Domodossola has always been a focal point for the seven surrounding valleys (Anzasca, Antrona, Bognanco, Antigorio, Divedro, Formazza, Vigezzo). It has the character of a frontier town, and is an important railway junction between Italy and Switzerland.
An ancient Roman province, it acquired its name (from the Latin “Domus Oxulae”, where “Domus” means an administrative capital with the main church of the area) following the establishment of Christianity in the Ossola region.
Its long history as the centre of a land of transit received a boost in 1805 with the construction by Napoleon of the road across the Simplon Pass, and a century later with the opening of the railway tunnel. This important link between Italy and Switzerland is celebrated in the Civic Museum of the Simplon, which illustrates the construction of the tunnel through photographs and relics of the time, such as the old stagecoach which once took the mail across the Pass. There is also a reproduction on a scale of 1:2 of a section of the tunnel, showing how the construction work was done.
The medieval town centre has preserved intact its very fine Piazza Mercato, an irregularly-shaped square surrounded by elegant bourgeois buildings graced with loggias and balconies. One of the most culturally active theatres in the province, the Teatro Galletti, opens onto the square. Of great historical interest is Via Briona, where the 14th century Briona Tower stands.
Another 14th century building is the Renaissance palazzo Palazzo Silva, now a museum displaying Etruscan and Roman finds, and fragments of Egyptian mummies. The exterior of the building is embellished with door and window frames made entirely from local Crevoladossola marble.
The main church is the Collegiate Church, which contains paintings by local artists, notably Lorenzo Peretti and Mattia Borgnis. But the major attraction of Domodossola is the Sacro Monte del Calvario (Calvary), built in 1657 by Capuchin monks, and designated UNESCO World Heritage site in 2003. The complex, built in Baroque style, comprises twelve chapels illustrating the Passion of Christ, and lies within the Special Nature Reserve of the Sacro Monte of Domodossola along with the medieval Mattarella Castle, of which only the walls remain visible. The castle was destroyed in 1415 by Swiss soldiers to conquer the Ossola and seize it from the Duchy of Milan.
The Motta district also takes us back into the past; there are still buildings here with larch wood balconies from the late Middle Ages, looking onto Piazza Fontana with its beautiful fountain on an octagonal base.
The nearest ski and snowboarding runs in the Domodossola area are to the south-west, at Domobianca on the slopes of Monte Moncucco.