A Brief Guide to What to Do and See in Asti, the City of a Hundred Towers
Are you considering a trip or a weekend getaway to Monferrato? Then, discover with us what to see in Asti and include it in your itinerary.
Asti, along with Casale and Acqui Terme, is the most important center in Monferrato, a region that is part of the UNESCO heritage along with Langhe and Roero. The city holds a special place in our hearts as we have been familiar with it for a long time, both for work and friendships. This has allowed us to explore its most beautiful corners, making it an interesting destination for those who love culture and good wine. While many know Asti as one of Italy’s wine capitals, fewer are aware of its ancient history. Founded by the Romans, Asti quickly became a crucial hub for trade between the Ligurian coast and the north. However, few visible traces from that period remain in the city.
In the historic center, numerous buildings recall the medieval era, arguably the most flourishing period for the city. In the early centuries of the second millennium, Asti was a free commune with its own currency and was considered the most powerful city in Piedmont. During this time, the wealthiest families, divided between Guelphs and Ghibellines, competed to build imposing palaces and, especially, taller and more beautiful towers. Hence, Asti earned the title (shared with other Italian cities) of the “city of a hundred towers.”
After voluntarily submitting to the protection of King Roberto d’Angiò of Naples in the 14th century, the city was first ruled by the Visconti and later by the Orléans. Finally, in 1531, it was ceded to the House of Savoy, whose fate it followed until the Unification of Italy.
Now, let’s delve into discovering the most beautiful things to see in Asti. Keep reading!
What to See in Asti: The Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta
Our journey to discover what to see in Asti begins with the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta. This majestic church is one of the largest in Piedmont and a fine example of Lombard Gothic architecture. The exterior is particularly striking with polychrome decorations alternating between bricks and sandstone, along with three large portals complemented by rosettes. On the side facing the square, another rich portal stands out, serving as the main entrance, along with the tall square bell tower.
If it already appears tall from the outside, the cathedral becomes even more imposing inside. Large pillars support the frescoed vaults depicting scenes from the Bible, while the side aisles house truly interesting works by Monferrato artists Gandolfino da Roreto and “Moncalvo.”
What to See in Asti: The Collegiate Church of San Secondo
Another crucial stop in an itinerary to discover Asti is the Collegiate Church of San Secondo. Located in the heart of the city next to the municipal palace, it is one of the oldest churches in Asti. It is said to have been built on the site where Asti’s patron saint was martyred and buried. The Collegiate has been rebuilt several times and now presents itself with typical features of a Gothic church, including portals surmounted by rosettes. The beautiful brick façade is also adorned with three rosettes and a niche where the statue of the saint is preserved.
The bond of the people of Asti with this church is profound, not only because it houses the saint’s relics but also because it preserves the banners of the Palio. Inside, in the Chapel of San Secondo, you can admire some of the ancient Palii with the effigy of San Secondo on horseback. In the Palio Chapel, you can observe some of the banners from the latest editions of the Palio d’Asti. The race takes place every year on the first Sunday of September in Piazza Alfieri, involving 21 districts, villages, and neighboring municipalities. Before leaving, we recommend taking a moment to admire the beautiful works of Gandolfino da Roreto and the carved walnut choir.
What to See in Asti: Medieval Towers
While strolling through the streets of Asti, you will frequently encounter tall medieval towers. As mentioned earlier, they all date back more or less to the period when Asti was a free commune, and wealthy families competed to build taller and more beautiful towers. Of the over 100 towers that existed at the time, twenty still remain scattered throughout the historic center. Among them, the tallest at 44 meters is certainly the Torre Troyana, rising next to the Palazzo del Governatore. Its structure is elegant with two-colored framed mullioned windows and beautiful Ghibelline swallowtail merlons.
Other interesting and easily observable towers include:
- The Torre Guttuari in Piazza Statuto with its somewhat stout structure and Ghibelline merlons.
- The Torre Cometina, standing at 38 meters high, dominates with its merlons along Corso Alfieri. For many years, it served as the command post for the Palio when it took place along the street.
- The Torre Rossa, also on Corso Alfieri, is one of the city’s oldest buildings. Half of it is Roman construction, while the tuff part dates back to the 11th century. Its sixteen-sided shape suggests that it might have been one of the towers of the Porta Pretoria. Legend has it that it was the place of San Secondo’s imprisonment before martyrdom. The name perhaps comes from the red color of its bricks or the De Rubeis family that owned palaces nearby
What to See in Asti: The Complex of the Baptistery of San Pietro in Consavia
Another fascinating place to see in Asti is the complex of the Baptistery of San Pietro in Consavia. This small oasis of tranquility in the historic center has a unique history directly linked to the Holy Land. One of the seven Italian priories of the religious order of the Knights of St. John was once headquartered here. If you look closely, you can still see the Maltese Cross, the symbol of the Hospitaller Knights, sculpted or painted in the complex.
