Piazza della Madonna – The Madonna Square
It is the main square in Loreto and suddenly tourists can see it, anywhere they come from, and remain speechless. It impresses with the size and majesty of the buildings overlooking all around the square: the impressive Basilica, the Bell Tower, built by Vanvitelli, the Apostolic Palace and the Fontana Maggiore (the Main Fountain). The fountain is in Baroque style, realised by the architects Carlo Maderno and Giovanni Fontana. It is the last part of the aqueduct that once provided the pilgrims with spring water from Recanati by means of tunnels five km long. Its base is octagonal and Giacometti brothers made its bronze sculptures. Street artists, called “Madonnari”, always reproduce amazing religious paintings in the square, using simple coloured chalk. On the right side of the square there are the typical wooden stalls selling religious items, especially Marian images and rosary beads, for the production of which the town is famous in the world. Just to be clear, many of the religious items sold in Lourdes, come from Loreto!
The Basilica of the Holy House
It is one of the main location of Marian worship in the world. According to the legend, on the night between 9 and 10 December 1294, to escape the wars of Palestine, the House of the Virgin Mary of Nazareth, where Mary received the angelic announcement, was carried by Angels and left on a hill covered with laurel, hence the name of Loreto. Every year on the evening of December 9, the countryside light up with the traditional “Fugarò”, fires and bonfires celebrating the arrival of the Holy House, showing the Madonna the way to Loreto. When I was a child, my grandad always invited my brother and me to watch the lighting of the fugarò. Many studies have been carried out to scientifically explain the presence of the Holy House in Loreto and a variety of hypotheses has been made. Recent research has verified that the walls of the house are made with sandstone blocks, built in regular rows, as we could find in Nazareth. Various graffiti have been found on the walls and they are considered similar to those of the Judeo-Christian places in the Holy Land, including Nazareth. It is also perceived that the small house consists of only three walls in blocks because the fourth one was simply the side opened towards the entrance of a grotto. The grotto that is inside the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth has a hole, coinciding with the size of the small house in Loreto. This would support the hypothesis that the holy house was transported by ship and then left on the hill of Loreto, thanks to the intervention of a noble family, called Angeli, that ruled Epirus. Nearly two centuries later, in 1469, the construction of the basilica began. The greatest architects and artists of the time took part in construction: Giuliano da Maiano, Baccio Pontelli, Giuliano da Sangallo, Donato Bramante and Luigi Vanvitelli. These are just some news, not to bore too much. Art lovers can document themselves on the spot and we assure you there is plenty to see and so much to know. The Dome is the third largest Renaissance Dome in Italy, after those of San Pietro and Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence. It was frescoed by Cesare Maccari and Pomarancio. Under the Dome, there is the “Sacello”, the marble covering protecting the Holy House, a sculptural masterpiece of great value. At its base you can see the furrow carved by the knees of the pilgrims, who once went around the Sacello on their knees as a sign of penitence. Inside the Sacello you can see the three walls of the small house, without a ceiling or foundation, and the image of the dark faced Madonna, common to the oldest icons, colour probably due to the smoke from oil lamps and candles. Around the Sacello four Sacristies and nine great Chapels open up in succession, most of them carry the names of the nations that contributed to their decoration. The pilgrims’ votive gifts are kept in the Treasure Hall, sacked several times, even by Napoleon. Pomarancio decorated the hall with stuccoes and frescoes.
Notheworthy are also the three magnificent bronze doors built for the jubilee in 1600. You can note that pilgrims consumed some sculptures on the doors with their kisses. Another tip: if you want to take a truly stunning photo of the Basilica, go near the hospital, in via S. Francesco d’Assisi, 1, in the parking in front of the entrance of the radiology department. You can take a photo with the Basilica in the foreground and
the Conero Riviera in the background.
The Apostolic Palace and the Holy Museum
The Museum Santa Casa (Holy House) is located in the noble floor of the Apostolic Palace and collects many works of art, such as some paintings by Lorenzo Lotto, some parts of the frescoes made by Pomarancio for the Dome of the Basilica and a rich collection of fine maiolica with religious decorations.
The Walkways of Ronda
They are also known as the “Rocchette” and consist of covered and protruding corridors with a series of vaulted windows, constructed around the top of the Basilica with the aim to fortify and defend it from the Turks, who had pillaged Grottammare and Porto Recanati. The Turks never pillaged the Basilica, in fact. Also two bastions fortified the town: that of the Town Hall and that of Porta Marina, giving the town the appearance of a walled town. Behind the walkways there are the rooms once used by the guards to defend the sanctuary, now used as a museum. It is useless to remember that it is possible to enjoy a wonderful panoramic view from there.
