Varese, which is a short drive from Milan. Construction on Mount Varese began in 1604 and, in all, 14 chapels were erected. The wealthy families and nobles of the area contributed heavily and supported the cause allowing the chapels to be built quite quickly.
The Sacri Monti of Piedmont and Lombardy are one of the most important religious pilgrimage sites in Europe. The beauty of the area, as well as the architectural and artistic treasures within the churches, make it a wonderful place to visit for non-religious purposes as well.