Last Updated on 25th April 2018 by Sophie Nadeau
On an impressive hill overlooking the historic town of Turin and the sparkling River Po, the Basilica di Superga is a superb feat of engineering, matched only by the breathtaking views it offers onto the Italian countryside below and the snow-peaked Alpine slopes in the distance. Here’s a quick guide to visiting the Basilica di Superga as a quick and easy day trip from Turin via a 1930s funicular tram!
A brief history of Basilica di Superga
High above the River Po slicing through the city of Torino and facing towards the Alps in the distance, the Basilica was commissioned by Vittorio Amedeo in 1706. The story goes that Amedeo prayed that Turin would be saved from the French and Italian armies, both of whom were besieging the city at that time.
Somehow, Turin managed to survive and so Vittorio, keeping to his promise, built the Basilica di Superga in honour of the Virgin Mary, at the very summit of the Superga Hill. The architect of the project was Filippo Juvara, a man who hailed from Messina and wished to hark back to earlier architectural styles within his work, leading to the basilica you can visit today.
As time went on, the ever-wealthy Savoy family were interred in the Basilica, and today you can see the family’s crypt. For those unfamiliar with Italian Royalty, the House of Savoy were first attested as royalty as early as the 11th-Century. From there, they went from ruling several parts of Northern Italy, to ruling the Kingdom of Sicily, to aiding in the unification of Italy in 1861 (prior to this Italy, had been a series of small Kingdoms and city-states).
In more recent times, a tragic and fatal plane crash during thick fog in the 1940s led to the deaths of the entire Turin football team. There is now a small memorial and tomb to the back of the church, commemorating those who lost their lives in the 1949 crash. Each year, the Turin football team venture up the Superga Hill to pay homage to those who lost their lives.
Embarking on the 1930s Sassi–Superga Tramway
The tramway to reach the Superga Basilica is almost as impressive as the ecclesiastical building itself. After all, situated on the outskirts of Torino, this steep grade tramway was first installed in the 1880s. From then on, it was the most convenient way to reach the top of Superga, a mountainous hill which sits 672 metres above sea level.
Though the Sassi-Superga tramway was briefly shut during WWI due to declining passenger numbers, it still carried on right up until the 1930s. An accident where the cable of the tram broke meant that the Sassi-Superga was switched to electric tracks in 1934.
The same tracks which were installed then are still in use now with new fittings. Some of the passenger cars from this era still remain in use and are likely what you will be travelling in should you opt to visit the Basilica di Superga as an easy day trip from Turin (and I highly recommend you do)!
How to Visit the Basilica di Superga
It’s easy to visit the Basilica via a tram which whisks tourists and locals alike up and down the mountain. The tram itself is the original and dates all the way back to 1934, making the steep 3 km+ journey up the hill every day (apart from Wednesday). Tram rides take roughly twenty minutes each way and tickets can be purchased from the kiosk at the base of the mountain, right by the transport spot.
Once at the top of the Superga Hill, there’s a nearby pretty mountainside town to explore. Superga has exactly one grocery store, as well as one place to eat, a place serving traditional Italian fare. The Ristorante Trattoria Bel Deuit, a restaurant which is only open from Thursday through to Sunday but is generally well reviewed.
Head to the top on a clear and sunny day and you can expect to find some of the best views of Turin, as well as plenty of quiet places to rest away from the hustle and bustle of the busy modern city. Each year, in the month of October, the Superga Hill is used within the Milano-Torino cycling race, a competition which was first held as early as 1876.
At the Basilica itself, there’s an information centre, as well as several shops and kiosks selling snacks. However, if you’re visiting Italy in the off-season, then it’s worth bearing in mind that most things are only open from May through to September. If you want to climb the 130 steps to reach the top of the Basilica’s dome, there’s a 3 euro charge- though the breathtaking views from the church’s top totally merit the nominal fee!