Varese, Varese and its surroundings
The sight-seeing tour of Varese starts from Basilica di San Vittore which features a Neoclassical façade of 1788-1791, and has one hall with a nave and side aisles made between the late 16th century and the early 17th century. The magnificent lantern by Giuseppe Bernasconi was made between 1589 and 1625. Made by the same architect is the nearly 80 m high bell tower, behind which is the Baptistery of St. John the Baptist (Battistero di San Giovanni Battista), the oldest monument of the city, dating back to the 12th–13th century. On Piazza del Podestà, the ancient civil centre, stands the monument to one Garibaldi’s soldier (Garibaldino). Behind that statue stands the former Palazzo Pretorio, once seat of the City Council and whose construction started in 1570. You can also see the façade of Palazzo Biumi, which was built in 1615 following the will of one of the richest families of Varese. In Via Sacco stands the eighteenth-century Palazzo Estense, summer and autumn residence of Francesco III d’Este, duke of Modena and Lord of Varese. The elegant internal façade in late Baroque style with binary columns overlooks the renowned Giardini Estensi, typical Italian-style gardens which were very fashionable in the 18th century. The little hill surmounting the parterre borders the 19th century English-style garden of Villa Mirabello, a building which has now become a civic museum. Westwards, on the road to the lake of Varese, stands Villa Recalcati, which the Recalcati, a rich family from Milan, ordered to build at the end of the 17th century. Today it hosts the provincial administration offices as well as the Prefect’s. Nearby Piazza Monte Grappa, there is Chiesa di S. Giuseppe, a church built in 1725 and whose façade is by Giovanni Antonio Speroni. Just a few kilometres away from the city centre you will come across Castello di Masnago which dates back to the 15th century. Over the centuries it was transformed into villa but now it has turned into the Civic Museum of Contemporary Art (Museo Civico d’Arte Contemporanea), where many works of art by different contemporary artists are preserved. On one of the seven hills of Varese, i.e. in the district of Biumo Superiore, stand the complex of ‘Ville Ponti’, now a congress centre owned by the Chamber of Commerce, as well as Villa Panza, headquarters of F.A.I. (the Italian Environmental Fund), where an important collection of Modern Art renowned all over the world is located. These two buildings are just an example of delightful villas whose attractiveness and precious elegant gardens, made Varese being defined as the “Versailles of Milan” since the18th century. Finally, when you are in Voltorre di Gavirate, along the lake of Varese, do not forget to visit the Church of St. Michael (Chiesa di San Michele) and its beautiful Medieval cloister, built between 1100 and 1190 and owned by the Provincial Administration of Varese.