Cosa vedere a Saluzzo-Panorama-Monviso

A Brief Itinerary to Discover the Beautiful Piedmontese Town

Are you looking for a destination for a Sunday trip? Read this article and discover what to see in Saluzzo. We’re sure you’ll want to visit!

Saluzzo is a town in the province of Cuneo, located at the foot of Monviso, with a population of about 17,000. Although not very large, it is a still relatively unknown destination that wonderfully preserves its medieval and Renaissance past. When we first visited, we immediately noticed how much every street in the historic center had to tell.

It’s easy to understand why USA Today included Saluzzo in its 2017 list of Italian destinations to see before they become too touristy.

The History of the Town

A bit about the history of Saluzzo can be gleaned from the origin of its name. It is believed to derive from the ancient Celto-Ligurian population called the Capillati, referred to by the Romans as Salii. The suffix “-uzzo” likely comes from the Germanic-Lombard term “hutzen,” meaning huts. This suggests that in the early Middle Ages, and possibly even earlier, there were settlements in the area.

However, it wasn’t until after the year 1000 that Saluzzo began to be mentioned explicitly, particularly regarding a castle that was later destroyed during a siege in the 14th century. At that time, the territory was controlled by the Del Vasto family, a dynasty descended from Aleramo of Monferrato, but it was not yet the capital of an independent state.

This changed in 1142 when Manfred I Del Vasto inherited the lands around the town from his father Boniface, becoming the first Marquis of Saluzzo. From that date until 1548, the Marquisate was passed down through the Del Vasto descendants. During this period, it was one of the powers vying for control of Piedmont alongside the Savoy state and the Marquisate of Monferrato.

In the 16th century, the political and military decline of the Marquisate began, increasingly becoming a vassal state of the French crown as a counterbalance to the Savoy. In 1511, it was elevated to a bishopric by Pope Julius II to remove it from the control of the Diocese of Turin.

Finally, in 1548, the last Marquis, Gabriel of Saluzzo, was deposed by the King of France, and the Saluzzese state was incorporated into the Kingdom of France. In 1601, after the Franco-Savoyard War, it was ceded by the French to the Savoy, who maintained control until the unification of Italy.

Now that we’ve covered some history, let’s start exploring what to see in Saluzzo!

What to see in Saluzzo: Casa Cavassa

Casa Cavassa might not be the first place you see when arriving in Saluzzo, but it is, in our opinion, the most significant for understanding its history. Located on one of the main streets of the historic center, this palace, now the Civic Museum, is one of the most beautiful examples of medieval and Renaissance architecture in the city.

Built in the Middle Ages, it was embellished with great works of art by Galeazzo Cavassa and his son. Both were general vicars of the Marquis of Saluzzo, making them among the most important figures in the marquisate. The family motto, “DROIT QUOY QUIL SOIT” (justice at all costs), is visible in many parts of the palace, likely underscoring their role in administering justice in Saluzzo.

The Justice Room on the ground floor features splendid frescoes inspired by Mantuan and Ferrarese styles, depicting illustrious men and the nine muses.

What to see in Saluzzo-Hall of Justice-Casa Cavassa
Hall of Justice (Credit to Matteo Marongiu)

The Renaissance period is also represented by the grisaille decorations on the first floor and the “Altarpiece of Mercy,” painted by the Flemish artist Hans Clemer, who was active in the city in the early 1500s.

What to see in Saluzzo-Casa Cavassa-Pala della Misericordia-Hans Clemer
Altarpiece of Mercy by Hans Clemer (Credit to Matteo Marongiu)

 When visiting, keep in mind that much of the furniture and artworks now displayed are not original to the house. Over the centuries, it was often renovated according to the needs of the time. In 1883, Emanuele Tapparelli bought the house, restored the frescoes, and purchased period furniture and artworks. Upon his death, he donated it to the Municipality of Saluzzo to be used as a museum and a venue for events.

What to see in Saluzzo: the Church of San Giovanni

A short distance from Casa Cavassa, continuing along the same street, you reach a small square where the Church of San Giovanni stands. This church is a splendid example of Gothic architecture and was the most important religious building in the city until 1501. Built in 1281, it impresses with its simple lines and a large fresco of St. Christopher, though the fresco is a historical forgery painted in the 20th century.

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Exterior of the Church of San Giovanni (Credit to Matteo Marongiu)

The interior is much more interesting artistically. Descending a scenic stone staircase, you reach the level of the three naves with cross vaults. Among the most interesting works is the Chapel of St. Crispin and St. Crispinian on the left, featuring beautiful late 15th-century frescoes depicting scenes from the Passion of Christ.

In the apse, behind the altar topped by a monumental 17th-century wooden tabernacle, is the Funeral Chapel of the Marquises of Saluzzo. Built between the mid-15th and early 16th centuries, it is entirely covered in gray stone with green stone inserts. It is decorated with sculptures of sibyls and prophets, while the left niche houses the tomb of Marquis Ludovico II. The opposite niche was intended for his wife, but she was taken to France after her death.

Descending further steps, you reach the cloister, surrounded by columns with capitals carved with the coats of arms of the most important families of the marquisate.

Cloister of the Church of San Giovanni (Credit to Matteo Marongiu)

From the cloister, you can enter the beautiful Cavassa Chapel, decorated with early 16th-century frescoes. On the left is the white marble tomb of Galeazzo Cavassa.

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Tomb of Galeazzo Cavassa (Credit to Matteo Marongiu)

The Civic Tower and the Matteo Olivero Art Gallery

Another must-see in Saluzzo is the Old Town Hall, where city rulers met starting from the 15th century. On the ground floor, there is a place where you can taste local dishes at reasonable prices and buy tickets for the two attractions in the building.

