Exploring the Beautiful Medieval Village of Monticello d’Alba in the Heart of Roero
Are you in Roero and have a penchant for medieval villages? Well, read on and discover what to see in Monticello d’Alba, a beautiful Roero village!
When visiting Roero, Monticello d’Alba is a must-see. It’s a village with a long and captivating history, perched on a steep hill where cars struggle to ascend. In fact, we had to use first gear at some points during the climb (well, we were driving a compact car). Despite this, it doesn’t take too long to reach it from the Langhe and the rest of Roero. As you may have gathered from the previous lines, its name, Monticello, derives from the hill it sits upon. For those living in the nearby Tanaro Valley, it must have appeared as a genuine mountain.
The Village’s History
The town’s origin is likely Roman, as most villages in the area were already present during the imperial era. However, there are few records until the late Middle Ages. It’s plausible that the valley’s population had already relocated to the hill in the centuries preceding the year 1000 to escape numerous raids by Hungarians and Saracens. The first concrete information dates back to 1100-1200 when it was one of the most important possessions of the Bishop of Asti, who ruled over the Roero region at that time. In 1241, it was entrusted to the Malabaila family, one of Asti‘s wealthiest, but it suffered terrible devastation. In fact, in 1250, a fierce war between Asti and Alba for control of the area led to Monticello’s destruction.
The village was rebuilt, and in 1376, it came under the ownership of the Roero family, thanks to Pope Gregory XI’s intervention. The previous feudal lords were expelled in a popular uprising supported by the Roeros. The relationship with the new lords was certainly better and was regulated by statutes of good governance and freedom, which are still visible in the castle. The bond between the Roero family and Monticello has remained intact to this day. After the somewhat turbulent initial centuries, the village no longer experienced significant devastation, and many of its medieval beauties have been well-preserved.
Now that you have a glimpse of the village’s history, let’s explore what to see in Monticello d’Alba.
What to See in Monticello d’Alba: The Roero Castle
The most significant attraction in Monticello d’Alba and a symbol of the strong bond between the Roero family and the village is undoubtedly the Roero Castle. Apart from being one of the best-preserved castles in Piedmont, it serves as a tangible connection to the Roero family and the village. Over the centuries, especially after the region came under the rule of the House of Savoy, the Roeros permanently relocated to Turin, the capital. However, they never ceased to summer in the castle, adorning it with beautiful gardens and decorated rooms. In recent years, a significant part of the structure has been opened to the public on weekends. In our view, this was another generous gesture by the Roeros towards the village, which is now always bustling with visitors.
Roero Castle is located at the highest point of the village hill, and to reach it, you must climb two long and fairly steep ramps. Upon reaching the top, you are faced with the main facade, flanked by two towers, one square and one circular. In the center, a staircase leads to the entrance portal. Here, there used to be a drawbridge that allowed direct access to the inner courtyard.
In the 1700s, a room was added, which is now the Armory Hall, displaying armor and weapons from various eras belonging to the family. On the same floor, you will find the Chapel of Saint Barbara, still consecrated, the Fruit Theater, a small puppet theater, and the cellars.
On the upper floor is the castle’s noble floor. Here, you can visit the Portrait Gallery, featuring portraits of the most important family members and the coats of arms of families with whom the Roeros formed marital alliances. Adjacent rooms include the Billiards Room, where the counts and their guests enjoyed playing, and the Canopied Bedchamber. It showcases numerous interesting objects from daily life in the 19th century. The most astonishing room in the castle, in our opinion, is the Diana Gallery. This is a brightly lit 18th-century room, entirely frescoed with images reminiscent of the goddess Diana and hunting scenes. Through a door, you finally enter the inner courtyard, which has retained its appearance from the 14th century and hosts concerts and culturally inspiring events.
What to See in Monticello d’Alba: The Church of San Ponzio and the Immaculate Conception
At the foot of the castle, you’ll find the small historic center of Monticello d’Alba. Here, the Church of San Ponzio and the Immaculate Conception stand out with their brick façade and tall bell tower. The latter is the only survivor of the ancient Oratory of Santa Maria in Piazza, which was built in Lombard Gothic style and featured elegant pointed arches. The church was reconstructed in the 17th century and dedicated to San Ponzio, the town’s patron saint. In 1718, it was further enlarged and consecrated to the Immaculate Conception.
The single-nave interior is beautifully decorated in Baroque style without excessive embellishments. The church houses five altars, with the most notable being the one dedicated to San Francesco, owned by the Roero Counts and containing the family’s tomb. Its finely crafted stucco structure displays three paintings dedicated to Saint Francis, Saint Augustine, and Saint Catherine of Alexandria. The other four altars also showcase very interesting paintings that we recommend admiring with particular attention
What to See in Monticello d’Alba: The Chapel of San Ponzio and Its Frescoes
A little over a kilometer from the historic center, there’s another place we recommend seeing in Monticello d’Alba: the Chapel of San Ponzio. This ancient 10th-century church is located in Villa, inside the cemetery, where the village once stood. Until the 12th century, it was the parish church. In the following centuries, its length was reduced, and a rather unassuming new facade was constructed. Nevertheless, original masonry can still be seen on the sides, alternating between rows of bricks and river pebbles laid in a herringbone pattern.
However, it’s the interior that warrants a visit. There, you can admire the oldest frescoes in the Albese territory. As soon as you enter, you’ll be captivated by the image of the Crucifixion, painted behind the altar by an artist influenced by Lombard Gothic art. The figures of Christ on the cross, with the Madonna and Saint John on either side, stand out for their composure and elegance in their gestures
To the right of the altar, you’ll find the figure of San Ponzio, painted probably between the 10th and 11th centuries. The saint, of African origin, is depicted with dark skin while holding a consecrated host and a closed book. There is another figure beside him, likely Saint Benedict, whose monks were prevalent in the area.
To the left of the altar, Saint Eligius is portrayed, the patron saint of blacksmiths, farriers, and watchmakers. This is evident from the tools used by these craftsmen, including a small hammer, a nailbox, and a horseshoe. The chapel is part of the “Chiese a Porte Aperte” circuit, accessible every day from 9 AM to 6 PM via a dedicated app.
Other Interesting Sites in the Historic Center
As mentioned earlier, the historic center is quite small and compact. However, for those who appreciate ancient villages, it can hold pleasant surprises.
- Ancient Merlata Gate, which must be passed to reach the village square and was once part of the city walls.
- Ethnographic Museum, where you can admire antique tools and photographs that provide insight into life in the village in past centuries. The section dedicated to silk farming, a significant source of income for many farming families, is particularly interesting.
- the Portico with a view of the valley below, a cool and relaxing spot to enjoy the landscape.;
- “Frammenti,” a monumental work conceived and created by Valerio Berruti to requalify a reinforced concrete wall that clashed with the surroundings. One hundred bas-reliefs depicting children and ivy, which, if left untrimmed, risked covering them, send a message to encourage the culture of public property protection.Frammenti of Valerio Berruti
Therefore, we invite you to take your time and savor the atmosphere that every corner of Monticello can offer.
Now that you know all the places to see in Monticello d’Alba, all that remains is for you to decide when to visit.