The unmistakable dome of Loreto stands out can be seen on its hilltop for miles around. Resting inland from the port city of Ancona, Loreto is a pilgrimage site for millions every year, drawn to the Basilica of the Santa Casa (holy house). The town has its origins in 1294 when the rustic stone cottage known as the "santa casa" arrived here in the midst of the laurel trees, which the town's name comes from. A basilica was started in 1468 to preserve the cottage, said to be the home of the Madonna brought here by angels to protect it from the Saracens who had invaded the Holy Land. The house comes from Nazareth and the faithful will say that it witnessed the annunciation and was where Jesus lived with Mary and Joseph at the beginning of his life. (That it is coincidentally close to Ancona, an important port for Crusaders coming and going to the Holy Land, with ships, knights and cargo bustling around may also have had something to do with the home's appearance on this hill.)
Whatever its origins, the simple stone structure rests inside the cavernous basilica and draws visitors from around the world. The church is striking in its beautiful piazza, flanked by the arcades of the Palazzo Apostolico, the result of noted architects like Bramante, Sansovino and Sangallo the Younger. Artwork includes works by Luca Signorelli and Lorenzo Lotto, who died here in 1556.
The town is cute and compact, with restaurants and shops selling local artisan products. There are views across the fertile fields to the rolling hills inland, and the Conero promontory on the Adriatic coast. Walk around and enjoy the narrow streets decked with attractive buildings.
The art gallery has paintings by Lorenzo Lotto, Carracci, and others, so it's worth a visit. Be sure to walk around to the back side of the basilica to see the hulking rounded architecture. For pilgrims, mass and confession are available in various languages.
Been there? Done that? Share your experience and tips!
Haven't visited yet? Have questions about Loreto? Ask them here!
Explore nearby towns
The city of Recanati is not just a pretty place, but a poetic one, as well.
A pretty brick-built town in Le Marche, Castelfidardo sits on a rocky spur at the foot of the Conero Promontory.
Occupying a hill near Ancona, Osimo is a monumental town with breathtaking views.