The Sacri Monti (Sacred Mountains) of Piedmont and Lombardy are a set of nine sanctuaries that in 2003 were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site thanks to the charm of the landscape, their history, the architecture and the works of art that are preserved there. The nine sanctuaries (seven in Piedmont and two in Lombardy) are: Sacro Monte di Varallo, Sacro Monte di Orta San Giulio, Sacro Monte di Crea, Sacro Monte di Oropa (near Biella), Sacro Monte di Belmonte (near Valperga) , Sacro Monte di Ghiffa, Sacro Monte di Domodossola, Sacro Monte di Varese, Sacro Monte di Ossuccio (on the western shore of Lake Como). Unesco declared the Italian Sacri Monti a heritage of humanity with this motivation: “The nine Sacri Monti of northern Italy are groups of chapels and other architectural elements erected between the end of the 15th and the beginning of the 18th century, dedicated to various aspects of the Catholic faith. In addition to their symbolic spiritual significance, these complexes offer a splendid example of the integration of architectural elements into the surrounding landscapes, scattered with hills, forests and lakes; they also contain a remarkable artistic heritage in the form of sculpture and frescoes ” .

In the Sacri Monti the scenes are the work of famous artists active between the fifteenth and nineteenth centuries and are populated by statues as large as real people, with gestures, physiognomies and expressions of great realism. An effective tool to tell the faithful the sacred story, in an engaging and evocative way.

Sacro Monte di Varallo, Piedmont, Italy

The Sacro Monte in Varallo consists of 45 chapels inserted into the large monumental complexes populated by more than 800 life-size painted statues that dramatically illustrate the lives of people. Piedmont, Italy.    (foto © Paolo Gallo /

Their story begins with the founding of the Sacro Monte di Varallo, which became so renowned that it inspired the construction of other sanctuaries in the Western Alps. In Varallo, at the end of the 15th century, the Franciscan friar Bernardino Caimi designed a small Holy Land. He had modest buildings built with a rural appearance, which reproduced the main places in Jerusalem linked to the life of Christ, recalling the episodes that had happened there, with statues and paintings.

Starting from the 16th century, with the work of the great artist Gaudenzio Ferrari, the scenes were populated by three-dimensional sculptures, as big as real people, with colorful clothes, beards and hair, inserted in enveloping and extremely realistic painted settings. The expressions of the characters, the strong realism of the representations and the relationship between sculpture and painting had the aim of involving the visitor and immersing him in the narration, making him participate in the sacred drama. Starting from 1565 the structure of the Sacro Monte was profoundly modified by the project of Galeazzo Alessi, one of the leading architects of the time: the Sacro Monte di Varallo was thus transformed into a great spiritual path illustrated with life-size paintings and statues, which told the story of Christ in a realistic way. The Sacro Monte can be considered a great “via crucis” that winds on the slope of a hill. It is a sacred tale, theater, art, architecture, garden and wood at the same time.

Sacro Monte di Ossuccio, Lombardy, Italy

The Sacro Monte di Ossuccio devotional complex, is located on an alpine cliff about 200 metres above the western shore of Lake Como near the town of Ossuccio. Lombardy, Italy.     (foto ©

Among the most evocative Sacred Mountains we also remember the Sacro Monte di Orta, which is located in an extraordinary landscape context, on a promontory near Lake Orta. Twenty chapels immersed in nature illustrate episodes from the life of St. Francis with sculptures and paintings, distributed along a path that winds on the top of the mountain, with spectacular views of the lake and the island of San Giulio. The first idea of creating a religious itinerary on the model of the Sacro Monte di Varallo dates back to 1583. Between 1593 and 1615 the bishop of Novara called to Orta artists of considerable fame to carry out the entire route. The statues and paintings of the Sacro Monte compose scenes of great realism. The tour ends with the church of San Nicolao, a building completely remodeled during the seventeenth century in imitation of the lower Basilica of Assisi, which houses the ancient wooden group of the Madonna della Pietà dating back to the fourteenth century. Here the beauty of the landscape, the silence and the harmonious relationship among art, architecture and nature fully reflect Franciscan spirituality.

Nowadays the Sacri Monti have become places for tourism sensitive to art, nature and the values of spirituality.

Text: Luca @


Sacro Monte di Orta, Piedmont, Italy

Detail of one of the 21 sacred chapels of the Sacro Monte di Orta, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2003. Piedmont, Italy.   (foto © Cristian Puscasu /

Sacro Monte di Varallo

Sacro Monte di Varese

Sacro Monte di Ossuccio

Sacro Monte di Orta

Sacro Monte di Crea

Sacro Monte di Oropa

Sacro Monte di Ghiffa

Sacro Monte di Domodossola

Sacro Monte di Belmonte