Wonder  }  Architecture

The Bernascone

A silent friend who watches over and protects the city from above

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Where is


Torre Campanaria di Giuseppe Bernascone, Piazza Battistero, 2, 21100 Varese VA, Italia (377m s.l.m.)


What it is and where it is

An integral part of the city's historic religious center, it was and is a witness to multiple events. A landmark in the city skyline, it stands haughtily at the side of San Vittore conveying a sense of protection, almost guarding passersby as it listens to the joyful chatter of children playing in the square. Built to replace the old bell tower inside the basilica, together with it and the Baptistery of St. John, it gives rise to a religious hub of extraordinary beauty.

Why it is special

Crossing the Mera Arch from Corso Matteotti, the heart of the old town, one arrives in Piazza San Vittore, a place that embraces those who enter it and allows one to travel through the centuries. Looking up to the far right corner is the Bernascone, which in its majesty creates dissonances and antinomies that resolve themselves into a balanced dance with the other diverse buildings, all around. Those who approach its presence will have the impression of feeling small, but will also be pervaded by a feeling of refuge.

Not to be missed

Since 2000, on the occasion of the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, the Varese Fire Department has climbed the bell tower to attach a votive laurel wreath, bearing a Marian prayer, to the pinnacle.

A bit of history

The previous bell tower suffered heavy damage in 1581, and in 1616 architect Giuseppe Bernasconi, known as Il Mancino, was commissioned to build the new bell tower: the laying of the foundation stone took place on March 5 of the following year. Built beginning in 1617, the bell tower is made of gray granite and clay bricks and, at nearly 80 meters high, bears witness to late Mannerism. After Mancino's death, work continued slowly and was not completed until 1774, with the raising of the onion-shaped Baroque spire by the Baroffio brothers.


In each ofthe clocks placed on the four sides, the hours are shown both with Arabic numerals from 13 to 24 in the white inner dial, and with Roman numerals in the outer crown; and in each of the dials the number 4 is written IIII, instead of IV. The south side of the bell tower also retains traces of cannonball holes exploded by Field Marshal Urban's Austro-Hungarian army in 1859 to punish Varese residents who had rung the tower bells in celebration when, shortly before, the Garibaldians had victoriously entered the village.

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Comune di Varese

Harmoniously imposing, it constitutes one of the symbols that has made Varese recognizable through the centuries, a feat of pride for the people who saw it come into being, a true work of art for those who have admired it and admire it even today.


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