Monday May 7, 2023

Santhia to Vercelli, by train

We decided that we would prefer to look at the rice paddies from a train, rather than walk through them for hours on end, possibly while being bitten by mosquitoes! Additionally, Paul was nursing a couple of painful blisters. So, we hopped on the 9:17 train, arriving in the town of Vercelli 10 minutes later.

One of the oldest urban sites in northern Italy, Vercelli was founded, according to most historians, around 600 BC. It is the largest European rice-growing region and rice is the main factor in the economy. The ancient system of irrigation, described below,  has been found to be a double-edged sword, however.  While saving water, the system increases greenhouse gases by releasing carbon. 

The large plains located between the Alps and the Mediterranean Sea allow for an effective system of irrigation by submersion. When the summer period starts, water melts from the Alps’ glaciers, reaching the Pianura Padana. The water is stocked there for a few months, from April to September, thanks to artificially constructed embankments. Once the rice fields have been flooded and rice has grown, the water is then released and returns to the sea.

We dropped our bags at the flat we had booked and headed for espressos and the tourist information centre. The staff person there was very helpful and guided us to the most interesting sights, most of which are churches. Unfortunately, a sculpture exhibition that looked interesting featuring a major retrospective dedicated to the work of Italian sculpture Giacomo Manzù was not open today.

We headed first to the Basilica di Saint’Andrea, built from 1219 to 1227 with funds that a cardinal obtained from being granted, by Henry III, “perpetual rights to the income of St Andrew’s Church, Chesterton, near Cambridge”! The cardinal also supported the construction of a hospital for pilgrims on the VF. The bell tower was built in the 15thC and is unusually positioned at an angle to the main body of the building. The inside features colourful and decorative vaults. In 1511, the Cremonese cabinet maker Paolo Sacca created exquisite inlaid wood depictions of the town places which are in the quire.

After lunch, we continued our tour, which included a huge synagogue, built in Arab-Moresque style between 1875-1877, the first Jewish temple to be built in Italy after the emancipation of the Jews in 1848 (Carlo Alberto, King of Piedmont and Sardinia, granted the Jews civil and political equality which was extended to the whole of Italy as it became unified, concluding in 1870.)

Our accommodation is on the Piazza Cavour, the arcades of which date from the 13th and 14thC. Two towers overlook the square, the Torre dell’Angelo, which is the remains of a fortified house, and a 16thC bell tower. We spent the late afternoon at a cafe/ bar in the Piazza where Lois enjoyed her first ever Aperol spritz.

Tomorrow, we will go by train to Pavia.

Basilica di Saint’ Andrea


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