The Sacro Monte, which has been included in the World Heritage by UNESCO, is considered as the symbol of the city of Varese, and it is famous as a location of Marian faith and worship. Situated at a height of over 800 metres, it comprises the Church dedicated to the Annunciata, two museums (the Baroffio museum, and the Santuario museum). It is dedicated to the Glorious Mystery of the Coronation of Mary, a sacred path with fourteen chapels along a two kilometre cobbled track. The Sacro Monte also has a nunnery, where still today the Romite Ambrosian sisters live and pray in a vow of silence, and perform various manual tasks.
It has been estimated that about 60 million pilgrims have taken this path over the course of 300 years. It began from a small Oratorio, which then became a Santuario after the Lutheran reform, when many religious buildings dedicated to Mary were built in northern Italy as a reaction against the Protestant faith.
The structure as it exists today was built by a Capuchin monk from Monza, Gian Battista Aguggiari, who succeeded in persuading the entire local population to help build this ambitious project. On 11th November 1604, works were begun on the site in Via Sacra (also called Fabbrica Miracolosa or Miraculous Construction) and the first stone was laid on 25th March 1605.
The Sacro Monte can be considered a symbol of the city of Varese partly because the population was actively involved in its construction. The people were inspired by the actions of the Capuchin monk, and they helped implement the project in all sorts of ways, offering over a thousand ducats in total, as well as corn, gold rings, lace veils and other items, including a pair of white dancing shoes offered by a young peasant girl.
The project also involved another important figure, Cardinal Federico Borromeo, who took part in the operations, providing detailed instructions. He did not live to see the work finished, as he died in 1631.The works were actually concluded in 1680 by architect Giuseppe Bernascone who requested “no payment”.
The Sacred Path leading to the Santuario is of great spiritual value, with interesting landscape views. The path is punctuated by fourteen chapels depicting the Mysteries of the Rosary, and they were built in very different styles and designs. The itinerary is marked by three arches, dedicated to the Joyful Mysteries or the Mysteries of the Rosary, the Sorrowful Mysteries or the Mysteries of Saint Carlo, and the Glorious Mysteries or the Mysteries of Saint Ambrose. In addition, there are three fountains.
The interiors of the Santuario are also interesting, with many works of art by well-known painters and architects. The third chapel displays a mural by Guttuso on its external walls and is well worth a visit.
Not far from the Sacro Monte there is Campo dei Fiori, a mountain group offering all sorts of opportunities for visits and hiking. It also offers a superb viewpoint looking over the lakes in the province of Varese, the Alps, and the Po valley plains.