Wonder  }  Architecture

The world's largest elliptical dome

The wonders of faith at the Shrine of Vicoforte

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Where is


Piazza Carlo Emanuele Ⅰ, 12080 Vicoforte CN, Italia (0m s.l.m.)


We are near Mondovì, in the hills of Cuneo. In Vicoforte, a small village of three thousand souls or a little more, it is truly amazing to see the bulk of an imposing shrine stand out among the low houses, with four sturdy corner bell towers and a large, very large dome: it is the Regina Montis Regalis shrine, dedicated to the Nativity of Mary.

What it is and where it is: in Vicoforte, the dome of records

What few people know is that the Baroque dome of the Vicoforte Sanctuary is the largest elliptical dome in the world, 74 meters high, 37.15 meters long on the major axis and 24.80 meters long on the minor axis. It was built by architect and engineer Francesco Gallo. It was 1731 and he was just 29 years old and on his first major work. The project was so bold that - the story goes - when it came to removing the scaffolding, everyone refused to do so, certain that the dome would collapse.... And Gallo had to make do on his own!

Not to be missed: the frescoes of the dome.

Covering anarea of more than 6,000 square meters (and this is also a record), the frescoes of the dome develop a single theme: the story of salvation contemplated through the life of Mary: her birth, her pilgrimage through earthly life, and her Assumption into heaven among the angels, in the glory of her encounter with her son Jesus. Other figures complete the message of faith: the cardinal virtues (Justice, Fortitude, Prudence, and Temperance), four Doctors of the Church (St. Augustine, St. Bernard, St. Ambrose, and St. Gregory), and the apostles. It is worth mentioning the names of the artists, who are not among the best known: Mattia Bortoloni from Rovigo and Felice Biella from Milan.

A bit of history: the pylon

It all began with a humble country pylon, a votive shrine depicting a sweet Madonna and Child. This is the sacred image that is venerated today in the Sanctuary's sumptuous central shrine. A curious detail: there is a blunderbuss hole on the pillar, the fault of a clumsy hunter whose name is still handed down: Giulio Sgargiano. When rumors of miracles spread, the pylon became a destination for more and more pilgrims. First a chapel was built around it and then the great shrine, designed by court architect Ascanio Vittozzi (1539-1615). It took 3 centuries to complete the work, which is why it shows different styles on the outside. Around the basilica, then, a large crown of porticoed palaces was built to accommodate the faithful, the Palazzata.

Fun fact: Can you visit the dome?

With harness and helmet, it is possible to climb the dome. After 266 steps screwed into a very narrow spiral staircase, the wide, wavy horizon of the Langhe is an unparalleled view.

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Maria Cristina

Going up to the dome, seeing up close these luminous frescoes against a background that from below looks like a quilt of gold... A Wonder!


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