Piedmont – having a nice time in Novara

Novara is a large town in Piedmont, the region of which Turin is the capital, however it’s actually geographically closer to Milan, just 50 km away over the border in Lombardia. The local dialect is in fact a form of Lombardian although the town is officially Piedmontese. According to the teacher I worked with, this has led to Novara having something of a split personality where the inhabitants feel equally ignored by both regional governments and have no particular affinity to either.

I came for work and stayed for six nights in October 2020 so got to know it fairly well. It’s not the most attractive of places but if you search them out there are some interesting buildings to be found. I’ve included some of them in this post, and in the next one which is completely dedicated to Art Nouveau architecture. A third post describes my culinary experiences.

Everywhere mentioned is on my map

The most imposing building is the Basilica di San Gaudenzio, a huge church over 120m tall which dominates the old town. It was built by Alessandro Antonelli who was also responsible for the Mole Antonelliana in Turin which is perhaps the most famous symbol of that city.

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I don’t think I’ve ever been in a church with a more foreboding atmosphere than this one. I don’t know why but I felt really nervous the whole time I was in there. It’s probably to do with the inhuman scale of the place that makes the air feel so heavy but the spooky black madonna I was alone with didn’t help. I was quite glad to leave but it’s still an amazing building that’s worth seeing.

Novara was founded by the Romans in 89 BC, but the only vestiges of that period that I saw were some remains of the city walls which can be seen in Piazza Cavour, on the corner of Baluardo Quintino Sella.

The neo-classical Duomo di Novara and the Castello di Novara didn’t really appeal to me so I left them for next time.

My favourite old building was the Casa della Porta, a late 14th/ early 15th century nobleman’s house located at 8b Via Canobio. I love the spiral and floral motifs on the moulded terracotta tiles around the windows which continue on the beautiful door.

Just up the road in Piazza Giacomo Matteotti is the Palazzo Natta-Isola, now seat of the provincial government, the Provincia di Novara. It’s supposed to have a very grand staircase but as it’s a secure building, I couldn’t get in to see it. However the security guy did let me have a quick peep at the internal courtyard. The current construction is Renaissance, dating from 1580, but its main tower dates back to 1268.

My favourite building of all is the Asilo Infantile San Lorenzo, an Art Deco kindergarten at 11 Via Solferino, built in the 1930s. I believe there are some interesting paintings by the local painter Edmondo Poletti in the rotunda, but I didn’t have the time or the courage to ask if I could see them.

So a hodge podge of different buildings in this post. The next is wholly dedicated to just one style…

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