Visiting the Shrine of Madonna del Ghisallo is a must do for every cyclist. There are places in the world that boast to be the spiritual home of cycling: the Shrine of Madonna del Ghisallo is one of these places.
This climb is legendary, consistently present in "the Lombardia", and sacred, as on top of the climb you can find the Shrine of Madonna del Ghisallo and the Ghisallo Cycling Museum, two special and unique places that will take you back to when the sport of cycling truly began.
Three routes to get to the Shrine of Madonna del Ghisallo
The Shrine of Madonna del Ghisallo sits at Magreglio, on an hill, between the two ‘legs’ of the (upside-down) Y-shaped Lake Como. You can climb up from Bellagio, from Erba via Canzo and from Onno. The most difficult and the most famous side is the first route: from Bellagio. It's a 10.6km – 6.5mi climb. The climb is kind of broken into three: a section 6 km 9%, a section 3 km flat or descend and a final section 1.5 km 9%. The most challenging gradients (14%) are in the first 2.5 km.
- 1. Madonna del Ghisallo climb from Bellagio,
- 2. Madonna del Ghisallo climb from Onno,
- 3. Madonna del Ghisallo climb from Erba via Canzo,
See below the three ways to climb up. There are also great views from here over the Lake Como and the mountains around. The climb can be tough in some sections, but the views and the fact that nearly every famous cyclist has ridden the same road, will make it the experience of a lifetime.
1. Madonna del Ghisallo climb from Bellagio
Madonna del Ghisallo climb on Strava
2. Madonna del Ghisallo climb from Onno
3. Madonna del Ghisallo climb from Erba via Canzo
The Legend of the Shrine of Madonna del Ghisallo
The Ghisallo is not only a climb. It is a symbol for the world of cyclism: on the top there is the Shrine of the Madonna del Ghisallo which, in 1949, was declared Patroness of cyclists. According to legend in mediaeval times, a local nobleman named Ghisallo was attacked by bandits in that place. The Virgin Mary appears, so he saved himself by running towards this vision. Thus, the Madonna del Ghisallo became the patroness of travellers.
His dying wish was that a chapel be built. Either way he left his name to the chapel but the construction was rebuilt and the building today dates from 1623. In 1944 Don Ermelindo Viganò becomes priest of Magreglio, the village at the top of the climb and becomes head of the chapel. He seems to have been hit by the passage of cyclists and pressured to connect the chapel to cycling. Then, in 1949 Don Ermelindo Viganò to persuade Pope Pius XII to admit her as the Patroness of cyclists.The shrine became a place of pilgrimage for cyclists from all over the world.
What you can see inside the Shrine
An eternal flame burns inside in memory of every cyclist who has died on Italian roads, and the walls are hung with their pictures and with bikes and jerseys donated by champions from every era. The walls of the Shrine are almost covered in pennants of cycling clubs from all over the world, jerseys from champions of the recent and distant past, and most prominently, a selection of bikes that have made history.
Inside the shine you can see the bikes ridden by Gino Bartali, Fausto Coppi, Eddie Merckx, Felice Gimondi, Gianni Motta, Francesco Moser in their victories, as well as a collection of pink, yellow and rainbow jersey from several former pros and other memorabilia. You can also see the crumpled bike of 1992 Olympic champion Fabio Casartelli – the one that he was riding when he crashed on the descent of the Col de Portet d'Aspet during the 1995 Tour de France. Casartelli was from nearby Como, and his death is still mourned greatly by fans in the area, the bent forks of his bike tell the story of his tragic end.
Cycling museum next door to Shrine
Next door to the Shrine of Madonna del Ghisallo is the cycling museum. It'sopen from March, on the first Saturday up to November, on the first Sunday: daily 9.30 am – 5.30 pm. The museum is housed in a modern spacious well-lit building and it presents the history of cycling looking at some of the key events and players within the sport.
The cycling museum is devoted to the men and women who have used and continue to use the bicycle in everyday life and in sports, but also to all those people whose work revolves around cycling, and competitive racing in particular: the athletes, bicycle manufacturers, organisers, sports club directors and journalists.
Il Lombardia and the climb of Madonna del Ghisallo
The Tour of Lombardy has often changed its start and finish points but the climb of Madonna del Ghisallo from Bellagio has been part of “Il Lombardia” since 1919.
Tour of Lombardy or “Il Lombardia” , is a cycling race in Lombardy for professionals .It's traditionally the last of the five 'Monuments' of the cycling season considered to be the most prestigious one-day races in cycling (Milan–San Remo in Italy, Tour of Flanders in Belgium, Paris–Roubaix in France, Liège–Bastogne–Liège in Belgium) and one of the last events on the UCI World Tour calendar.
Nicknamed the Classic of the falling leaves or “the Classica delle foglie morte”, it is the most important Autumn Classic in cycling.
Learn more about our tours at: Tours in the Italian-Swiss Lake District
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