Vercelli (47,000 inhabitants) is one of the oldest urban sites in northern Italy; it is situated on the river Sesia, in the plain of river Po, at equal distance from Turin and Milan. It is one of the most important European centres for the cultivation of rice.
It was founded around the year 600 b.C. as the capital of a Celtic-Ligurian tribe; it then became one of the most thriving municipia of the Roman empire. Around AD 345 Eusebius from Cagliari was acclaimed bishop of the Vercellese Christian community and organized the first diocese established west of Milan. After the Lombard invasion, it belonged to the Duchy of Ivrea and at the end of the 9th century it passed to the jurisdiction of the prince-bishop. The big Cross of the Cathedral was erected by initiative of Leone the Great (end of 10th century). Vercelli became an independent commune in 1141 and joined the Lombard league. In the first quarter of the 13th century the Saint Andrew’s Abbey was built in purely Gothic style by initiative of Cardinal Guala Bicchieri. The year 1228 witnessed the foundation of the Studium, the first University in Piedmont.
Then the city underwent a period of bloody encounters, violence and raids caused by the struggle between the commune and the bishop. The struggle soon turned into a fight between the families that sided with each of these two factions (the Guelphs Avogadro and the Ghibellines Tizzoni) who alternatively ruled the city. Afterwards Vercelli passed to the Visconti family and to the dukes of Savoy. A peaceful period led to a revival of the city’s artistic life, giving rise to that extraordinary school of painting that boasted such artists as Martino Spanzotti, Sodoma, the Giovenone, Gaudenzio Ferrari and Bernardino Lanino.
The Savoyard duchy was soon overwhelmed by the struggles between the French and the Spaniards, and Vercelli was at the mercy of their troops and of sieges and pestilences. Under the Treaty of Utrecht (1713) Vercelli was handed back to the Savoyard state and then followed the major events of the rest of Italy.
Vercelli is a real gem for people who are interested in art and history. It is home to outstanding museums: the Leone museum, with the Roman relics; the Borgogna museum, with its collections of paintings; the Cathedral Treasury museum, with the world famous Vercelli Book, one of the oldest of the four Old English poetic codices. Beautiful palaces and churches (mainly the breathtaking Saint Andrew’s Basilica, and San Cristoforo with its valuable paintings) and many other noteworthy monuments are disseminated in the historical centre. Every year the city also hosts the Viotti International Music Competition, one of the longest-running music contests in the world.
1,600 students study in Vercelli, where the University is located in three main areas:
- the Vice-Chancellor’s office (via Duomo);
- the Humanities Campus between via Galileo Ferraris and viale Garibaldi, where the DISUM (Humanities) has its headquarters;
- the Campus San Giuseppe (piazza S. Eusebio), which hosts the teaching activities of both the DISIT (Sciences) and the DISUM.