Visit San Giovanni Rotondo
San Giovanni Rotondo is a large town to the west of the Gargano (and the Gargano peninsula and national park) that is especially well known for its important religious monuments.
The town is part of the pilgrimage route across Gargano, and attracts millions of pilgrims each year because of the tomb of Padre Pio (1887-1968), a miracle worker who was made a saint in 2002.
Explore San Giovanni Rotondo: tourism and travel guide
Your visit will focus on the churches and monastery in the town since these are the most important artistic and cultural heritage in the city. The architecture of these religious monuments spans the last 700 years and is very varied from traditional roman style design to the modernist design of Renzo Piano.
In common with other important pilgrimage centres such as Lourdes, it is true that the number of hotels and visitors and shops selling rather dubious momentoes is rather greater than you might hope for.
Monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazia
Between the 16th and 17th centuries work started on the Franciscan Monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie, a monastic structure. The main altar has a tempera painting of the “Madonna delle Grazie”, from the middle of the 16th century, by the local school of Cesare Turco (1510-1560) and Decio Tramontano (active between 1556 and 1599). The painting of the Virgin is part of a triptych with Saint John the Baptist.
The style of the church is very simple with clear references to the Romanesque style. The façade is in travertine and a rectangular shape divided by two rows of monolithic columns. Among the sculptures you can see the statue of the “Madonna delle Grazie”, an 18th century work by Antonio Bassi da Trani.
A large mosaic depicting the image of “Our lady of Grace between Angels” also stands out, along with many other works by contemporary painters and sculptors.
In the sacristy of the Holy Shrine of Santa Maria delle Grazie there are some paintings depicting Saint Anthony of Padua, Saint Michael and of the Eternal Father, on the front door of the corridor between the old and the new vestry. They are attributable, probably, to a Neapolitan Mannerist painter of the late 16th century.
In the old sacristy three paintings are framed: “The crucified Jesus with the holy women and St. John Evangelist”, the “Lady of Sorrows”, and “Jesus crowned with thorns”, painted by monks of the time. As well as these important paintings you can also see the “Adoration of the Crucifix”, in oil on canvas and by an apprentice of Giacomo del Po (1652-1726).
Pilgrimge Church of Padre Pio (by Renzo Piano)
After the death of Padre Pio* his brothers built the new Church of Padre Pio in San Giovanni Rotondo to accommodate an influx of believers, and commissioned a leading modern architect, Renzo Piano, to design it.
The church is truly monumental and probably has little in common with what you expect from a cathedral in an Italian town. With its soaring curves, curved roof and glass facade it is apparently the second largest church in Italy and can seat almost 7000 people.
It is also remarkable from the artistic viewpoint, being enriched with many statues by the sculptor Giuliano Vangi (born in 1931), made of “Apricena” stone, the bronze cross and Altar Apricena stone, by Arnaldo Pomodoro (born in 1926).
* When Padre Pio arrived here in 1916 San Giovanni Rotondo was a tiny undiscovered village. His reputation as a miracle worker and his devotion to helping the sick, and his resulting great fame throughout Italy, have rather changed the town.
It is now the second most visited Catholic pilgrimage town in the world (after Lourdes in France) and receives several million visitors each year, many of them pilgrims wanting to visit his tomb and the cell where he lived.
The tabernacle in lava stone and silver is by Floriano Bodini (1933-2005); the glass in the Chapel of Sacramento is by Michele Canzoneri (born in 1944), while the bronze doors and the baptismal font are by Mimmo Paladino (born in 1948), the "Eaglet" of marble on the wall is by Mario Rossello (1927-2000); the window of the church depicts scenes of the Apocalypse.
Other churches in San Giovanni Rotondo
The Church of Saint John the Baptist gave the city its name due to its round shape. This church was probably a baptistery in the 7th or 8th century and was built on even more ancient foundations, perhaps an ancient temple of Janus.
Heading back to previous centuries, we conclude our tour of the religious buildings in San Giovanni Rotondo with the Church of Saint Ursula, dating from the 18th century. The external façade in the Baroque-Rococo style is adorned with fine statues and stucco while its interior is decorated with frescoes in tempera by Natale Penati (1884-1955) and with interesting contemporary paintings and also 15th century Flemish brasses in the sacristy.
The Church of Saint Hermit Onofrio near the city dates back to the 14th century, and has a Gothic façade complete with a rose and a portal with a bow worked in relief with acanthus leaves resting on two lions supported by two columns. The first construction of the Church of Our Lady of Loreto dates back to the 16th century.
Other local information
You will quickly see that San Giovanni Rotondo is a town defined by its religious nature, but nearby there are also various opportunities for more traditional tourism based on the coastal resorts of the Gargano region and by the natural environment of the Gargano National park.
You should also take the the opportunity to discover the traditions related to local handicrafts and the cuisine of Puglia. The typical dish of San Giovanni Rotondo is the "Miscisca", mutton or beef, dried and then flavoured with herbs and enjoyed with a glass of the local good wine.
See also history of San Giovanni Rotondo
Where is San Giovanni Rotondo?
San Giovanni Rotondo is in the Gargano peninsula, in the Puglia region of south-east Italy near the Adriatic Sea.
Map of San Giovanni Rotondo sightseeing & popular sights
Selected places to visit near San Giovanni Rotondo, Italy
See the Puglia guide for more travel ideas...