What to see in Mondovì

Cosa vedere a Mondovì-Piazza Maggiore-Galletto-palazzi-portici

A Brief Guide to the Capital of Monregalese

Looking for an interesting destination for a Sunday trip? Then discover what to see in Mondovì and plan your visit!

Mondovì is located in southern Piedmont, in the province of Cuneo, about 90 km from Turin, between the Langhe and the Maritime Alps. The city is culturally and architecturally interesting, as well as historically significant. The Monregalese, the small area surrounding the town, has always been a transit point between Liguria and Piedmont. Perhaps this is why it was often the target of conquest by influential powers vying for control of the rich trade routes passing through here. But before delving into its history, let’s explain the origin of this particular name.

There are various hypotheses about the origin of the name Mondovì, all of which should stem from how the city was called by the people who lived in the area. The first refers to medieval Latin and the combination of the words Mons (Mount) and Vicus (Street, Village), meaning “the village on top of the mountain.” The second derives from the Piedmontese dialect Mont ëd Vi, meaning “Mount of Vico,” being very close to the village of Vicoforte.

However, you should know that for many centuries Mondovì was called Mons Regalis (Royal Mountain), which is why its inhabitants and the adjacent area are respectively called Monregalesi and Monregalese.

Brief History of the City

Mondovì’s history is quite complex and rich in events, but we’ll try to give you some interesting information without going into too much detail. Since its foundation in 1198, it often attempted to be an independent municipality with its own institutions, but it had to submit to the prevailing powers many times. Already in the 1200s and then in 1231, the Bishop of Asti, together with the Count of Ceva, managed to conquer and destroy it. In 1232, it revived and, thanks to alliances with Cuneo, Milan, and Savigliano, resisted a new attack by the people of Asti. Still, in this troubled century, Mondovì was occupied by King Charles I of Anjou in 1260 and returned to Asti’s control in 1274. Finally, in 1290, it bought its municipal autonomy with money.

From the 14th century onwards, there was a succession of dominations (without bloodshed): first the Angevins, then the Viscontis, the Marquises of Monferrato, the Acajas, and finally, in 1418, the Savoys. This stability, combined with its favorable position, led Mondovì to grow so much that it became the most populous city in Piedmont in the 16th century. Meanwhile, it was recognized as an independent diocese in 1388, the first book in Piedmont was printed in the city in 1472, and between 1560 and 1566, it was the seat of the Piedmontese University.

Towards the end of the 17th century, Duke Amadeus II of Savoy wanted to centralize all powers to himself and thus eliminate the municipal freedoms that Mondovì also enjoyed. This caused three popular uprisings known as the “Salt Wars,” which saw the Duke prevail. From that moment, the city began a slow decline that lasted for centuries, always under the Savoys, except for the Napoleonic parenthesis.

Now we can begin the discovery of the most interesting attractions to see in Mondovì.

What to See in Mondovì: Breo District

When visiting Mondovì, one immediately notices a particular aspect: the city is practically divided into two. In the lower part along the Ellero stream, there is Breo, while at the top of the hill, there is the oldest nucleus of Mondovì called Piazza. In addition to these two neighborhoods, there are others that make up modern Mondovì, but we will only talk about the two main and interesting ones. Coming by car from the Langhe, you first encounter Breo. We recommend parking in Piazza della Repubblica, where the old railway station is located, and parking is free.

From here, cross the bridge over the Ellero and enter the “historic center” of Breo. You are immediately greeted by the Fountain of the Children or “The Joy of being in Mondovì” (La gòj d’esse a Mondvì), a modern sculpture by Sergio Unia that quickly became one of the city’s symbols.

From here, you quickly pass through arcades and streets full of shops until you reach Piazza Cesare Battisti. Here, there are many benches that, in the warmer months, become a meeting place for the people of Monregalese who enjoy the shade, company, and perhaps an ice cream or a drink.