If you’re an art enthusiast, you’ll be delighted to find the Matteo Olivero Art Gallery on the second floor. Here, many works by the painter from Val Maira, who developed a highly personal style between the 19th and 20th centuries, are on display.

Many of his paintings are inspired by the Divisionist movement, to which his friends Pellizza da Volpedo and Giovanni Segantini belonged, depicting mountain landscapes at the foot of Monviso. Particularly striking are the snowy scenes, where the whiteness of the snow takes on countless hues from light and shadow. These paintings earned him the nickname “painter of the snows.”

What to see in Saluzzo-Pinacoteca Matteo Olivero
Gallery Hall (Credit to Matteo Marongiu)

Noteworthy are also his realistic portraits, which reveal his remarkable sensitivity in capturing the emotions of his subjects.

For those who love landscapes and panoramic views, the same ticket allows access to the Civic Tower. Climbing 130 steps, you reach the terrace below the spire, where the bell that marked the city’s life with its sound once hung.

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Old Town Hall and Civic Tower (Credit to Matteo Marongiu)

From there, you can enjoy a beautiful 360° view, ranging from the plains to the historic center of Saluzzo and the nearby Alps, dominated by Monviso.

What to see in Saluzzo: the Castiglia and Its Museums

At the top of the hill where Saluzzo’s historic center is located, you’ll find the Castiglia, the imposing residence of the Marquises of Saluzzo. Its name comes from the Latin plural “Castella,” which in medieval times referred to a series of nearby military fortifications. This was probably its initial use before Marquis Tommaso I chose it as his fortified residence in 1270.

Entry of Castiglia (Credit to Matteo Marongiu)

Over the years, especially in the 15th century with Ludovico II, it transformed into an increasingly noble residence, worthy of the Italian courts of the time. Unfortunately, very little from that period remains today, except for the circular tower and some fresco remnants preserved in Casa Cavassa.

In the 19th century, after a period of abandonment, it was converted into a city prison, adapting the spaces to new needs and destroying the pictorial decorations. Today, it houses two museums that, though very different, aim to tell the two “lives” of the Castiglia:

  • The Museum of Chivalric Civilization, through multimedia installations, highlights the cultural identity of the Marquisate of Saluzzo. Each of the 11 rooms focuses on an important aspect or moment in the Marquisate’s history, shedding light on key figures and their influence on the state’s relations with other Italian territories.
    Museum of chivalric civilisation-castile-multimedia museum
    Interior of the Museum of Chivalric Civilization
  • The Museum of Prison Memory, with its emotionally impactful setups, traces the history of the Castiglia as a penitentiary. Walking through the cells, multimedia installations narrate the stories of some prisoners, illustrating the evolution of the prison regime and coercive policies. This experience is designed to be understood and appreciated even by those unfamiliar with the subject.
    Museum of Prison Memory-Castile
    Cells of the Prison Memory Museum

What to see in Saluzzo: The Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta

Outside the medieval historic center lies one of the must-see places in Saluzzo: the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta. Built between 1491 and 1501 at the behest of Ludovico II, it replaced the ancient Church of Santa Maria to provide the city with a church worthy of an important state. It measures 82 meters in length and 30 meters in width, with the central nave reaching a height of 21 meters, making it a truly monumental church. Shortly after its completion, in 1511, it became the seat of the Diocese of Saluzzo, newly established by Pope Julius II.

Its facade features a wide staircase leading to three portals. The central one is topped by a large terracotta gable, while the side portals have two lunettes depicting St. Chiaffredo and St. Costanzo, the city’s patron saints.

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Exterior of the Cathedral (Credit to Matteo Marongiu)

The interior is certainly more varied and rich in significant artworks added over the centuries. Along the side naves, you’ll find pieces ranging from the 15th to the 19th century, harmoniously blending together.

Notable works include the “Adoration of the Shepherds” by Sebastiano Ricci on the Nativity altar and the 16th-century polyptych by Hans Clemer in the Chapel of the Holy Sacrament.

What to see in Saluzzo-Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta-Polyptych by Hans Clemer
Polyptych by Hans Clemer (Credit to Matteo Marongiu)

Also worth mentioning are the 17th-century pulpit decorated with bas-reliefs and the 15th-century wooden crucifix, along with the grandiose high altar structure.

All this makes it one of the must-visit points in Saluzzo.

Other Things to Do in Saluzzo

In addition to visiting the main attractions we’ve listed, we recommend wandering freely through the streets and soaking up the atmosphere. The medieval historic center is rich in picturesque views, narrow streets, and staircases that transport you back to a time without traffic and much less stress.

Among the many buildings with ancient friezes and symbols, you’ll inevitably come across Casa Pellico, the birthplace of the famous Risorgimento intellectual. Today, the small apartment is an important cultural space for the city, having recovered its medieval features after restoration.

Casa Pellico-saluzzo
Casa Pellico (Credit to Matteo Marongiu)

The area around the Cathedral is also interesting, featuring long porticoes with many shops and businesses. Many offer local products such as cheeses from the nearby alpine valleys and wines from the hills surrounding Saluzzo. We recommend trying Pelaverga D.O.C., a fascinating red wine often confused with its bigger brother, Pelaverga di Verduno.

Now that you know what to see and do in Saluzzo, don’t miss the chance to plan a visit!

Article Name
What to see in Saluzzo
Looking for a Sunday trip destination? Read the article and discover what to see in Saluzzo. We're sure you'll want to visit!
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La Scimmia Viaggiatrice