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Discovering Varese's Sacro Monte

The Sacro Monte of Varese, a UNESCO site since 2003, is a physical and spiritual itinerary, dense with history and art

The Sacro Monte of Varese is a fixed stop for tourists visiting the Varese area. It is a devotional complex built over a period of almost a century, between 1604 and 1698, on the flank of Monte Velate, which is now part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.

A day on the Sacro Monte of Varese UNESCO site offers surprises not only for the route full of works, in which the best Lombard artists of the time participated, but also for the opportunities to spend a day in nature, through the religious route and beyond.

What are the Sacred Mounts

A few words to introduce the Sacri Monti. These are mountains located in northern Italy, on which chapels and sacred architecture were built between 1600 and 1700. The nine Sacri Monti that have been part of the Unesco World Heritage since 2003 are Crea, Domodossola, Ghiffa, Oropa, Orta, Ossuccio, Valperga, Varallo and, of course, Varese. Physical and spiritual prayer routes were created in these places as the Catholic Church's response to the Protestant Reformation. These are great works that through religious symbolism make nature itself sacred. In all Sacred Mounts there are depictions of the life of Christ, Mary and the Saints, so also in the Sacred Mount of Varese, which we are going to get to know a little more closely.

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The Sacred Mount of Varese

The Sacro Monte of Varese is an approximately two-kilometre-long route through 14 chapels to the shrine in the Sacro Monte village. Walking along this route is a journey into the mysteries of the Rosary, which begins at the Monsignor Macchi exhibition centre. The complex is located within the Campo dei Fiori Regional Park, a protected natural area of over 6,000 hectares in the Varese region.

This work, like that of the other Sacred Mounts, consolidates a devotional practice and religious pilgrimage rites that were already present. As for the Monte Sacro di Varese, its origins are rooted in legend. In fact, it is said that at the point of arrival, where the Sanctuary dedicated to the Virgin Mary stands today, there was a very ancient chapel, even built by Saint Ambrose to celebrate his victory over the Aryans. On this same mountain, at the behest of the Capuchin Father Giovanni Battista Aguggiari and by the skilful hand of the architect Giuseppe Bernascone known as 'Il mancino', this great work took shape.

The 14 chapels of the Sacro Monte of Varese

What is astonishing about Sacro Monte, the path built by Giuseppe Bernascone to reach the top of Mount Velate, is the variety and richness guarded by the 14 chapels representing the Rosary. In fact, each chapel was created by a large number of artists skilled in devotional works, and features beautiful terracotta statues representing scenes from the Rosary.

How to get to the Sacro Monte of Varese

The traditional route to the Sacro Monte of Varese is of course on foot, starting at Prima Cappella and beginning the walk through the monumental arch of the Rosario. There are adequate parking facilities nearby. You can also climb up to the Sacro Monte of Varese by car, but it is not so easy to find parking once you reach your destination. An alternative solution to the walk is the cable car, inaugurated at the beginning of the 20th century and recently renovated. It is active at weekends. Finally, there is also bus and coach transport.

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Sacro Monte excursion destination

The Sacro Monte of Varese is not only a destination for religious pilgrimages, it is also an area to be discovered for its nature and its paths that reach 800 metres in height. As mentioned, we are in the Campo dei Fiori Regional Park, and in fact the route to Sacro Monte is precisely the park's path number 1. But once at the top, north of Piazzale Poliaghi a path begins that stretches for 9 kilometres and 600 metres in height difference. Sacro Monte di Varese can also be reached via another path, number 6, or from Brinzio with path 4.

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