Exploring the Small Roero Village of Santa Vittoria d’Alba: A Brief Itinerary Just a Stone’s Throw from Alba
Are you planning to visit Alba and interested in exploring the surrounding areas? If so, read on to discover what to see in Santa Vittoria d’Alba, a charming Roero village.
Santa Vittoria d’Alba is a small Roero village on the border with Langhe, overlooking the Valle Tanaro below. As you drive along the road connecting Alba and Bra, you’ll easily spot the castle tower and the bell tower towering over the rock. Intrigued, we ventured there during one of our excursions in the Langhe and Roero, and we were pleasantly impressed. In a few paragraphs, you’ll understand why!
The Village’s History
But first, as always, let’s delve into its history, as understanding it can enhance your appreciation of what you’ll see during your visit. First of all, why is it called Santa Vittoria? There are two versions of the story, both of which may hold some truth. The first, and perhaps more logical, links the name to the strong devotion to Santa Vittoria in the early centuries of Christianity. The second, more intriguing, refers to an unspecified victory of the Roman army over their enemies. In honor of this, the hill where the village stands was named Victoria, and in the Christian era, it received the appellation “sancta.”
Regarding the Roman era, scholars have found numerous traces of settlements in the municipal territory of Santa Vittoria during that period. Due to the proximity of two significant cities, Alba and Pollenzo, a thriving pottery industry, producing high-quality amphoras for the local wine, had developed.
With the fall of the Roman Empire, Santa Vittoria experienced a period of decline, but by the year 1000, it had regained some importance. Its strategic location made it a frequent battleground between the communes of Asti and Alba, leading to the construction of a “castrum” (castle) for defense. In the 14th century, it came under the rule of the Visconti, Dukes of Milan, who later granted it as a fief to Antonio Romagnano. The Romagnano family retained control until the 18th century when it was granted to Luigi Caissotti by the House of Savoy, who eventually became its direct owners in the same century.
Now, you’re ready to discover what to see in Santa Vittoria d’Alba!
What to See in Santa Vittoria d’Alba: The Castle
As is often the case in many villages, the first thing to see in Santa Vittoria d’Alba is the castle. It’s easy to spot, with its tall square, crenelated tower, and a convenient parking area in front where you can leave your car or motorcycle.
The castle has a long history dating back to approximately the year 1000 when there was likely already a wooden fortification on its site. In 1207, the Municipality of Alba decided to construct a fortress with a tower and thick brick walls to control the road to Bra. This action was strongly contested by the Bishop of Asti, who had territorial ambitions, resulting in numerous conflicts between the two cities. After about a century of strife, the castle, in rather poor condition, was acquired by the Visconti, who ordered its restoration. The walls surrounding the castle were reinforced, which still encircle it today, and the tower was raised.
After the Visconti assigned it to the Romagnano family, the castle was equipped with drawbridges, artillery pieces, and an armed garrison. Over the centuries, however, the structure began to slowly deteriorate and became largely uninhabitable, despite passing into the possession of the House of Savoy in the 18th century.
In the 1970s, the castle was purchased and transformed into a renowned hotel with a restaurant in the area. So, if you want to experience the castle’s atmosphere from the inside, you need to be a guest at the facility.
What to See in Santa Vittoria d’Alba: The Bell Tower
Not far from the entrance of the castle is the Bell Tower. It’s in a somewhat peculiar location, perched on the cliff overlooking the valley and not near a church or a palace.
The explanation is quite simple: the tower was built during the restoration of the fortifications commissioned by the Visconti to oversee the side of the rock that couldn’t be seen from the castle tower.
Over the centuries, it served various functions, such as a meeting point for contract negotiations or announcements of important decisions for the community. With the addition of bells, it was also used to alert people to fires in the village and announce religious functions.
Today, you’ll notice its square shape, and the large clock, connected to the bells, chimes the hours. On one of the facades, you can also see an old sundial, almost erased by time, likely drawn long before the arrival of the mechanical clock. From its base, you can enjoy an excellent view of the Tanaro Valley and the hills of Langhe.
What to See in Santa Vittoria d’Alba: The Church of the Confraternity of San Francesco
On the opposite side of the village is the primary reason we decided to visit Santa Vittoria: the Church of the Confraternity of San Francesco. As art enthusiasts, we had heard about the cycle of frescoes it contains and inquired about how to admire them. We found out that, thanks to the “Chiese a Porte Aperte” app, it is accessible every day from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. You can book your entry time, and once you arrive, a QR code automatically opens the entrance door. Once inside, you can choose your language, and an explanation of the frescoes and the church’s history begins. We found this to be an interesting way to allow access to such a beautiful treasure that would otherwise often remain closed.
The exterior of the church is quite simple, and without a sign, it would be challenging to recognize it as a church. The interior, however, is truly beautiful. The cycle of frescoes that visually narrates the stories of the Passion of Christ is displayed along the walls and covers a length of 34 meters. You are literally surrounded by the scenes.
We were particularly struck by the Crucifixion and the Washing of the Feet scenes. Unfortunately, the author of these works is still unknown, but it is presumed to be from the Provencal school and was active in the church towards the end of the 15th century.
The Church of San Rocco
Another church you can visit in Santa Vittoria d’Alba thanks to the “Chiese a Porte Aperte” app is the Church of San Rocco. This small chapel is located just below the Confraternity of San Francesco, in the area where the old village cemetery used to be. It was built in the 18th century to replace the old parish church of Santa Vittoria. The exterior is very simple with exposed bricks.
The interior, on the other hand, is entirely decorated with trompe-l’oeil frescoes that add an interesting touch of color. Here, you can see two tomb chambers of the feudal Romagnano family, which were saved from the demolition of the old church, along with a permanent exhibition. This exhibition is dedicated to the distinguished citizen of the village, Carlo Giuseppe Bertero, who was a physician, botanist, and physicist.
What to See in Santa Vittoria d’Alba: The Church of the Blessed Assumption
At the Santa Vittoria village level, there is another place that might interest you and is worth a visit in our opinion: the Church of the Blessed Assumption. The current parish of the town preserves an important work inside, which was once located in the Confraternity of San Francesco. This is an altarpiece attributed to Macrino d’Alba and his workshop, depicting the Madonna and Child with Saint Francis and Saint Vittoria. In the lower section, the four evangelists are also depicted.
The work is an excellent example of the high-quality local painting from the 15th and 16th centuries.
In the church, you can also find other valuable works, including the paintings on the vault and the lunette at the rear by the Monregalese painter Antonio Vinay, as well as the main marble altar that precedes the splendid wooden choir that occupies the entire presbytery.
The Turriglio: A Monument from the Roman Era
As the last place to see in Santa Vittoria d’Alba, we’ve decided to mention the Turriglio. This relic from the Roman era is located in the Cinzano Fraction, specifically on the road leading to the Santa Vittoria railway station. In the past, two vital roads intersected here, one connecting Asti with Pollenzo and the other linking Alba to Cuneo.
From its name, you can deduce that it has the shape of a circular tower, or at least, what remains of it suggests so. There are two hypotheses about its function: