One of the most famous events held in Asti is the famous Palio d’Asti, in which all the old town wards, called “Rioni” and “Borghi” plus nearby towns compete in a bare-back horse race.
This event recalls a victory in battle versus the rival city Alba, during the Middle Ages after the victorious battle a race was held around Alba’s walls, from then on every year in Asti.
Rival town Alba spoofs the event with a race of their own — riding asses — in their Palio degli Asini on the first Sunday in October.
Asti’s Palio is the oldest recorded one in Italy, and in modern times is held in the triangular Piazza Alfieri preceded by a medieval pageant through the old town on the 3rd Sunday of September.
Asti was an ancient settlement founded by the Ligurians. In 89 BC, during the rule of Augustus, it became a Roman colony called Hasta Pompeia, a name derived from the measuring rods that were planted on properties belonging to debtors to the public treasury. Asti was subject to many incursions by the Saracens in the eleventh century and was, as a result, entirely rebuilt. Citizens began erecting towers to protect themselves from future invasions and Asti soon became known as the “city of 100 towers.” Only the first-century Torre Rossa (Red Tower) remains from those built during Roman times, although a large number of the towers dating from the eleventh to thirteenth centuries, among the tallest in Piedmont, are still in good condition. These include the clock towers of San Bernardino, the Guttuari, the Solara, and the towers of the Bridge of Lombriasco.
In 1095 Asti became one of Italy’s first free communes, and in 1140 it was granted the right to mint coins. The influence of medieval and flowering Renaissance styles can be seen in the city’s many architectural gems. Fortified palazzos embellished by ogival windows belonged to the city’s noble class. The Rotonda di San Pietro is a glorious Roman monument. The Gothic Duomo was restructured and houses a treasury and a series of frescoes and paintings of great historical significance. The Gothic Collegiate Church of San Secondo was begun in 1256 and finished in 1462 and houses a sixth- or seventh-century crypt.
Asti’s vineyards arabesque is over the hills of the Sinus asticus, a branch of an ancient sea that was the basin upon which the town’s foundations were built. Even more famous than its towers is the wine that is made in Asti. Wine is the principal resource of the town, and residents dedicate body and soul to its production. The Wine Making School of Asti produces master wine makers who teach their art all over the world. The famous Piedmont carnival mask takes its name from the douja, the traditional wooden measure used by cellar masters. Gianduja chocolate derives its name from “Gian da la douja,” which describes the severe but humorous workman, a prickly but convivial character.
One of the many wine festivals in Italy is the Douja d’Or National Wine Festival held each September. The festival awards the best wine of the year and includes tastings, art exhibitions, and a ceremonial procession. It is a wonderful opportunity to sample and purchase the wines and local specialties of Piedmont.
Where to stay in Asti
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Some of most important Italian wines—including the renowned Barolo —are produced in the nearby Langhe (Province of Cuneo). Monferrato generally, which includes the Province of Asti, is an important area for the production of fine wines. But perhaps the wine most famously associated with Asti worldwide is the sparkling Asti Spumante (DOCG).The name today is usually shortened to ‘Asti’ in order to avoid associations with the many wines of dubious quality which are labelled as Spumante. Asti is typically sweet and low in alcohol (often below 8%). It is made solely from the moscato bianco white muscat grape. A premium version known as Moscato d’Asti (DOCG) is seldom seen outside Italy
While Asti province became famous around the world thanks to Martini and Rossi, Gancia and Riccadonna which made commercial wines like Asti Spumante, it is now also becoming famous internationally for its classic red wines such as Barbera d’Asti, Fresia d’Asti, Grignolino d’Asti, Bonarda and Rucha’ di Castagnole Monferrato.These wines and many others can be sampled during the week-long Douja d’Or wine exhibition which is held at the same time as the Palio and Sagre.
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