The cellars of Bramante
They are located opposite the Lower Basilica, in the Vicolo degli Stemmi (Alley of the Coats of Arms), a suggestive alley leading to Porta Marina (Sea Gate). Their rooms have been used since the early 1600s as cellars for the production of wine and storage rooms for grains, olives and medicinal herbs. In the cellars are some of the 300 old and majestic wooden barrels, used by the Holy House farming enterprise in the 1900s to produce its fine wines. They are open to the public and you can free visit them. The shop of the Azienda Agricola Santa Casa di Loreto (Holy House farming enterprise in Loreto), where you can taste and buy wine and olive oil, is located at the entrance of the cellars.
Giovanni XXIII Square, Porta Marina
They are two wonderful spots for a picturesque view on the landscape. The square takes its name from the statue of the famous Pope. The gate takes its name from the wonderful view on the Conero Mount and the Conero Riviera.
The Holy Stair and the Polish Cemetery
The Holy Stairs is a devotional path of four hundred steps, built to favour pilgrims, coming to Loreto by train, to reach the town centre directly from the Loreto railway station. It ends at Porta Marina and you can see the bronze plaques depicting the mysteries of the Rosary along the path. Through the staircase you reach the Polish Cemetery, commemorating the Polish soldiers, died in the battle to free Ancona. There are 1112 tombs and it is one of the greatest Polish cemeteries in Italy. The row of the white crosses is very impressive. It comfort us to think that those poor soldiers, died to free us from German forces, can rest in peace in this quiet and spiritual place.
The Historical Air Force Museum
Our Lady of Loreto is the patron saint of all aviators and the “Frecce Tricolori” (Tricolour Arrows) never forget to greet their protector with acrobatic flights over the Basilica on the days when we celebrate the Virgin Mary, on December 10 and September 8. Shows of acrobatic air evolutions are organized with the participation of the Italian Frecce Tricolori and the airline companies of other nations, flying at top speed over Loreto and the seafront in summer. The Historical Air Force Museum, a unique collection of its kind in Italy, is located in Corso Boccalini, 36/38 and contains various military uniforms, all of them are authentic and full of military ranks.
Loreto, the Town of Cribs
Christmas nativity scenes are an ancient tradition dating back to St. Francis of Assisi who created the first living representation of the Nativity. This tradition has a special meaning in this town, housing the Holy House where the Holy family lived, known as the town of Peace, Solidarity and Hospitality. There are two main cribs to visit in Loreto: the Permanent Mechanical Artistic Nativity Scene Benedict XVI, with over 100 moving characters, open all year round, located in John XXIII Square, and the traditional Nativity Scene of the Holy House near Porta Marina, open only during the Christmas holidays. In the Madonna Square you can admire a great Nativity scene with full-size statues every year at Christmas. We suggest you to take a walk along Corso Boccalini through the various shops selling local handicrafts, religious items, local agricultural products and, unique in the area, statues for cribs and Nativity settings, all handmade products.
The “Morte del Giusto”
It is a historical re-enactment in costume of the Living Passion taking place in Villa Musone, at the foot of Loreto, with hundreds of figures in costume, made particularly evocative by scenic reconstructions.
The Drape Race
It is a traditional galloping uphill race of 9 horses, representing 9 town quarters, taking place in September, during the feast days in celebration of the Virgin Mary’s birth.
The Lauretan Trails and the Macerata-Loreto Pilgrimage
For slow tourism lovers, who love silence, tranquillity, relaxation and nature, we propose the Lauretan Trails, the path of the old Lauretan Route (Via Lauretana), leading from Rome to Loreto and then to Ancona, used by pilgrims since the 1200s. The nocturnal pilgrimage from Macerata to Loreto takes place every year in June. It starts in Macerata, with a Mass and the phone call from the Pope, wishing everybody a good journey. Thousands of pilgrims travel on foot on this route at night, accompanied by prayers, religious songs, testimonies of life and faith. They happily get to the Holy House in Loreto just after dawn. An old saying goes: “If you go to Loreto and do not go to Scirolo (a dialect form of Sirolo), you see the Mother (Mary) but do not see her Son (Jesus). The Lauretan people used to say that, inviting pilgrims to visit Sirolo, a small village a few kilometres from Loreto. The pilgrims going to Sirolo enjoy amazing sights but do not see the Son because he is in Numana. It is the famous honoured wooden Byzantine Crucifix of which we narrate in the section: What to see and do in Numana.
International festival of sacred music ”Virgo Lauretana”
The traditional festival of sacred music takes place every year in July. It is the oldest of this kind in Italy and one of the most important in the world. It is a 5-day festival and hosts choirs, called “Cappelle Musicali” from around the world. It is nice kicking around Piazza della Madonna, admiring the choristers entering the Basilica, every choirs in its uniform. Music unites people of different cultures and backgrounds. Choirs perform both inside the Basilica and in Piazza della Madonna and you can participate free of charge in the concerts.