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Environment and Landscape II
 

We can say that Sacred Mounts’ green landscapes look like and become sort of useful representation of the religious messages which founders meant to convey and are therefore very different for each complexe.

The simplest natural landscapes are in Belmonte, Domodossola, Crea and Ghiffa, where vegetation grows around devotional path, and simple wood has the role of integrating architectural elements with the surrounding landscape. The wood surrounding Crea’s chapels also has special botanical values, because it is in part composed of very ancient original vegetation: nowadays in fact this is very rare to find in this area because of centuries landscape’s changes made in order to maintain vineyards cultivations. With their particular landscapes, woodland slopes of the above Sacred Mounts offer today‘s pilgrims remarkable natural aspects and emotional inputs for intimate meditation moments.

Contrasts between northern and southern slopes, between shadows and lights, show a particular environment rich in nuances and natural chiaroscuro-effects, which simbolically lead to their original meaning of “hermit-like complexes”.

In Varese, Sacred Mount’s architectural elements clearly predominate: the complexe’s green space is in fact very limited because the architectural monumental size occupies all the sacred space and allows pilgrims, quite from everywhere, to see the outside surrounding woods and lake.

Even in Ossuccio the path composed by chapels occupies a predominant space: here the green landscape is entirely rural and characterized by terracings facing Como’s Lake, with their typical little stone walls, once olive trees and vineyards’ cultivations.

Particular high mountains environmental conditions of the location in which they built Oropa’s Sacred Mount, didn’t help founders to do any land and vegetations changes; here spaces are characterized by huge beech- and fir-woods and grass pastures.
The natural ‘barrier’ made by conifers growing between the Sacred Mount and the near Sanctuary, are the only environmental intervention they could plan and realize here; instead in other religious complexes they could elaborate and realize sometimes very sophisticated ones.

For example in Sacred Mount of Varallo, but in particular in the one of Orta, the choice of such particular botanical frames and shapes is aimed at contributing to a special landscape planning role (concerning path, architectural elements, paintings and statues), that is the role of telling the religious issues proposed within chapels.

Hedges, topiaries, flower-beds and trees strategically set into rows, lead pilgrims steps along the holy path and let their eyes straight to the destination, quite avoiding them profane thoughts about the surrounding landscape. In Varallo, considered by Alessi the ideal city, green spaces reach very complicated frames similar to those you can notice by looking at urban places and streets, while Saint Francis Sacred Mount of Orta is just like a garden, with its hedges’ rythm and its big trees counterpoint; the green space here surely predominates, as supporting favourite Saint Francis preaching issue concerning the incommensurable divine beauty you can even find even in Nature.


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Excerpts from:
F. Fontana, R. Lodari, P. Sorrenti, Luoghi e vie di pellegrinaggio. I Sacri Monti del Piemonte e della Lombardia , 2004, published by Centro di Documentazione dei Sacri Monti, Calvari e Complessi devozionali europei.

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