Asti, the Medieval art city famous for its Palio and towers
Asti is an art city in Piedmont with an ancient history dating back to millions of years ago when the hilly area of our days that are surrounding the town was covered by the sea. Over time the sea had withdrawn and a vast terrestrial environment was formed instead. Unfortunately, there are few archaeological evidence of human presence until the first millennium when the territory was scattered by settlements inhabited by the Ligurians. Between 125 and 123 BC, the Romans founded here Hasta, the most important Roman city of the ancient Liguria. At the end of the 11th century, Asti became the most important free municipality in Piedmont and in the 12th century, it was one of the richest and most powerful villages in Italy. The city had also the right to coin money and had intense trade relations with other countries.
Today you can admire its medieval towers, (in medieval times Asti was known as the "city of a hundred towers") fortified houses, several imposing churches or simply strolling under the nineteenth-century arcades, or along the romantic narrow alleys and small squares with ancient trees in the historic center, all evidence of a noble and prestigious past of the city.
So, let's start: as Asti is not a large city and because the historic center is almost entirely closed for traffic the best way to visit it is walking.
Piazza Vittorio Alfieri is the main square of this art city, the core of the town. In the middle of this triangular square rises the statue of Count Vittorio Alfieri, the Italian writer, poet, and playwright, born in Asti in the 18th century. In the main street, (of course, it is also called "Alfieri") you can visit the palace where Alfieri was born.
In the same street, have a stop and visit the Sant'Anastasio Crypt Museum (pic n°4) with the crypt of the martyr. In addition, you can also admire the remains of the Roman pavement and the ruins of some ancient settlements with the tombs dating back to the eighth century.
Not far from here is located the 44 meters high Troyana Tower or Clock Tower. It is the oldest tower in the city and the best preserved in Piedmont. Climb up to the top and you will enjoy beautiful views over the city and the neighborhood. There are some more interesting towers such as Torre del Comentini, Torre de Regibus and Torre Rossa that are also worth a visit.
The Church of San Pietro in Consavia (pic n°2) (also known as Complex of the Baptistery of San Pietro)
It is a Catholic church located just at the entrance of the medieval core of the city. It is made up of four buildings built between the 12th and the 14th century: the fifteenth-century square church, the mid-twelfth century Rotonda (the Rotunda) with its tower and the nearby cloister divided into two parts: the first part was the Hospital of the Pilgrims (Ospedale dei Pellegrini) and the other one was the Casa Priorale (Priory House) which currently houses the Paleontological and Archaeological Museum of the city. (In the Middle Ages Asti was one of the seven headquarters of the Gerosolimitano Priory of Lombardy). In 1932 the Complex was restored to its ancient medieval glory.
Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta e San Gottardo (pic n°3)
The first church was probably erected around the 5th or 6th century but since it had collapsed later, a new cathedral was built here which was consecrated in 1095. It was a Lombard Romanesque style church with three naves. In the following centuries, it was wholly rebuilt in Gothic style and became as well one of the largest churches in Piedmont. Inside the cathedral, you can admire valuable paintings from the 15th and 16th centuries of the Renaissance painter Gandolfino da Roreto, several artworks, and frescoes from the 18th century, some important statues, and the fifteenth-century baptismal font.
Church of San Secondo (pic n°1)
It is one of the most ancient churches in this art city. While its foundation is unknown, the oldest evidence founded mentioning the church dates back to 880. It is dedicated to San Secondo, saint patron of Asti, and as to legend, it was built on the site of his martyrdom and burial. The church has a beautiful Romanesque-style façade featuring a central rose with Renaissance elements, the 16th-century side doors, and the 18th-century central door.
Inside, do not miss a visit to the Chapel of San Secondo: it is a real pearl of the Piedmont Baroque style, embellished by some 18th-century frescoes. In addition, here are displayed the ancient flags and Palios. The church of San Secondo is located in the heart of the city, overlooking the square of the same name, next to the Town Hall.
We also suggest visiting Ottolenghi Palace, located in Alfieri street: it is one of the most beautiful baroque palaces in the city. It was rebuilt in the eighteenth century and today it is home to the Museum of Risorgimento.
When in Asti, we do have to mention two more attractions you should absolutely not miss:
"The Palio" is run in the central square of Asti (Piazza Alfieri) on the first Sunday every September. Mainly it is a barefoot horse race (pic middle) of ancient tradition: evidence of the first race dates back to 1275! However, it is not only a simple horse race but an all-day spectacular attraction for adults and kids: from the very beginning of the day, there are various parades of the horses that will race and of the local people of those districts that will take part of the race. (every horse represents a district)
Along the main streets of Asti will take place a fascinating scenic show-parade (pic n°5) of the representatives of the different districts that will "fight" (during the horse race) for the Palio. People who take part in this parade are dressed up in Medieval costumes since the intent is to make alive different, medieval authorities and important or unknown characters of ancient times. Then, in the afternoon, it is time for the race itself during which the souls of the different fighting districts heat up a lot! In a word, the Palio is a great event that attracts thousands of visitors every year!
Food & Wine
Asti, beyond the art, is the natural hub of tasty food and excellent wines. Who does not know the famous sparkling wine Asti Spumante? It is not the only one, wines such as Barbera, Brachetto, Moscato, Dolcetto are produced in the area around or relatively close to the city. What about the local food such as "agnolotti", "gnocchi", "tagliolini", "bagna càuda" or the famous truffle (like "tagliatelle with truffles" - pic n°6)? - just mentioning some. You can taste all these dishes and wines in one of the many excellent restaurants and coffee bars but there is an event held just one week before "The Palio", called something like "Food&Wine Festival" (originally: "Il Festival delle Sagre") where you can really taste all of them at once! It is held in a large public square (Piazza Palio) that becomes that day a real country village with many kiosks selling their gastronomic specialties and Asti DOC wines! So, it is a great day of celebration dedicated to food & wine and country life and, of course, it is absolutely not to be missed!
Some pictures of Asti:
Church of San Secondo and the City Hall (pic n°1); The Church of San Pietro in Consavia (pic n°2); Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta e San Gottardo (pic n°3); Sant'Anastasio Crypt Museum (pic n°4); Palio: the historical parade (pic n°5); Tagliatelle with truffles (pic n°6); The Palio: a barefoot horse race (pic middle);