Visit to Saorgio Monastery and medieval village




Overview of the medieval village of Saorgio

Villages of Liguria

Visit to Saorgio Monastery and medieval village




March 21, 2024

The village of Saorge, located in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region of southeastern France, stands out for its rich historical and cultural heritage. Among the many things to see, the famous Saorge Monastery, founded in the 17th century, stands out. As you stroll around the perimeter of the esplanade, you can almost touch the sky and dive into a fascinating history, where the serenity of the Franciscan friars merged with the magnificence of Baroque art. One of the jewels of religious tourism and an arrival or stopover point for your personal pilgrimage, Saorge reveals itself as a pearl set in the green valleys bordering the Mercantour Park, ready to offer you an experience that goes beyond a simple visit, transporting you to another time and dimension.

 

How to get to Saorgio[ back to menu ]

To get to Saorge Monastery from the Le Girandole farmhouse (Still not familiar with our farmhouse? Discover our vacation apartments in Diano Marina!), you need to get on the A10 highway towards Ventimiglia and continue for about 50 kilometers until the exit for Ventimiglia. After taking the exit, you need to follow the signs for the SS20 highway towards Tenda. This stretch of road, about 45 kilometers long, leads directly to Saorgio.

Once in the village, the road signs will lead toward the Monastery of Saorge. Given that it is not possible to access the monastery by car, we recommend parking near the village center and completing the last part of the route on foot.

The history of Saorge Monastery[ back to menu ]

Saorge Monastery represents a Franciscan heritage rooted in centuries of history. Founded as a convent, it has established itself over time as an important center of spirituality and meditation.

 

In 1633, the group of Recollect Franciscans established the foundations of what would become the Monastery of Saorge. To facilitate the completion of construction, the local administration offered the chapel of Saint-Bernard and adjoining land, located a short distance from the town. The building process received further impetus thanks to funding obtained by the friars, which enabled the completion of the convent buildings by 1662.

The panorama over the val roya from Saorgio

Over time, the monastery has experienced several significant changes. After being dedicated to literary activity in 1794, the building was occupied by French troops who decreed the removal of the friars. Later converted into a hospice, the monastery was returned to the Franciscans in 1824, only to be abandoned again in 1903, following the passage of a law on religious congregations.

In the years that followed, the building was put to various uses, until 1967, when it became the property of the state. The latter undertook restoration work between 1969 and 1988, after which the Franciscans returned for a brief period. After their final departure, the monastery opened its doors to visitors, transforming itself into a place of recollection and inspiration for writers, keeping its original spirit alive.

Chants in the monastery of Saorgio with video projector

The Monastery: architecture and tour route[ back to menu ]

The Monastery of Saorgio, along with that of Cimiez in Nice, represents one of the most significant examples of Baroque monastic architecture in the region. Its structure reflects the typical pattern of Franciscan buildings erected in the same time frame in southern Piedmont and Liguria, showing how this architectural tradition was consistent in different locations.

 

A visit to the monastery, lasting an average of 45 minutes, is also accessible to people with disabilities. Not to be missed is the outdoor garden, carefully landscaped and usable through the side walkways, where you can relax on chairs and benches, immersing yourself in the tranquility of the place.

The model of the monastery of Saorge

The church[ back to menu ]

The church of Notre Dame Des Miracles, dating from the 600s, features a single nave under cross vaults, flanked by four side chapels. Between 1760 and 1762, painted medallions and stucco moldings were added by Calderari of Lugano, enriching the decoration.

The chapels to the north are dedicated to St. Anthony of Padua and St. Joseph, while those to the south feature works depicting St. Peter of Alcantara, St. Francis of Assisi and St. Clare.

The high altar, an example of understated elegance in polished walnut, is embellished by polychromy limited to the niches and gilding on the statues. Centrally, stands the image of the Virgin of Miracles, flanked by St. Anthony of Padua and St. Paschal Baylon. Above, stand the figures of God the Father, Archangel Gabriel and the Virgin of the Annunciation, surmounted by the Franciscan coat of arms.

The choir, separated from the nave by an ancona, retains the original polished walnut stalls, emphasizing the distinction between friars and laity during religious services.

The Hall of Penance[ back to menu ]

This space retains seventeenth-century elements, including wood paneling and a washstand, reflecting the continuity of its confessional function through the centuries.

The sacristy[ back to menu ]

Surrounded by walnut and whitewashed window frames from 1772, the sacristy houses two 17th-century reliquary busts, guarding the convent's rich spiritual heritage.

The sacristy of the monastery of Saorgio

The refectory[ back to menu ]

Adorned with 17th-century frescoes depicting the Franciscan virtues, the refectory is a witness to the friars' communal life, with walnut tables and a passerelle connecting directly to the kitchen.

The large fresco of Our Lady in Glory, along with St. Francis, St. Anthony of Padua and the allegory of Charity, dominates the back wall, next to the original furniture from 1667. Here, daily life followed the rules of the Franciscan order, between periods of fasting and times of sharing, without the obligation of silence during meals, unlike other monastic traditions.

The refectory of the monastery of Saorge

The garden [ back to menu ]

The monastery garden, accessible from the terrace, preserves its original terraced structure, with elements such as basins, wash houses, orchards and vine arbors, revealing the friars' self-sufficiency and harmony with nature.

Walk through the monastery garden of Saorge Monastery

The Cloister[ back to menu ]

The heart of the convent, the rectangular cloister is delineated on one side by the church and on the other sides by convent buildings. Baroque frescoes from 1760, ornate sundials and episodes from the life of St. Francis in the lunettes of the vaults offer spaces for deep reflection and contemplation. The layout of the buildings and the art decorating them tell the story of a devout and artistically rich community, highlighting the spiritual and cultural continuity of the monastery through the centuries.