Piazza Santi Pietro e Paolo

What to see in Mondovì-square-church of Saints Peter and Paul-dolphin fountain-
Piazza Santi Pietro e Paolo (Credit to Matteo Marongiu)

Continuing, you reach the most beautiful and interesting square in Breo: Piazza Santi Pietro e Paolo. The eye immediately falls on the facade of the Church of Saints Peter and Paul, a baroque gem with its scenic staircase and splendid frescoed facade. However, the most interesting aspect of the church is found at the top of the facade, where there is a bronze automaton depicting a Moor topped by a canopy. This statue activates every hour to strike the hours, which attracts many curious tourists. The character of the Moor was very successful among the people of Monregalese, so much so that since the late 1700s, he has been one of the main protagonists of the Mondovì Carnival. Furthermore, legend has it that during their occupation of the city, Napoleon’s troops shot at the statue, believing it to be a sniper.

In addition to the church, the square is surrounded by other beautifully frescoed palaces that make the atmosphere truly fascinating. As a last note, but no less interesting, you will notice a fountain in the shape of a dolphin. This statue is a replica of the one that was originally in the center of the square and was removed in the 1800s. The reason seemed a bit strange to us, but apparently, its menacing appearance induced abortions in pregnant women who went to the fish market held there. Probably the women of the time were particularly susceptible.

After finishing admiring this beautiful square, it’s time to reach one of Mondovì’s attractions: the Funicular.

The Funicular

The Funicular, besides being the fastest way to reach Mondovì Piazza, is also the most evocative and beloved by both tourists and the people of Monregalese. In just over 2 minutes, it takes you to Piazza Maggiore through a linear path on the ridge of the hill, offering an enviable view of the lower city and its surroundings. It reminded us a lot of the funiculars in Bergamo, which we also greatly appreciated there.

Cable car-breo-piazza-mondovì
Final section of the cable car (Credit to Matteo Marongiu)

The funicular you take now is very different from the original one, which until 1975 was taken on the fly (because the circuit did not include a stop to get on) and which was originally powered by water. Since 2006, when it reopened with a new and very modern circuit, there have been runs every ten minutes during opening hours, and the ticket costs 3 euros, valid for 4 hours.

Once you arrive at the top, under the beautiful Palazzo dei Gesuiti, Piazza Maggiore opens up in front of you, the true heart of Mondovì Piazza.

What to See in Mondovì: Piazza Maggiore

Piazza Maggiore has always been the most important place in Mondovì. Most of the political and administrative life of the municipality took place in this square, as evidenced by the presence of the historically most significant buildings in Mondovì. Around it, you can see:

    • Governor’s Palace with frescoes representing the coats of arms of the Governors’ families;

    • the Ancient City Palace, which has been the seat of municipal institutions since the 1200s and today presents itself with seventeenth and eighteenth-century forms;

    • Bressani Palace, also of medieval origin, now houses the Mondovì Ceramic Museum;

    •  Fauzone Palace, also of medieval origin, today hosts the Mondovì Ceramics Museum;

    • the Jesuit College, of which we have already said, hosts the arrival of the Funicular and for many years was the seat of the city’s court;

    • the Church of San Francesco Saverio, called “of the Mission,” a true gem of Piedmontese Baroque.

Piazza Maggiore-Church of San Francesco Saverio
Piazza Maggiore from the side of the Church of San Francesco Saverio (Credit to Matteo Marongiu)

In addition to its beauty, Piazza Maggiore is interesting because it is built on the final part of the hill’s ridge. This necessitated dividing it into two levels to facilitate activities inside. To unite the two parts, you will see a staircase that literally cuts it in half in the middle.

What to See in Mondovì: The Church of San Francesco Saverio, called “of the Mission”

One of the most interesting attractions to see in Mondovì is undoubtedly the Church of San Francesco Saverio. Everyone in the city knows it as the Mission Church. This is because, a few centuries after its construction at the behest of the Jesuits, it passed to the Congregation of the Mission of St. Vincent De’ Paul.

