A visit to the Oropa Sanctuary in Italy
The out of the way, off-the-beaten path places are often the most fun to visit!
If you have a car while in Italy and fancy a road trip to an out-of-the-way place, visit the Sanctuary of Oropa. The Sanctuary, which sits at an altitude of 1180m, is 13 kilometers from the city of Biella (more on Biella below). Over eight hundred thousand pilgrims visit the Sanctuary each year! The “Black Madonna of Oropa” is located in one of the small churches in the Sanctuary, it is considered one of the oldest shrines of Mary in the west, and one of the most famous in the Piemonte region of Italy.
When visiting the Sanctuary of Oropa you will drive up a curvy mountain road and arrive at a large entrance with a rather grand staircase leading up into a main courtyard. If you climb up the mountain you will visit the Sacro Monte de Oropa with nineteen chapels (built between 1620 and 1720) illustrating the life of Mary; these chapels are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The courtyard within the Sanctuary dates from 1600 to 1800 with buildings ranging from churches, libraries, and chapels. In the center of the courtyard is a large stone fountain with immense spoons hanging from the center, ready for thirsty pilgrims. At the far end of the courtyard you will see the Upper Basilica, built between 1885-1960, which has an 80 meter high dome!
City of Biella, Italy
The city of Biella is an interesting mesh of old and new. There is a small medieval village above the city, which you can reach via a funicular, always a fun way to travel! The funicular was built in 1885, and is supported by 18 pillars of which the tallest is 9 meters, and was originally driven by hydraulic power. The medieval town has cobble stone streets, charming houses, old palaces with courtyards, and arcades passage ways. The medieval plaza dates back to 1160 and is surrounded by pretty buildings. Make sure to see the “house of wooden beams” on the main street as it is one of the last examples of medieval architecture.
Within the city of Biella, below the medieval town, the most important monument to see is the Baptistry. The Baptistry, the most significant monument in the city, was built with Roman remains. Over the door you’ll see a Second Century relief, 13th century frescos inside, and a crypt dating from the 18th century for the Bishops of the city.