The national society Local Action Group of Biella and Aloha Travel Agency organised the first of a series of blog tours called #DestinazioneBiella, around Biella, in northern Italy; in order to promote tourism and local resources.
Today I’m going to introduce you to one of the most famous attractions: the Sanctuary of Oropa. As the route to arrive there goes through the regional park, getting there is itself a reason to visit the sanctuary. If you go there in autumn, from your car window seat, you can see autumn-coloured trees, mansions, gardens, small waterfalls hidden between the curves of theroad and, as you arrive in front of the sanctuary, you will realise how impressive its size is: the sanctuary overlooks the surrounding alpine landscape from a height of 1180m.
Construction started in 17th century, during a serious plague that spread across the region. In the following centuries, a number of architects of the House of Savoy added several buildings and decorations to the pre-existing structure. There are many legends and traditions about this place; over the years, this sanctuary had become a pilgrimage destination, and annual pilgrimages still continue here, in Oropa, starting the first Sunday of May.
The great comings and goings of visitors and pilgrims, made Oropa a very popular place at the end of the 19th century; to the extent that one of the buildings was turned into accommodation, with the capacity to host up to 2000 people, throughout a great number of different rooms, along endless galleries. The rooms are furnished with old, simple and renovated furniture. There are different kind of rooms available, from very simply to more decoratednd a night-watchman closes the gate at midnight, in accordance with tradition. Do you know that you can book and sleep here too, even if you are not a pilgrim?
Outside, on the right of the first square, you can find shops and cafés where you can sip hot chocolate or coffee. In front of you, you will see an impressive steps and the Royal Gate, which is next to several plaques that witness the visits of important guests, such as Guglielmo Marconi, who visited before inventing the first radio.
The Sanctuary of Oropa is famous for the statue of the Black Madonna in its Ancient Basilica; a structure of the Renaissance, which was built over an old mediaeval church. The statue is wooden and decorated with gold and gemstones, and is probably from the 13th century and by a woodcarver native to the Aosta Valley. According to the legend, Saint Eusebius brought the statue from Palestine, and even though there is no historic evidence for this theory, everyone firmly believes it. The Black Madonna is quite mysterious: the wood hasn’t been damaged, nor degraded over time; her foot hasn’t worn out, despite the great number of believers touching it; and, an even more curious fact, when the Dean cleans the statue every November, her face and the baby are never covered with dust.
Beyond the second huge steps, you find yourself in the Upper Basilica with its impressive 81m dome. Climb up to the top step, then turn around and admire the beautiful view of the panorama.
This wonderful sanctuary is worth a visit, especially because it is part of I Sacri Monti del Piemonte e della Lombardia (litteraly the Sacred Mountains of Piedmont and Lombardy) and since 2003 has been a World Heritage Site.