A Brief Guide to Exploring the Monferrato Village Between Medieval Past and Industrial Archaeology
Are you thinking of visiting the Basso Monferrato? Then read about what to see in Ozzano Monferrato and include it in your itinerary.
Basso Monferrato is rich in villages with origins dating back to the Middle Ages or even earlier. Ozzano Monferrato is undoubtedly one of these, with its roots tracing back several centuries before the year 1000.
Its first mention in a document dates back to the “Acts of St. Evasius” in the 9th and 10th centuries, where it is noted that the inhabitants provided refuge to the then-bishop of Asti, who was soon to be killed by his Arian enemies.
In the subsequent centuries, Ozzano, like all the territories around Casale Monferrato, came under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Vercelli (11th century) and later the Marquisate of Monferrato (12th century). It followed the fate of the marquisate through various dynasties (Aleramici, Paleologi, and Gonzaga) until the arrival of the Savoy.
The few traumatic events Ozzano experienced over the centuries preserved much of its medieval appearance, contributing to the prestigious Orange Flag recognition from the Touring Club.
Additionally, Ozzano gained fame for its lime production due to its unique geological composition, becoming a major lime extraction site for construction since the 17th century.
This industry flourished, making it a primary economic activity in the village until a few decades ago. Consequently, the residents are keen on preserving the cement factory buildings as true gems of industrial archaeology, comparable to the monuments in the historic center.
After this brief introduction, let’s explore the beautiful sights of Ozzano Monferrato.
What to See in Ozzano Monferrato: San Salvatore Church and the Bell Tower
When considering what to see in Ozzano Monferrato, San Salvatore Church immediately comes to mind as an undisputed symbol of the village’s history, along with the nearby Bell Tower.
Situated on a plateau offering a beautiful panorama of the houses below and the surrounding hills, the church features Romanesque forms blending seamlessly with pre-Renaissance elements, a neoclassical tympanum, and an 18th-century door.
Upon entering, visitors are greeted by frescoes from the 15th and 16th centuries, largely attributed to the workshop of Giovanni Martino Spanzotti, the most admired artist in the region. His innovative painting style, influenced by Bolognese and Milanese schools, makes these fresco cycles unique in the Monferrato area in terms of both scope and refinement.
Bell Tower, nestled against the rocky wall and integrated into the castle walls, presents a distinctive feature. Contrary to expectations, it was not a defensive tower later transformed into a bell tower; it was always a bell tower. Built long before the walls extended to reach it, an expert eye can appreciate the Romanesque decorations and the four single-light windows adorning the brick structure, dispelling the common assumption.
Just above San Salvatore Church, the Castle of Ozzano stands atop the hill. Its history dates back to the 9th or 10th century when a fortified manor existed. Its first documented mention is from the 12th century, indicating a fortified castle commissioned by the Marquis of Monferrato. The current structure, seen today, is the result of renovations carried out between the 15th and 19th centuries, transforming the castle into a noble residence.
The property is currently owned by the Visconti family, who occasionally open the beautiful gardens surrounding the palace for guided tours on special occasions like Castle Open Days. Its Italian-style garden, terraced gardens on former fortifications, and its impressive Lebanese cedar are noteworthy features.
If you don’t visit during these special days, take a stroll along the walls. At the entrance gate, remnants of the 15th-century walls with swallowtail merlons are visible. On the west side, Via Rocca reveals the Gentilizia Chapel, while from the churchyard of San Salvatore, you can glimpse a significant portion of the terraced gardens.
Near the Castle, there is also the intriguing Neo-Gothic Church of San Giovanni. Built in 1878 with land granted by the Visconti family and donations from the locals, it was dedicated to the patron saint of Ozzano. Since then, every year on June 24th, the evening Mass in honor of the patron saint takes place.
What to See in Ozzano Monferrato: Medieval Buildings and Views
As mentioned earlier, Ozzano Monferrato has retained much of its medieval fortified village past. One prominent structure is Casa Bonaria-Simonetti on Piazza San Giovanni, the ancient public square. Constructed by the Marchigian Simonetti family in the 15th century, the ground floor exhibits stone blocks and signs of large arches, indicating its commercial and artisanal functions.
The first floor features a protruding wooden terrace, typical of medieval constructions, optimizing living space.
Continuing uphill on Via Battisti reveals more medieval glimpses of the village: a square with a well surrounded by small rural houses and a brick staircase
At the top, Via Rocca, an unpaved road alongside the castle walls, allows a partial view of the Castle and its park. Finally, a segment of the ancient medieval walls can be seen in Via Bianco, particularly in the first stretch. Here, beneath a beautiful palace with a loggia, remnants of the old city walls and a curtain wall tower with ladder decorations are visible, characteristic of Ozzano’s walls.
What to See in Ozzano Monferrato: The Zavattaro Infernot
Did you know that Ozzano is part of the UNESCO core zone of Monferrato Infernots? Infernots are cellars carved directly into the canton stone, often located beneath houses. Therefore, it’s fascinating to visit the Zavattaro Infernot at Via IV Novembre 9.
The visit is free, and the friendly owners narrate the history of the infernot and its construction. Zavattaro Infernot is open every day from 10 AM to 12 PM and from 2:30 PM to 6:30 PM. Occasionally, gastronomic events are organized, offering a taste of authentic Monferrato cuisine.
During our visit, we even had the opportunity to purchase the village’s typical dessert, Biciulant d’Ausant, a large biscuit shaped like a twist traditionally eaten only on Holy Thursday but now available year-round.
Industrial Archaeology and the MiCeM Museum
In the flatter area of the municipality, along the Rio Fontanarola valley, lies the former industrial area where lime and cement factories were concentrated. Beyond the railway line, you can see the imposing structures of the factories with tall brick chimneys of the cement kilns. In the area, you can also find the galleries and lime extraction wells that miners explored for years, along with remnants of the cable cars tirelessly transporting materials.
After the closure of mines and factories, the people of Ozzano kept alive the memory of the years when Ozzano was one of the most important cement production centers. Their efforts led to the opening of MiCeM (Miners and Cement Mines of the Casale Monferrato) in 2020, housed in the former Rossi Cement Factory.
The museum, located in the ex-factory complex, narrates both the genesis of limestone and how its fired form created lime and cement, and the industrial history of the area. From the evolution of extraction techniques to cooking methods and tool usage, it provides insights into the transformation of farmers into miners and workers. We found it an excellent way to breathe life into a disused factory and give recognition to their sacrifices.
Now that you know everything there is to see in Ozzano Monferrato, all that’s left is to decide when to visit