The Sesia Valley that extends to the north of Gattinara is rich in history and tradition, and famous for the Sacred Mountain of Varallo (Sacro Monte), the most ancient and celebrated of all such constructions in Piedmont and Lombardy.
Visualizza Varallo, nuova Gerusalemme in una mappa di dimensioni maggiori
Come to the valley by departing from Gattinara and continuing along the river until arriving at the town of Serravalle Sesia. A quick stop here is worth your time to see the original Sanctuary of St. Euseo, dating back to the 17th century and tied to ancient traditions and legends. After about 20 km (12 mi), come upon Borgosesia, today the most populated center of the valley and famous for its textile industry. Descending into the valley once again, wine lovers should not miss a visit to the Natural Park of Mount Fenera. In addition to interesting prehistoric evidence found in the woods of this park, the only population of Vitis sylvestris in Piedmont has been found here. This ancient vine has never been domesticated and is rarer than ever to find due to increasing human activity and consequential anthropic changes of the environment.
From Borgosesia continue towards Varallo, historical center of the valley. Admire the impressive architecture of the collegiate church of St. Gaudenzio in the main piazza, and continue on towards Sacro Monte. Its construction began in the 15th century under Father Bernardino Caimi of the Franciscan order of Antica Osservanza. Upon returning from a trip in the Middle East, the Franciscan had the idea of reproducing the Palestinian sanctuaries to create a "miniature Holy Land." In 1481, struck by the natural terrace made from the dominating rocks of Varallo, he decided that this was the place to build his dream. Three centuries and 43 chapels later, many of which were frescoed by the gifted architect and sculptor Gaudenzio Ferrari, the Sacro Monte was re-baptized as the "New Jerusalem."
The ascent to the Monte is an artistic and religious experience without equal, able to amaze even the most skeptical of visitors. Over 800 polychrome, terracotta, life size statues populate the chapels, their postures unique and theatrical, each expression different from the next. Frescoes grace the walls and create spectacular and harmonious scenes; everything contributes to the marvelous, evangelical Biblical passages reconstructed on the Mountain. The itinerary follows the life of Jesus in Palestine from the nativity to the tomb by way of scenes of rare dramatic power, such as the "Massacre of the Innocents" and "Ecce Homo," where the cruelty of the world against Christ seems to be concentrated in the anguished expression on his face.
The beauty and rarity of such a place is recounted by many intellectuals and writers amazed by the vision of Sacro Monte. Above all is the figure of Giovanni Testori, who coined the term "the great mountain theater" and dedicated pages of moving prose to Varallo.
As Tanzio of Varallo wrote, in these chapels "everything comes from the urgency of active life, or from what grows out of its represented movement, and for this, everything is perennially open, as on the stage of a theater that has the force to continuously pull new life and new death towards it."