Ossuary, monument to the fallen of 1859


On May 28, 1887 the municipal council of Palestro, chaired by the Mayor Giovanni Cappa, decided to build an Ossuary in memory of the killed in the Battle of May 30-31 1859. Already in 1868 there was a monument in memory of this Risorgimento episode: the statue dedicated to the Italian soldier, by the sculptor Giovanni Bellora from Milan, on commission of the Provincial Deputation of Pavia, and built near the Parish church, still finds nowadays. But a worthy burial for the fallen also deserved a more grandiose artistic sign. Thus after the establishment of a general committee, initially not very fruitful, 7 June 1889 was appointed an executive commission which immediately launches a detailed collection of funds and offers, buys the land and finally, in February 1891, announces a competition of national character. 92 artists involved, 39 were participants from all over central and northern Italy and 49 were the projects presented (many of which are kept in the municipal archive) and displayed in the board room.
In order to define the best proposals, the commission had in turn elected an artistic jury whose president is the arch. Giuseppe Locarni, author of the restoration of the Parish church. As none of the projects, in the judgment of the jury, could have reconciled “that degree of solidity and resistance required in monumental buildings ”with the available sum of only 18,000 lire, it delegated the final decision to the executive commission, limiting itself to distinguish, “for new concept and for elegance of form” six solutions: that of prof. Raimondo D’Aronco from Cuneo, who had presented three in all, that of the arch. Giuseppe Sommaruga, who had presented two other, unfortunately lost, the arch. Raineri Arcaini from Milan, the sculptor Luigi Sereno from Vercelli, prof. Mario Ceradini from Venice, who then filed a lawsuit against the municipality, and arch. Giuseppe Boni from Florence. Among the participants, also the unreported proposal by Eng. Domenico Dusnasi fron Vercelli, which had recently designed and built the new municipal building.
Despite the many controversies that arose following the verdict of the artistic jury, the executive commission, with resolution of December 26, 1891, entrusted the arch. Giuseppe Sommaruga the task of revising the project downwards ,while maintaining it unchanged dignity and aesthetic impact. His work took place from June 1892 to March of the following year. Two donations, about 8,000 lire, were sent directly from the royal family, to hasten the completion of the Monument to the fallen of Palestro.
On May 28 1893 with great popular and cultural participation and the presence of numerous civil and military authorities, including the Duke of Aosta representing the Sovereign, the monument was inaugurated; only the previous week, with a very attended ceremony, but sad and composed, the soldiers bones were moved from the municipal cemetery.
The Palestro Ossuary is an early work, one of the very first to be made by an architect who later became,also thanks to the visibility obtained here but above all to his great qualities, a master of Liberty. A pupil of Camillo Boito and much influenced by Otto Wagner, he distinguished himself at national level for having won, in collaboration with Broggi, the competition for the new Parliament Building in Rome(1889), not realized, then put himself on display again with the assignment of the general architect of the United Expositions in Milan 1894. He managed to be appreciated particularly in residential and funeral architecture. Its main masterpieces are the Palazzo Castiglioni in Milan (1903), the three villas and the Faccanoni mausoleum in Sarnico (1907) and the Hotel Campo dei Fiori or Grand Hotel Tre Croci (1909-1912) in Varese. Especially in this last realization inspired, perhaps, the futurist ideas of Antonio Sant’Elia.
The Sommaruga (1867-1917) was also contemporary of a great international personality such as Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959), but he had plenty of time to evolve and appear among the masters of modern architecture.
The shrine of Palestro rises on a raised area, in the westernmost part of the town towards Vercelli and those coming from this direction, is presented obliquely as a side scene of invitation; its structure pointed and slender (about 30 meters above ground) but with a decidedly martial impact, imposes from afar on the green crowning of the Rimembranze park. Outside the plant square develops centrally in height with the overlapping of various elements: the rustic base in a medium stump, the upper dado in a gentle one, the frieze with twelve square loopholes, three on each side, the truncated pyramid dome with curved brick faces, a further dado always in brick that supports the terminal obelisk and the stone that holds the lightning rod.
On a decorative level, the 12 masks in polychrome ceramics placed in front of the respective small windows impress for the original features and colors; in the same way, though largely damaged, the similar colors of the ceramic tiles with floral motifs are striking applied, in contrast, in the wide and articulated surface of the brick dome. The 28 lion heads in bronze bring the compositional set back to a vague classicism, while among the various writings celebrative in bronze and gold letters, alternated with mosaics, catalyzes the attention that citation which stands out on the door panel “The religion of the homeland that gathers you here is a wish for brotherhood to the nations ”, by prof. Bertolini from Bologna.
Inside, there is a square room of about 4 meters per side and 7 meters in height, vaulted lowered and with walls covered with a fake marble obtained with glossy painted glass tiles on the inner side. Here, the central space of the floor is occupied by the crypt in which are conserved the bones of the fallen, completed by a wrought-iron grating with festoons, which strangely recalls elements present in later works of the Sommaruga. The wooden cases, still existing on both sides, housed a small museum with weapons and other memorabilia that, following some attempts at theft, were then transferred to the municipal building.
The monument was the subject of a recent restoration intervention commissioned by the Council Presidency of Ministers on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the Italian Unit in 2011, which has mainly concerned with the cleaning and consolidation of external surfaces.

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  • Palestro's parish archive
  • Palestro's municipal archive
  • AA.VV., Palestro, numero unico, Gallardi e Ugo Editori, Vercelli 1893 (rist. 1961, 1974, 1989)
  • AA.VV., Memorie di un architetto, Torino 1897
  • R. Orsenigo, Vercelli Sacra, Vercelli 1909
  • G. Battezzati, Palestro, Gallardi, Vercelli 1921 (rist. 1991)
  • E. Zambelli, Memorie sulla storia antica di Palestro, Paltrinieri, Novara 1959
  • E. Zambelli, Palestro - memorie cronistoriche, S.E.T.E., Vercelli 1970
  • E. Zambelli, Palestro - memorie cronistoriche, supplemento al 1° volume, S.E.T.E., Vercelli 1971
  • M. Merlo, Castelli, rocche, case-forti, torri della Provincia di Pavia, Volume Primo, Editrice Fusi, Pavia 1971
  • A. Bongianino, Palestro, la Festa del Castello, Palestro 1975
  • V. Cervetta (a cura di), Ossario di Palestro (1893-1993), Comune di Palestro, 1993
  • E.Zanone, Palestro 1940-1945, Gallo, Vercelli 1995
  • AA.VV., Parrocchie allo Specchio, Saviolo, Vercelli 1996
  • AA.VV., Approfondimenti di storia palestrese, Comune di Palestro, 1998
  • E. Zanone, Le chiese di Palestro, Vercelli 2003
  • AA.VV., 1006-2006 La chiesa Parrocchiale di Palestro, Vercelli 2006
  • E. D. Vicini, Educazione forma e decoro: le scuole lomelline del secondo ottocento al primo novecento, in Viglevanum, Anno XXVIII, aprile 2018

Text Arch. Riccardo Pasquino
Photography Andrea Fornasini
Translations in english by the I° Grade Secondary School F. Ressico of Palestro. (School year 2018-2019)

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