The religious complex of the Sacro Monte of Orta lies on the hill above the village, looking out over Lake Orta.
The riches of its art and architecture, allied to the beauty and harmony of its natural setting, contribute to an atmosphere of indefinable spirituality which has a profound impact on visitors.
The history of the complex goes back to 1583, when the Community of Orta decided to found a convent near the Church of San Nicolao, all of which remains today is a 15th century wooden sculpture of Our Lady of Mercy. In 1591 the Capuchin Franciscans authorised the start of work to build chapels dedicated to the life of St Francis, beginning with what is now chapel number XX, the first to be founded but the last in the cycle.
The building work was concluded between the end of the 16th century and the end of the 18th.
The chapels were arranged on a spiralling path which exploited the slope of the hill, in an itinerary guided by the surrounding trees, which enabled pilgrims to pause on their upward journey to meditate for a while in the shade, emerging at the top to see the superb panorama of the lake. Prominent among the many artists who worked on the decoration of the chapels were il Morazzone, Stefano Maria Legnai and il Beretta, artists from different periods, resulting in a mixture of styles –Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo and Neoclassical.
The purpose of every Sacro Monte was to give religious instruction the faithful (most of whom were illiterate) through the descriptive images of the frescoes and the tableaux of terracotta statues.
In 1980 Piedmont Region made the Sacro Monte of Orta a Special Nature reserve, to protect the valuable artistic and environmental heritage which the place represents.