Walk alongside the Cloister of the Monastery of Saorge

The re-enactment of ancient local songs[ back to menu ]

Unique moments of connection with history are offered through the re-enactment of ancient local chants, projected in Italian in the choir, penance and sacristy rooms. These projections, lasting a total of 13 1/2 minutes, invite visitors on a wandering journey through the darkened rooms, lit in turn to reveal paintings and tell stories through voice and image, creating a deep connection between the monastery's cultural heritage and its visitors.

More singing in Saorgio monastery with video projector

A haven of creativity: the writers' residence [ back to menu ]

The transformation of spaces once dedicated to monastic life into a retreat for creativity has breathed new life into the Saorgio Convent. Rooms once reserved exclusively for monks now welcome writers, translators, screenwriters and music composers, offering them an inspired and inspiring place to live. Maintaining the community character of the convent, guests stay in the friars' former cells and share common spaces such as the hall, library, kitchens and showers, thus preserving the contemplative atmosphere that fosters creativity.

 

The project, supported by the Centre des monuments nationaux, aims to promote artistic creation while safeguarding the uniqueness of the place. Saorge thus becomes a theater for cultural encounters between artists and the local community, including debates, public readings and educational activities in the region's schools and libraries. The Les Fioretti association collaborates in organizing events such as exhibitions, concerts, debates and seminars, enriching the cultural offerings with publications and writing and translation workshops.

The medieval village of Saorge[ back to menu ]

Saorge stands majestically on a promontory overlooking the Roya Valley, naturally protected by rock formations to the northwest and open to the south. Characterized by a primitive core located in the highest part, the village underwent a drastic transformation in 1465 due to a fire that destroyed much of it, including the original church.

Subsequently, an expansion of the village took place both downward, with the construction of a new wall, and beyond the boundaries of the pre-existing walls, beginning in the 17th century.

The architecture of Saorge, with its narrow streets meandering down the slope and numerous stairways serving as shortcuts, evokes the image of a Tibetan village, offering a unique insight into medieval building techniques and community life.

Overview of the Val Roya as seen from Saorge

Baroque Art in the Roya and Vermenagna Valleys[ back to menu ]

The influence of Baroque art is evident in the Roya and Vermenagna valleys, where Baroque churches and chapels dating from the 17th and 18th centuries dot the landscape. These structures, along with 19th-century neo-Baroque decorations and older buildings in the late Romanesque and Alpine Gothic styles enriched with Baroque altars and altarpieces during the Counter-Reformation, testify to the cultural richness of the region.

The cross-border Baroque itinerary allows you to explore these architectural marvels, the result of the collaboration of artists who moved between Nice, Genoa and Turin.

The history of the territory[ back to menu ]

The history of the Vermenagna-Roya territory is rich in events. Marked by the occupation of the Saracens in the 10th century and the subsequent religious renewal brought about by the Benedictine abbeys. Subsequent centuries saw the marquises of Saluzzo and the counts of Ventimiglia fortify the territory, leaving today significant traces of that period, such as remains of fortifications, chapels, bell towers and narrow streets with religious symbolism.

Original art and the International Organ Festival[ back to menu ]

The monuments and ancient musical instruments of the Roya and Vermenagna valleys, especially organs built before the division of the Savoy States in 1860, represent a priceless heritage. Organs from Fontan, Breil sur Roya and Rocavione, dating back to the 18th century, are the focus of the International Festival of Organs, an annual event that celebrates the region's musical tradition through concerts that highlight the specificity of these instruments.

What to see in Saorge [ back to menu ]

 Undoubtedly not to be missed is a visit to the village. What to do and what to see?
Saorgio offers various opportunities for a stop, with several bars and restaurants welcoming visitors. These spaces allow you to savor the life of the village, immersing yourself in the lively atmosphere that characterizes the village, a witness to a rich and complex history that spans eras and cultures. Here are suggestions for visiting Saorge.

 Overview of the medieval village of Saorge

Architecture and traditions[ back to menu ]

Saorgio is distinguished by an urban fabric that reflects Ligurian and Piedmontese influences, testifying to a deep connection with past traditions. This bond is even more highlighted by Saorgio's history, which saw the town pass under several dominions, the last of which was the Kingdom of Sardinia, until the Plombières agreements in 1860, when it was ceded to France.

The Medge Fountain[ back to menu ]

Upon entering Saorgio, one immediately encounters the Fountain de Medge, a structure that appears to have served the functions of a washhouse and fountain. Although there is little specific information about this element, its presence introduces the village atmosphere, reflecting local architecture and traditions that resonate with those of the neighboring villages of Pigna and Triora.

L'Église Saint-Sauveur de Saorge[ back to menu ]

Continuing to the heart of the village, one reaches the Église Saint-Sauveur, which dominates the square with its historic inscription in Ligurian "Ciassa da Geija." Rebuilt in 1498 after a fire, this basilica-like church stands on sloping ground and features distinctive architectural elements, such as the chapel of the Pénitents Blancs. The introduction of the Baroque style and later decorations enriched the church, making it a symbol of Saorgio's rich historical and cultural stratification.

The church square in Saorge

Historical Memory[ back to menu ]

Below the church, a series of paintings commemorates Saorgio's struggle against Nazi-fascism, with special reference to the partisan resistance and the liberation of the territory. The annual commemoration of the death of six young Italian partisans on October 24, 1944, represents a moment of reflection on recent history and Franco-Italian friendship, inextricably linking Saorgio to the historical events that marked Europe in the 20th century.

 

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