Sitting high on a hill, overlooking Turin, is the Basilica di Superga – a magnificent Baroque church and the site of great tragedy as well as great beauty.
High on a hill, overlooking the city of Turin is the magnificent, Baroque Basilica di Superga, a church dedicated to Our Lady of Grace and built from 1717 to 1731. There has been a church on this site for hundreds of years, but this particular one was built by Duke Vittorio Amedeo II of Savoy to fulfill a vow he made to the Virgin Mary to build her a church if he won the Battle of Turin in 1706. The name “Superga” is derived from ‘serrapergia’, a word of Germanic-Latin origin which means ‘mountain between the hills‘.
The Basilica is 75 metres high and caught my eye as we drove into Turin, after having flown into Milan. I could see it’s well-lit shape from our hotel window and one afternoon we made the trek across town to visit it up close. The church is reached by way of a ride up Superga Hill in an original 1930’s tram, which leaves regularly from Stazione Sassi and offers a wonderful view of the city as it climbs the steep hill.
Like so many Italian churches of this kind, the Basilica di Superga is very beautiful. The architect, Filippo Juvarra, left nothing to chance and was very precise with his details and instructions about the interior decorations – in particular about the different types of marble he wanted used in the church.
Buried in the crypt below the church are generations of Savoy royalty. There is a regular guided tour of the crypt, but unfortunately this is only given in Italian, which I am a long way from mastering.
However, two things set this church apart from any other I have seen. The first is the dreadful tragedy which is attached to it. On May 4, 1949, a plane carrying the entire Torino football team, known as Grande Torino, and their management, crashed into a wall at the rear of the church killing all on board. The impact of this was immense, given the team’s previous run of success and the fact that ten of it’s players were also in the national side. There is now a Museo del Grande Torino in the cloisters of the church and a memorial at the rear, where the crash took place.
The second is the views, which are unarguably and utterly spectacular, offering a breathtaking panorama across the city and the Po river, out to the The Alps beyond. Rousseau described it as “the most beautiful sight that can strike the human eye”. I won’t argue with that.