The Baroque “taste” of Bra
Today, Bra is a beautiful lady all pleated with baroque drapes, whose historical glories are to be found in its elegant churches, in Santo Cottolengo and in Beato Valfré. Bra is well described by Giovanni Arpino, the journalist and writer who has written so much about it.
Bra preserves the heritage of a proto-industrial town (tanneries, hemp and cheese production) with an insightful eye on the future: it is the headquarters of the Slow Food movement (born here as Arcigola from the intuition of Carlin Petrini). It has become the world reference point for artisan cheese thanks to the Cheese festival, and boasts excellent products such as the homonymous DOP cheese and the delicious veal sausage.
Today's Bra is both industrial and agricultural, rich without ostentation in the discreet charm of its ancient alleyways and historic cafés, and constantly marked by cultural and artistic ferment. Yesterday's Bra has remote origins, dating back to shortly after the year 1000. The name derives from the medieval "brayde" (of Lombard origin, they were large properties given to a squire for pasture): the squires then became the "De Brayda" and gave their name to the town. In the 13th century, the De Brayda family built a solid turreted castle protected by moats; attacked in 1515 and destroyed by a massive French army, it was dismantled in 1552. Yet Palazzo Traversa, a 15th-century Fortified Mansion located between Via Parpera and Via Serra, the historic centre of Bra from which this itinerary departs, was saved. Palazzo Traversa is currently the seat of the Museo Civico di Archeologia Storia e Arte (Civic Museum of Archaeology, History and Art), which houses archaeological finds from Pollenzo (3 km from Bra).
The ancient "Pollentia", in Roman times, was the largest town between Alba Pompeia and Augusta Bagiennorum (today's Bene Vagienna) and preserves evidence of the Roman amphitheatre in its plan. Pollenzo is definitely worth a visit also for the neo-Gothic Albertine revival that involved the square, the Church of San Vittore, the castle and the so-called Agenzia, the Agency (i.e. the operational centre of the sovereign's agricultural enterprises). While the park and castle are private, the Agency is not, as it is the seat of the University of Gastronomic Sciences, a favourite destination for students from all over the world. Next door, or rather underneath, is the Banca del Vino (Wine Bank), a specific representation of the wine heritage of the Langhe and Roero, and much more.
But let's return to Bra, and more precisely to the entrance to Piazza dei Caduti per la Libertà where, to our right, we find the beautiful Palazzo Valfrè, clearly of medieval origin, and, to our left, the 18th-century Palazzo Garrone (beautiful atrium and staircase). Palazzo Mathis, home to the city Tourist Office, and the undulating Baroque-style Town Hall overlook the same square. The scenery is completed by the imposing Church of Sant'Andrea, built between 1672 and 1682 on a design by Bernini, readapted by Guarini, featuring three naves and a façade with two orders in a refined Baroque style. Beyond Piazza Caduti lies one of the most representative and socially vibrant places in Bra, which the local people simply call " la Rocca", the upper part of the village, which climbs up to the pleasant hillock of the public gardens, where people still dance on summer evenings. Walking along the route above the 19th-century market wing, we reach the Monument dedicated to San Benedetto Cottolengo (the founder of the Piccola Casa della Divina Provvidenza), his Birth House and the Church of the Trinità, commonly known as the Church of the "Battuti Bianchi", which has a simple and modest exterior and a splendid interior. Not far away is Santa Maria degli Angeli, a charming church with frescoes by Operti and Morgari.
Several narrow streets branch off from the "Rocca" and descend towards the centre, where it is pleasant to walk along at least the intriguing Via della Mendicità Istruita, where the famous Slow Food movement was born and is still based. The street takes you into the city centre along Via Vittorio Emanuele and the parallel Via Principi di Piemonte which, together with Via Audisio and Via Cavour, form the " strolling" quadrangle. This is the beating heart of life and commerce of the Bra area. Near the crossroads with the pedestrian Via Cavour you will find the Church of the Battuti Neri, which was begun in 1591 by the Confraternita della Misericordia (Brotherhood of Mercy).
At the other end of Via Cavour, there is the Church of San Rocco, now deconsecrated and used as an exhibition centre, whose construction was completed in the 18th century but dates back to the 16th century. Right behind the church are Piazza Carlo Alberto and Piazza Roma, with the prestigious Politeama Theatre and the inevitable bustle of the railway station. We continue along Via Vittorio up to the small Via della Provvidenza, which leads back to Via Craveri, where the Museo Civico di Storia Naturale (Civic Museum of Natural History) awaits us: founded as a private collection in the first half of the 19th century, it is extremely important for the data collected in the fields of meteorology and ornithology.
At the corner between Via Craveri and Via Barbacana we find the city's architectural gem, the Church of Santa Chiara, the greatest monument of Piedmontese baroque style, built between 1742 and 1748 on a project by Vittone, who designed it in the shape of a four-leaf clover, strikingly undulating both outside and inside, decorated with stucco and frescoes and culminating in a complex vault with a double perforated dome that favours an admirable play of light. At the end of Via Barbacana we find Palazzo Traversa where we started.
We strongly advise you to take a stroll without haste (it's a slow city!) through the maze of streets that lead up the hill to the top of Monteguglielmo, where you will find the Zizzola, a peculiar octagonal 19th-century building, once a ""villa delle delizie" (villa of delights) and then a symbol of the city, which now houses the spectacular multimedia museum exhibition "Casa dei braidesi" (House of the people of Bra).
Before leaving Bra, we advise you to visit another highly symbolic place in the city, which is more easily accessible by car. This is the Sanctuary of the Madonna dei Fiori (on the homonymous avenue), a vast religious complex built in 1626 on the site of a very old chapel, erected after the apparition of the Virgin Mary on 29 December 1336; one of the oldest sanctuaries of Marian worship in the province, it is famous for its "flowers in the snow", a rare case of winter flowering.
Along the way:
Point of interest along the way
Piazza Caduti per la Libertà
Viale Madonna dei Fiori, 93