Have you ever heard about a city called Vercelli?
It’s a small city of approximately 50.000 inhabitants in north west part of Italy, within the context of the Piedmont Region. There is a lot to learn about this place, especially the fact that Vercelli is one of the world capital of Rice cultivation.
The city is found halfway between Milan and Turin, in the middle of a very flat area that is simply perfect to cultivate rice: the soil is good and fertile, water supply is abundand, also thanks to a canal which was created in mid 1800s which crosses the whole area, and the quality of the product is pretty high. Just to mention some: Carnaroli, Arborio and Roma rice come from here together with Venus Rice (the black one) and the red rice which is mostly used in the pharmaceutical field to extract natural statines that are very effective against high colesterol.
That might be a good reason to visit Vercelli but there is another one, which is the high value of the its medieval heritage. The city was in fact among the most powerful in northern Italy at that tme, thanks to the banking and the trading activities of its inhabitants. Good connection were created with the king of England, thus the main attraction of the city, the Basicila of St. Andrew was built to connect the English Church to the Northen Italian one. St. Andrew in Vercelli is in fact twinned with Chesterton, in England, even if the style is a bit different.
The Basilica of St. Andrew is a mix of Romanesque and early Gothic. It was built in fact at the very begining of the 1200s thus making it one of the rare examples of the simplicity of the Romansque mixed with the architectural ambitions of the Gothic: the arches over the portal are still rounded while the rose window is an emblem of gothic. The internal structure is made of solid, big pillars, which was typical of the romanesque, while the elevation of the ceiling and the ribs are obviously gothic.
The Basilica has a traditional latin cross shape, however at the transpet you will not find the usual dome we are mostly accostumed to, but a different kind of tower which was originally used as a bell tower (which was built far after the completion of the church). However the voult is well and finely decorated with simple frescoes, as well as the side apses.
On the right side of the church, an extensive and very beautiful cloister is found. Originally used by the monks and the friars of the church, it is now home to a group of lay-nuns who do live here but have their works outside. The view over the Basilica is even better from the cloister which provides a more extensive understanding of its massive presence in the context of the city centre.
Finally the southern side offers a view over the entire complex including the bell tower, which was inexplicably built with a different orientation, thus making the whole mplace a little misterious.
I hope now you have an idea of this little city in the middle of the Piedmont’s flat and you can feel how worth it is to visit it. If not for the rice it can be for the its heritage and vice versa. Do not forget to plan a visit also at a Riseria (rice Farm) once there (there are several), so you can check how intensive and complex the work of rice growing is and also understand why Italian rice is a bit more expensive than others.
Do you prefer the Romanesque or the Gothic style?