As mentioned earlier, it is a true gem of Piedmontese Baroque. Its project began in 1665, designed by the architect Giovenale Boetto, and envisaged the demolition of some palaces that scenically closed Piazza Maggiore. The sandstone facade follows the classic canons of the Baroque with its superimposed orders and a large central portal.

However, it is the interior that deserves to be admired with great attention. The single nave with a simple layout is enhanced by the beauty of the pictorial decorations by Andrea Pozzo, one of the greatest artists of the time. His ability to amplify spaces through the use of the trompe-l’oeil technique and perspective combined with painted scenes leave the visitor speechless.

What to see in Mondovì-Interior-Church of San Francesco-Saverio-Church of the Mission-Baroque
Interior of the Church of San Francesco Saverio (Credit to Matteo Marongiu)

Also very interesting is the altar machine, still existing in the world, which made the figure of Saint Francis levitate in the air. A true invention to capture the attention of the faithful.

The church, now deconsecrated, can be visited by paying one euro for free visit, while if you want the assistance of 3D viewers of the Infinitum project, it costs 8 euros. The use of 3D viewers allows for a truly exciting visit to the church, with the possibility of seeing details up close and having precise and engaging explanations. For example, you can see Andrea Pozzo appear, explaining the history of the frescoes. Really special!

What to See in Mondovì: the Cathedral of San Donato

Once you have admired Piazza Maggiore with its palaces and arcades, we recommend taking a few steps uphill to reach the Cathedral of San Donato.

What to see in Mondovì-exterior-cathedral of San Donato
Exterior of the Cathedral of San Donato (Credit to Matteo Marongiu)

The Church is quite easy to identify even without a map thanks to its large facade that stands out from the square. It was built in the 18th century to house the episcopal seat and therefore, many great artists of the time were called upon. Firstly, Francesco Gallo, the great architect who also designed the nearby sanctuary of Vicoforte. In addition, inside, works of art of great level were recovered from the churches that preceded the construction of the cathedral. Among these, we invite you to admire the Renaissance altar, the many paintings from the 17th century, and the wooden pulpit. Not to be forgotten is the splendid Chapel of the Suffrage, one of the most beautiful examples of Piedmontese Rococo.

What to see in Mondovì-interno-Cathedral of San Donato-baroque
Interior of the Cathedral (Credit to Matteo Marongiu)

Obviously, to these masterpieces, others were added specifically for the new church, which are also striking for their beauty. We particularly liked the Main Altar in marble designed by Francesco Gallo himself and the Virgin with Child by Sebastiano Taricco (an artist we have already admired in Cherasco) placed in the center of the choir.

What to See in Mondovì: the Belvedere Gardens

Leaving the Cathedral of San Donato, we continue uphill to reach the highest point of the city: the Belvedere Gardens. Right here, where now stands the tree-lined park that allows you to admire a splendid panorama of the surrounding areas, the first nucleus of the city was born. To remember that period, there is the Bressani Tower, originally the bell tower of a now destroyed church, which, at 29 meters high, allowed control of the entire surrounding area.

What to see in Mondovì-Torre dei Bressani-belvedere park
Torre dei Bressani (Credit to Matteo Marongiu)

You should know that the tower was not just a watchtower, but it was Giovan Battista Beccaria‘s favorite point for his astronomical observations. Its top, in fact, was used by the scientist, in 1762, as a trigonometric point to survey the meridian passing through Piedmont.

In memory of the scientist, the park, in addition to benches and fountains, is also equipped with numerous examples of sundials and illustrative panels explaining their functioning. Furthermore, the Bressani Tower fits perfectly into this “time park.” In fact, the visit inside allows you to discover the gears and the functioning of the large clock that characterizes it with its dials.

The City Museums

Like every city, Mondovì also has museums that tell its history and peculiarities. Among these, we decided to recommend two that we believe cannot be missed.

The first one we already mentioned earlier and is located in Piazza Maggiore, the Ceramic Museum. Inside Palazzo Fauzone, the history linking Mondovì to this industry since the early 19th century when it was introduced in the area is told.

