Asti is one of the cities, or comunes, in the province of Piedmont, in the North of Italy. As with most parts of the country and neighbouring regions, the Romans occupied and developed a city in Asti; the comune continue to prosper in medieval times, a fact that can be witnessed in its constructions, specially religious ones. Nowadays the Piedmont is considered the richest province of Italy, where most of the country’s factories are – in nearby Alba are the Ferrero offices.
I have compiled some historical facts that should make your trip to Asti a bit more interesting.
Roman occupation dates back to 174 BC; in 49 BC the city receive the status of municipium, meaning that its citizens could be considered Roman citizens as well. The city was known then as Hasta Pompeia, and it was considered one of the most important cities in the Liguria region during the reign of emperor Augustus (c. 7BC) due to the river that enabled the quick connection between Dertona (currently known as Tortona) and Augusta Taurinorum (Turin).
From Roman times there’s the Torre Rossa di San Secondo (St. Secondo’s Red Tower); according to tales, the tower, which was built in the 1st century AD, was the last prison in San Secondo’s martyrdom. The tower’s received some additions some centuries later, but nothing that spoils the
sense of historical awe.
The Bishopric years
In the 10th century Asti was ruled by the bishops; being a Diocese since as early as the 3rd century, it was only natural that the resident clergy would control the area. During Bishop Otto’s reign (1095) there’s the first mention of a consul from the city-state, thus making Asti the first Republic in Europe.
As expected, the remnants of bishopric years are the churches: there’s the Complesso del Battistero di San Pietro, or San Pietro in Consavia (The Church of Saint Peter), which is a rotunda – a round church – and its foundations were built around the year 1000; the Santa Maria Nuova (New St. Mary’s Church) – the New in the title is to differentiate it from the older Cathedral dedicated to the mother of Christ –, which dates from 1009; and Sant’Anastasio Church, Crypt and Museum, whose construction began in the 8th century.
The years during which Asti was a free republic might not have been many, but they definitely left their mark upon the city. From 1095 to 1372 (roughly and arguably) the city experienced a rise in economical power and was involved in many wars over political power and influence.
Most notably, the period has left a whole array of towers – reason why Asti was coined “the city of a hundred towers” (though there are more than one hundred). Though most towers are closed, you can climb the Torre Troyana(or Clock Tower), from the 13thcentury; the Torre Comentina (Tower of the Comentini, also from the 13th century), built by the Comentina, a very influential family during the republic; and the Torre de Regibus, which is from the 13th century as well, and is the only octagonal tower in Asti.
In the 16th century Asti became part of the Savoy dominion. A very powerful family, the Savoys were able to deflate many Spanish attempts to take over the city. During the Napoleonic Wars Asti was briefly part of the French Empire; when it was dissolved, the city was returned to the Piedmont.
Albeit not as numerous as the medieval ones there are some buildings left from this period: the church of Santa Caterina, build between 1766 and 1773 by orders of Carlo Emanuele III di Savoia, in baroque style; and the Palazzo Mazzeti (the Mazzeti Palace), an older building remodelled in the 1600s that now houses the Pinacoteca (Art Gallery) and the City Museum.