Why Biella could be the city of a thousand secrets – Piedmont cities series

The Christmas holidays are approaching and who, like us, would like to travel and enjoy the magic of the sweetest time of the year? We are certainly not superheroes, but we know how to make you travel: all you have to do is nibble on a Canestrello Biellese di Brusa, sip on Crola’s Hallé Rosé sparkling wine, close your eyes and let yourself be carried away by reading. 

The tour begins with the discovery of Biella, the Piedmontese centre of wool and textile manufacture since ancient times (from pre-Roman times) and where, even today, 40% of the world’s finest fabrics are still produced. A land of looms and skilled craftsmanship that continues to be handed down over time. 

If the whole world knows Biella as the birthplace of wool production, not everyone knows that Biella is divided into an upper town (known as Borgo del Piazzo) and a lower town (Biella Piano), connected by a funicular railway and offering interesting views to discover. 

We couldn’t help but choose it as the third episode of our Piedmont Cities Series.  

As is only right and proper, before we begin our journey, we will dwell on the history of the city: keep your eyes open and start reading. Bièla in Piedmontese, is situated at the foot of the Biellese Alps, and its existence has been attested since the early Middle Ages. Later dominated by the bishops of Vercelli, in 1379 it passed to the Savoys. During the nineteenth century Biella experienced great urban and industrial development, soon becoming known for its textile industries. The name Biella, derives from the Celtic-Latin where cellae indicates the place of abode and bu is a particle indicating lesser importance. If at first glance it may seem like an anonymous place, it is not at all, so much so that in 2019 Unesco named it Creative City.

And now let’s go and discover Biella, but you don’t have to get up from the sofa!

Our walk starts from the central axis, Via Italia, a place of social life framed by elegant buildings and sumptuous balconies. 

We start with the city’s most significant building: the baptistery dedicated to San Giovanni Battista, which stands between the Town Hall (Palazzo Oropa) and the Cathedral, built on a Roman tomb in the 11th century. Look up and you will be enchanted by the bell tower of Santo Stefano, the only remaining evidence of the ancient Pieve around which the Christian nucleus of Biella developed. 

The enchanting Battistero di San Giovanni Battista
The Duomo of Biella is dedicated to Santa Maria Maggiore and Santo Stefano, it has three naves, with arches, vaults and an octagonal dome, it rises on the remains of a small church of the 11th century of which today you can admire some capitals and it is the main religious building of the city.

With your back to the cathedral, and taking Via dei Seminari on the left, you arrive right in front of the entrance to the Fondazione Fila Musem, the museum dedicated to the world-famous Biella brand of footwear and sportswear. 

The Cathedral and the Tower in all their beauty
To reach the medieval centre of Biella (borgo del Piazzo) you can either take the funicular railway or walk up through a significant district known as the “Vernato“, created to welcome pilgrims and travellers, where we find examples of industrial archaeology such as the former Magliola caterpillar-hide factory, which employed many people, and two buildings that house precious pictorial treasures such as Casa Masserano and the Casa della Sindone.

Before reaching the heart of the upper town, we come across some of the city’s most beautiful and important palaces, which are now used for exhibitions and cultural activities, such as Palazzo Ferrero, Palazzo La Marmora and Palazzo Gromo Losa.

Continuing along Corso del Piazzo you will arrive at Piazza della Cisterna, framed by medieval porticoes and home to the palazzo of the same name, which is owned by the municipality.  Before reaching the funicular railway, don’t miss the oldest medieval building in Piazzo, the church of San Giacomo, and after passing through the Porta della Torrazza, stop to take some panoramic photos of Biella Piano seen from above.

The amazing Palazzo la Marmora

For those interested in art, the former Trombetta wool mill houses the Cittadellarte – Fondazione Pistoletto, a large creative workshop that aims to connect contemporary art with all areas of society, to achieve responsible change through creative ideas and projects.

Did you close your eyes and not catch all the magic of the journey? Of course, we can see you’re not munching on Brusa’s Canestrelli Biellesi! Canestrej bieleis are two crispy wafers enclosing a heart of dark chocolate, the recipe for which dates back to biblical times and it seems that the rustic wafers, called miasce, were also appreciated by the Romans. 

As true gourmets, we recommend pairing the Canestrelli Biellesi with Orsi’s Moscato d’Asti, produced according to the tradition. You will be overwhelmed by a true triumph of goodness!

– Until next time, With love!