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Official site: Basilica di Superga
Cover Photo by Dario Londero

The Basilica of Superga is a Catholic basilica located on the Superga hill near Turin, Italy. Its history is closely linked to the Siege of Turin in 1706 and the vow made by Vittorio Amedeo II.

Geographically, the Superga hill, standing at 672 meters, is situated northeast of the center of Turin. The origin of the name is uncertain; it seems to have Lombard origins and may come from a woman named Saroperga, who owned the surrounding woods. However, others believe it derives from the Germanic Sarrabergia. Additional hypotheses connect the name to the presence of a medieval statue of the Madonna placed under a pergola, hence the name sub-pergola.

The vow

Certainly, the story that led to the construction of the Basilica of Superga is fascinating. In 1706, the French army under Louis XIV laid siege to Turin with over 44,000 soldiers. The House of Savoy had approximately 10,000 soldiers, and after more than 110 days of siege, the situation seemed desperate. On September 2nd, Duke Vittorio Amedeo II ascended Superga hill with Prince Eugenio to assess the situation from above. At the hilltop, the Duke made a vow in front of a wooden statue of the Madonna. He promised that if the Piedmontese emerged victorious, he would erect a basilica. Remarkably, on September 7th, the defenders of Turin prevailed, winning the decisive battle. The Basilica of Superga stands today as a testament to that solemn promise.

Superga – Statue of vow

Basilica of Superga construction

With the victory in this battle, Duke Vittorio Amedeo II became the first king of the dynasty. In 1711, the foundation stone of the basilica was laid. A commemorative plaque marks the exact spot. However, construction only began in 1717 based on the design by Filippo Juvarra, and it concluded 14 years later

The original project included not only the basilica but also a crypt for royal tombs and apartments for the royal family. The Royal Basilica of Superga was finally inaugurated in November 1731 by Carlo Emanuele III.

However, the crypt was only built later, between 1774 and 1778, by Francesco Martinez, Juvarra’s nephew. Unfortunately, the royal apartments were never fully completed.

In 1884, the funicular railway was inaugurated, initially electrified and later converted to a cogwheel system in 1934. It allowed visitors to reach the Basilica while enjoying the picturesque landscape. The train cars used today are the original ones from that era. Finally, in 1997, the Basilica of Superga was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Basilica of Superga
Basilica of Superga

Inside the Basilica of Superga

The Basilica of Superga is characterized by a grand neoclassical staircase at the entrance, a spacious dome, and two bell towers on either side. Inside, there are two main chapels and an additional four secondary ones. The most significant location is the chapel to the left of the altar. Here, the statue of the Madonna is preserved, to which Vittorio Amedeo I made a vow.

Of particular importance is the Hall of the Popes, located in the cloister. Initially, the hall served as the refectory and was later transformed in 1876. It houses portraits of all the Popes, starting from Saint Peter. The portraits are displayed chronologically on the main wall. Traditionally, the portrait of the current Pope is placed in the center at the bottom.

The Royal tombs

The royal tombs have long served as the burial place for the House of Savoy. Among princes, princesses, and other members of the royal family, there are over 70 bodies interred here.

Traditionally, the last sovereign is buried in the central tomb of the crypt. Later, they are moved to make way for their successor. However, the last king to be buried here was Carlo Alberto in 1849. In fact, Vittorio Emanuele II, who became the King of Italy, was interred at the Pantheon in Rome. In addition to the main corridor, the royal tombs include two other chambers. The Hall of the Infants is dedicated to princes who died in childhood, while the Hall of the Queens honors the spouses of the monarchs. Despite the fall of the monarchy, descendants of the House of Savoy still retain the right to be buried at Superga. The most recent to exercise this right was Amedeo di Savoia, Duke of Aosta, in 2021

Superga - Royal tombs
Superga – Royal tombs

The Great Turin

Unfortunately, Superga is also known for a tragedy that deeply affected all of Italy. On May 4, 1949, while returning from a friendly football match against Lisbon, the plane carrying the Grande Torino team crashed into the mountain. The entire team, along with managers, companions, and a few journalists, lost their lives. In total, there were 31 fatalities. The national team’s coach, Vittorio Pozzo, was tasked with identifying the bodies. The funerals took place at Palazzo Madama, and over a million people attended. A plaque with the names of all the victims was placed on the back of the mountain. Every year on May 4, Torino fans make a pilgrimage on foot to participate in the memorial ceremony.

Superga - Tombstone of the Great Turin
Superga – Tombstone of the Great Turin