The Basilica of Superga

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The old vow for its construction during the 1706 Siege of Turin
The artistic tombs of the House of Savoy Royal members (from 1732)
The tragic crash of the "Grande Torino" Football team (1949)

From the centre of town (some 10 kilometres from the 239 metres altitude Piazza Castello), we proceed along the river Po and then climb up to the right on a hilly road with panoramic glimpses, or better still, take the typical rack railway from the bottom of Corso Casale at Borgata Sassi to get to the 670 metre altitude hill of Superga after a 16 minute ride. The hill is Turin's second tallest after that of the 715 metres high Faro della Maddalena.

SUPERGALast century the trip was often completed on mule drawn carts and carriages rented in Corso Casale, where the restaurant Il Muletto (whence its name) now stands.

The Basilica of Superga is a must for tourists. The view from the large square before the temple is exceptional, especially at dusk when you can perceive the progressive wings of the festive choir of the great Alps in the background of the shadowed town. This sensation was underscored by personages such as Jean Jacques Rousseau and Napoleon, Stendhal and Le Corbusier. Behind the Basilica, the panorama opens up to the hills of the Monferrato.

Its history ...

On September 2 1706, Princes Vittorio Amedeo II and Eugenio of Savoy climbed the high hill to observe the position of the Franco-Spanish army that had been besieging the town for four months and made a vow to dedicate the site to the Holy Mother of Graces for the liberation of Turin. The vow, which consisted in the commitment to have a grand church built on that same hill in the case of victory over the French, was made before the wooden statue of the Holy Mother, now kept in the Chapel that exactly reproduces the one demolished to make room for the Basilica. The vow is also celebrated in a fresco and a painting in the Church of Saint Cristina in Piazza San Carlo at Turin.

After huge bank removal operations to lower the tip of the hill by some 40 metres and create a wide enough flat area for building the temple at some 670 metres altitude, construction of the Basilica factory commenced on July 20 1717 on a project by the great Architect Filippo Juvarra. The church, though still not completely finished, was dedicated by Carlo Emanuele III on November 5 1731 (14 years later). Its plan is circular and protrudes anteriorly with an imposing pronaos supported by eight Corinthian columns, accessed by a solemn stairway.

The Basilica stands 75 metres high from ground level to the tip of the Cross, is 51 metres long inside and 34 metres wide. The inside is completed with rich chapels adorned with stuccoes, marbles and precious sculptures and paintings.

The bas-relief representing the Blessed Amedeo of Savoy and the 1706 battle of Turin by Bernardo Cametti (1773) on the high altar is quite remarkable.

The tall dome dominates the surrounding landscape between the two 60 metre tall bell towers inspired by Borromini.

The Basilica complex was oriented along the axis of the way to France (today's Corso Francia).The internal cloister's Room of the Popes with paintings representing all the Pontiffs is of great interest.

The Royal tombs ...

The Basilica's crypts contain a great mausoleum with the tombs of the Savoy rulers from Vittorio Emanuele II to Carlo Alberto (except for Carlo Felice who is buried at the Abbey of Altacomba) and of other 50 princes and princesses, that is all the House of Savoy members who died after 1732. Vittorio Emanuele !II, the first King of Italy, was buried in the Pantheon of Rome.

Two other humbler and more modest Turin churches, though no less important for the history of the 1706 Siege and of Italy, are ideally tied to this Basilica: the Church of the Madonna della Salute and the Church of Nostra Signora della Salute (in the street and avenue bearing the same names). The Capuchin convent annexed to the Church of the Madonna di Campagna became the French Army's headquarters. Its roofs were used by the military commanders to observe the defence works of the besieged Turinese and the area was the theatre of bloody encounters.

The Church of Nostra Signora della Salute is not far from the former in Borgo Vittoria. Some roads around it still bear the significant names of Via del Ridotto, Via delle Trincee, Via del Campo, Via dei Fornelli, Via and Piazza Vittoria.

250 years after the siege, on September 7 1956, a celebration was held at Superga to commemorate all the poor soldiers who had lost their lives on either sides of the trenches. Three small urns, two containing some bone relics from the crypts of the two churches and the other one a parchment describing the event, were solemnly accompanied by an armed picket and the top town authorities. After a stop at the Sanctuary of the Consolata, proclaimed Turin's Patron Saint, they were placed inside the niche in the centre of the Basilica's pronaos, in the presence of the Consuls of the four nations involved (Italy, Spain, Austria and France), as noted on a floor plaque all trample but few read, which states: Here rests a soldier of the armies of Austria, France, Piedmont and Spain, who fell during the 1706 Siege of Turin. Two and a half centuries later, on September 7 1956, his mortal spoils were removed from the shrines of the plain and placed here as a sign of renewed friendship among peoples. Custodian the Holy Virgin, for the Glory of Superga.

The monument by Tancredi Pozzi (1902) commemorating King Umberto I assassinated at Monza in 1900 stands on the right hand side of the square facing the Basilica.

The tragic crash of the plane carrying the "Grande Torino" Football Club

Another Turin closed its season of glory here: the Grande Torino Football team. On May 4 1949, the aircraft carrying the footballers back home from a victorious match played at Lisbon crashed against the base of the rear wall of the Basilica complex, maybe due to adverse weather conditions.

31 died: all the regular and reserve team members, the six people accompanying them and the air crew. A great plaque placed on the crash area commemorates the tragedy and is the destination of many pilgrimages.