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Vercelli (Varséj in Piedmontese; Versèl in Western Lombard) is a city and comune of about 47,000 inhabitants in the Province of Vercelli, Piedmont, northern Italymarker. One of the oldest urban sites in northern Italy, it was founded, according to most historians, around the year 600 BC.

The city is situated on the river Sesiamarker in the plain of the river Po between Milanmarker and Turinmarker. It is an important centre for the cultivation of rice, and is surrounded by paddy fields, which are flooded in summer. The climate is typical of the Po Valley with cold, foggy winters (0.4°C in January) and oppressive heat during the summer months (23.45°C in July). Rainfall is most prevalent during the spring and autumn; thunderstorms are common in the summer.

The world's first university funded by public money was established in Vercelli in 1228.Today it has a university of literature and philosophy as a part of the Università del Piemonte Orientale and a satellite campus of the Politecnico di Torinomarker.


Vercellae (Vercelum) was a village of the Libici or Lebecili, a Ligurian tribe; it became an important municipium, near which Gaius Marius defeated the Cimbri and the Teutones in the Battle of Vercellae nearby in 101 BCE.

Imperial magister militum Flavius Stilicho annihilated the Goths there 500 years later. It was half ruined in St. Jerome's time (olim potens, nunc raro habitatore semiruta (1, 3.1)). After the Lombard invasion it belonged to the Duchy of Ivrea. From 885 it was under the jurisdiction of the prince-bishop, who was a count of the empire.

It became an independent commune in 1120, and joined the first and second Lombard leagues. Its statutes are among the most interesting of those of the medieval republics. In 1197 they abolished the servitude of the glebe. In 1228 the University of Paviamarker was transferred to Vercelli, where it remained till the fourteenth century, but without gaining much prominence; only a university school of law has been maintained.

During the troubles of the 13th century it fell into the power of the Della Torre of Milan (1263), of the Marquesses of Monferrato (1277), who appointed Matteo I Visconti captain (1290-1299). The Tizzoni (Ghibellines) and Avogadri (Guelphs) disputed the city from 1301 to 1334, the latter party being expelled several times, thus enabling the Marquess of Monferrato to take Vercelli (1328), which voluntarily placed itself under the Viscount of Milan in 1334. In 1373 Bishop Giovanni Fieschi expelled the Visconti, but Matteo reconquered the city. Facino Cane (1402), profiting by the strife between Giovanni Maria and Filippo Maria Visconti, took Vercelli, but was driven out by Theodore II of Montferrat (1404), from whom the city passed to the dukes of Savoy (1427).

In 1499 and 1553 it was captured by the French, and in 1616 and 1678 by the Spaniards. In 1704 it sustained an energetic siege by the French, who failed to destroy the fortress; after this it shared the fortunes of Savoy. In 1821 Vercelli rose in favour of the Constitution.

Main sights

Vercelli is home to numerous relics of the Roman period, e.g. an amphitheatre, hippodrome, sarcophagi, many important inscriptions, some of which are Christian.

There are two noteworthy towers in the town: the Torre dell’Angelo which rears up over the old market square and the Torre di Città in Via Gioberti.

St. Andrew’s Basilica.

The Cathedral, formerly adorned with precious pillars and mosaics, was erected and enlarged by St Eusebius of Vercelli, to whom it was dedicated after his death. It was remodelled in the ninth century, and radically changed in the sixteenth by Count Alfieri. Like the other churches in the city it contains valuable paintings, especially those of Gaudenzio Ferrari, Gerolamo Giovenone and Lanino, who were natives of Vercelli. The cathedral library holds the famous Vercelli Book—an Old English manuscript which includes the celebrated alliterative poem The Dream of the Rood, the 8th century Laws of the Lombards and other early manuscripts.

The Basilica di Sant'Andrea was erected by Cardinal Guala Bicchieri in 1219: together with the old Cistercian monastery, it is one of the most beautiful and best preserved Romanesque monuments in Italy.

The Moorish Revival, 1878 Vercelli Synagogue at Via Foà 70.

Among other noteworthy churches is Santa Maria Maggiore.

There is an Institute of the Beaux-Arts, containing paintings by Vercellese artists.

There are old charitable institutions, like the hospital founded by Cardinal Guala Bicchieri (1224), which has an annual revenue of more than 600,000 lire ($117,000); the hospices for orphan girls (1553) and for boys (1542) and mendicant homes.

The archives of the metropolitan chapter contain valuable manuscripts including an evangelarium of the fourth century, the "Novels" of Justinian, the "Leges Langobardorum", the "Capitulare regum Francorum", also hagiographical manuscripts, not all of which have been critically examined, and a very old copy of the "Imitation of Christ", which is relied upon as an argument for attributing the authorship of the work to John Gersen. The civil archives are not less important, and contain documents dating from 882. The extensive seminary contains a large library.

Vercelli is seat of the Viotti International Music Competition.


In 2007, there were 44,475 people residing in Vercelli, of whom 47.3% were male and 52.7% were female. Minors (children ages 18 and younger) totalled 14.41 percent of the population compared to pensioners who number 25.83 percent. This compares with the Italian average of 18.06 percent (minors) and 19.94 percent (pensioners). The average age of Vercelli resident is 47 compared to the Italian average of 42. In the five years between 2002 and 2007, the population of Vercelli declined by 1.31 percent, while Italymarker as a whole grew by 3.56 percent.[72045][72046] The current birth rate of Vercelli is 8.69 births per 1,000 inhabitants compared to the Italian average of 9.45 births.

As of 2006, 92.38% of the population was Italian. The largest foreign group cam from other parts of Europe (namely Albaniamarker, and Romaniamarker): 3.48%, followed by North Africa: 2.21%, and sub-saharan Africa: 0.64%. Approximately 1 in 6 babies born in Vercelli has a least one foreign parent.[72047]


Museo Camillo Leone

Famous people


The typical dish is rice with beans, called panissa. The typical wine is Gattinaramarker DOCG, a classic red wine of Piedmont made principally from the nebbiolo grape (known locally as spanna) from the comune of Gattinaramarker, where there is archaeological evidence of vines being grown in Roman times.


Unione Sportiva Pro Vercelli was one of the most successful football clubs in Italy in the early 20th century, winning the national championship seven times between 1908 and 1922. Today it competes in the Serie C2.

Twin towns

See also

Further reading

  • has a range of articles, in Italian, on the history, architecture, gastronomy, etc, of Vercelli.
  • Vercelli is a short article in English on the history and archaeology of the town from, the site of the Gruppo Archeologico Vercellese.
  • the Divine Comedy in three languages: vercellese (the local dialect of Piedmontese), English and Italian

Sources and references

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