Monregalese Ceramics Museum-decorated plate room
Hall of the Ceramics Museum

Over 600 artifacts from the most important local manufacturers are on display, all surrounded by the suggestive context of the noble halls of the palace. To make it more engaging, there are multimedia effects that allow you to choose a decorated plate and see the table being set before your eyes.

The second museum, instead, takes us back to the 14th century when Mondovì was the first Piedmontese city where a book was printed. The Printing Museum is hosted in the Ancient Orphanage College and is not just a “collector” of relics. It reconstructs, in fact, through the use of multimedia effects, the atmosphere of a printing house with the typical sounds of a printing house and the stories of those who worked there.

Liber-Museo della Stampa-presses
Hall of the Printing Museum

Also interesting is the possibility of “getting your hands dirty” in the workshops and therefore, trying your hand with presses and movable type to produce your own print.

What to See in Mondovì: the Chapel of the Holy Cross

Before leaving the square to go back home, there is still something very interesting to see in Mondovì: the Chapel of the Holy Cross. This small structure is located on the road that leads to the town of Vicoforte and is a truly splendid place for art lovers. The little church is very ancient and practically retraces all of Mondovì’s history. It was built in the 1200s and was progressively enlarged and decorated over the centuries by the Confraternity of the Holy Cross, which met here.

What makes it particularly special is the large cycle of frescoes that completely cover its interior walls and date back to the mid-1400s. The attribution of these works is not certain, although it is likely that they are by a local painter who also decorated other places in the nearby valleys

What to see in Mondovì - Chapel of the Holy Cross - 15th century frescoes - Brachial Cross
Interior of the Chapel of the Holy Cross

Putting aside attribution issues, we can say that the frescoes are all rich in symbolism that would say little to an inexperienced eye. Fortunately, for a few years now, to support the visitor, there is the Chiese a Porte Aperte project that allows free access every day thanks to an app. Furthermore, once inside, an automatic explanation starts in the chosen language, explaining the meaning of the frescoes. We were personally struck by the Crucifix behind the altar, which we discovered to be a rare representation of a Brachial Crucifix. In practice, the cross has four animated arms, each of which does something:

  • the first opens the door of Paradise;

  • another stabs the Synagogue, represented by a woman placed on a headless goat;

  • a third crowns the Church;

  • the last, partially canceled, opened the door to hell.

For the other frescoes, we leave you to the exhaustive explanation you will hear in the chapel.

The Most Interesting Events in the City

Throughout the year, Mondovì is always animated by numerous events that satisfy everyone.

First of all, around Epiphany, the International Balloon Rally is always held, with dozens of hot air balloons participating from many countries. On this occasion, you can experience the thrill of a hot air balloon flight and admire the landscape from a unique perspective!

International aerostatic meeting of the Monregalese epiphany - hot air balloons - mountains - panorama
International Epiphany Aerostatic Rally

In April, there is the Spring Fair held every year in the streets of Breo and featuring flowers and plants. Dozens of producers from all over Piedmont and neighboring Liguria usually participate, exhibiting and advising people on the purchase of plants and flowers for their gardens and homes.

In August, there is the famous Artistic Crafts Fair held in the picturesque setting of the Piazza district. On this occasion, there are dozens of exhibitors from all over Italy offering their artistic creations ranging from ceramics to wooden artifacts, from design objects to tailoring creations.

Last but not least, in its own way, is the Montis Regalis Palio. It takes place between late August and early September and is not a historical palio as one might think from the name but “the craziest contest there is.” In fact, the districts of Mondovì, for two weeks, compete in sports competitions, traditional games, but also in competitions similar to “It’s a Knockout”. Each of the participants dedicates part of their time to compete and bring points to their district and contribute to the final ranking. So if you pass through Mondovì in those weeks, don’t be surprised to see people dressed strangely participating in strange competitions!

Now that you know what to do and see in Mondovì, all that’s left is to set off to discover this interesting little town.


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What to see in Mondovì
Looking for an interesting Sunday getaway? Discover what to see in Mondovì and plan your visit today!
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