Loreto is located just south of the Riviera del Conero and is one of Italy’s most celebrated pilgrimage sites. However, even if you are not religious, we highly recommend visiting Loreto just to admire its beautiful works of art and architecture. We also recommend combining a visit to Loreto with a day at one of the beaches of the Riviera del Conero.
The Basilica della Santa Casa
Within the walls of Loreto you step into a beautifully preserved old historic centre. Of course, the Basilica is one of the most eye-catching sights of Loreto. The Basilica, built between 1469 and 1587, is a stunning hybrid of Gothic and Renaissance styles. According to the tradition, a tiny brick house that is said to be where the Virgin Mary grew up and the Archangel Gabriel told her of her impending maternity can be found in this basilica. The Holy House was brought here when the Crusaders realised that they would not win the battle against the Muslims and the local inhabitants feared that the religious objects in Jerusalem would be lost. That is why the Holy House was put on a ship and brought to Le Marche.
For centuries, the myth arose that the house was transported to Loreto not by boat, but by angels. Later, this story turned out to be just a linguistic confusion: the crusader in charge of transporting the house was named Angeli, which the Italians confused with the literal meaning: angels. The Holy House now enclosed by an ornate marble screen, designed by Bramante. Surrounding the marble shell are two gullies carved by hundreds of years of praying people who went on their knees around the house.
Camminamenti di Ronda, the military fortress
Unique to the Basilica della Santa Casa is that it is surrounded by a military fortress to defend this sanctuary. After all, the Holy House not only attracted pilgrims, but also thieves who wanted to rob the church treasures. The best military architects were brought in to create a world-class defense. Today, from this fortress you can have a beautiful view of the basilica, Loreto and the wider area. The walkways, the so-called Camminamenti di Ronda, offer access to beautiful views and take you back in time. From the windows you look out on Monte Conero, Ancona, the beaches of the Riviera, Porto Recanati, where the Holy House once arrived by boat, the rolling hills of Le Marche and in the distance the Gran Sasso, in Abruzzo.
The cupola, built between 1470 and 1500, was designed by Giuliano da Sangallo. The ornate cupola is the third largest in Italy in size, only surpassed by St. Peter’s in Rome and the cupola of the Duomo in Florence. The best artists of the time contributed to this place of pilgrimage on behalf of the Pope, as did Bramante, who previously made the first building plan for St. Peter’s in Rome. It took the artists 12 years to decorate the inside of the cupola.
Sala del Tesoro
Next to the church you will find the seventeenth-century Sala del Tesoro, treasury, which is also called the Sistine Chapel of Le Marche. Pilgrims from all over the world brought religious gifts to this place of pilgrimage and as it was too dangerous to keep them in the church, it was decided to build this treasury. A competition was held to determine who would be allowed to decorate the room, an honor for the artist who would thus achieve eternal fame. Pomarancio (his real name was Cristoforo Roncalli) won this competition. In beautiful frescoes, he captured key moments in Mary’s life, including the birth of Mary, the marriage to Joseph and the annunciation of Jesus’ birth by the Archangel Gabriel. Pomarancio also depicted the story of the angels who carried the Holy House to Loreto in the frescoes.
Piazza della Madonna
In addition to these two prominent sights, the basilica and the holy house, the centre of Loreto also has many other interesting attractions. The old centre exudes authenticity and is characterised by beautiful old buildings that flank picturesque streets. The Piazza della Madonna is the famous central square and is located at the highest point of the city. In the center of the square is the Fontana Maggiore also called the Fountain of the Madonna. The monumental fountain was built between 1602 and 1622 and is made of marble and bronze in Baroque style and is decorated with bronze sculptures.
The famous Basilica of the Holy House is on the east side of the square, the Apostolic Palace is on the north and west sides, and houses are on the south side. The Apostolic Palace is part of the basilica and is in use as a museum with paintings, sculptures, jewellery, tapestries and majolica ceramics, gifts from past centuries given to the Holy House.
A last look at this bustling square makes you realise how special the majestic hilltop sanctuary of Loreto is. A true jewel in the countryside of Le Marche that is definitely worth a visit!