The small cloister that extends alongside the church is also interesting. Here, you can take a break, enjoy the silence, and admire some decorated windows from medieval buildings that have been demolished. If you have time, consider visiting the small paleontological museum housed in the former residence of the Order’s prior.
What to See in Asti: Museums
The city of Asti offers many museums that allow you to explore various aspects of its history and the surrounding territory. We recommend three museums that, in our opinion, are definitely worth a visit:
- The Civic Museum and Pinacoteca of Palazzo Mazzetti;
- The Crypt and Museum of Sant’Anastasio;
- Alfieriano Museum.
All three museums can be visited with the Smart Ticket, a cumulative ticket costing 10 euros available at Palazzo Mazzetti.
The Civic Museum and Pinacoteca of Palazzo Mazzetti
The Civic Museum and the Pinacoteca are housed in the splendid Palazzo Mazzetti, a beautiful example of Baroque noble architecture. Inside, you feel transported back to the era when the Mazzetti family adorned the rooms of the noble floor with elaborate golden stucco and beautiful inlaid furniture.
These sumptuous environments host various sections, made even more interesting by the use of new technologies to enhance the visit. There are sections with archaeological material, medieval artifacts, and paintings by Piedmontese artists from the 17th and 18th centuries. Some rooms are dedicated to the collection of oriental objects by Secondo Guglielminetti and modern works, with the most significant being those by Renato Guttuso.
The palace also hosts interesting temporary exhibitions that attract visitors from the entire region and beyond.
The Crypt and Museum of Sant’Anastasio
The Crypt and Museum of Sant’Anastasio is unique as it serves both as an archaeological area and a museum. The two aspects of the museum are easily distinguishable: to the west is the crypt of the ancient church of Sant’Anastasio, while to the east are the archaeological artifacts that survived the demolition of the church.
In the crypt, you can see various layers of evidence ranging from the 2nd century AD to the 19th century. Here, you can observe traces of the Roman forum’s pavement, the first medieval floor of the church, and the remains of the last Baroque church. Particularly impressive are the columns and capitals from the Roman and late antique periods reused in the construction of the Sant’Anastasio nucleus.
An important stop when visiting Asti is the birthplace of the city’s most illustrious citizen: Vittorio Alfieri. In the Palazzo that houses the Alfieriano Museum, you can explore the rooms of the noble floor, with the poet’s room being a highlight, furnished with period furniture. The tour also includes rooms that allow you to follow the main stages of his life and artistic activity. Modern technologies enable multimedia consultation of archival documents, viewing an illustrated account of his travels, and watching videos that recreate the staging of his theatrical works.
What to See in Asti: Major Events
Asti is a city that has maintained strong ties with its tradition while adapting to changing times. This is evident in the various events organized throughout the year.
As mentioned earlier, the most significant is undoubtedly the Palio d’Asti, a festival rooted in the Middle Ages. The race, held on the first Sunday of September, features a competition among the 21 districts, villages, and neighboring municipalities of Asti. The rules closely resemble those of the more famous Palio di Siena, and the race now takes place in central Piazza Alfieri. Also interesting is the so-called Paliotto, a competition where the flag-waving groups of Palio participants face off. Until a few years ago, it took place on the Thursday before the Palio, but now it is held in May as part of the celebrations dedicated to San Secondo.
In “September in Asti,” two other events celebrate the city and its province’s wine and gastronomic tradition: the Festival delle Sagre and the Douja d’Or. In the former, 40 pro loco present their specialties, accompanied by Asti DOC wines, in a large open-air restaurant set up in Piazza Campo del Palio. On Sunday morning, there is also a captivating parade in period costumes, featuring animals, tractors, and ancient instruments. This procession keeps alive and celebrates the values of the agricultural tradition of the Asti province.
The latter is an event that awards the best D.O.C. and D.O.C.G. wines in Italy with a douja d’or (in Piedmontese, douja means pitcher). During the opening days, visitors can purchase and taste the award-winning wines. Additionally, they can attend events, meetings, concerts, and savor refined menus of Piedmontese haute cuisine.
Now that you know what to see in Asti, include it in your itinerary. You won’t regret it!
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