|Asti is a city and comune in the Piemonte or Piedmont region, in north-western Italy, about 55 kilometres east of Turin in the plain of the Tanaro River. It is the capital of the province of Asti.
Ancient times and early Middle Ages
In 124 BC the Romans built a castrum, or fortified camp, which eventually evolved into a full city named Hasta. In 89 BC the city received the status of colonia, and in 49 BC that of municipium. Asti become an important city of the Augustan Regio IX, favoured by its strategic position on the Tanaro river and on the Via Fulvia, which linked Derthona (Tortona) to Augusta Taurinorum (Turin). Other roads connected the city to the main passes for what are today Switzerland and France.
After a first victorious defence against the Visigoths in 402 AD, thanks to a massive line of walls, Hasta suffered for the barbarian invasions which stormed Italy after the fall of the Western Empire, and declined economically. In the second half of the 6th century it was chosen as seat for one of the 36 Duchies in which the Lombards divided Italy. The territory of Asti comprised a wide area, stretching out to Albenga and the Maritime Alps. This remained when northern Italy was conquered by the Franks in 774, with the title of County.
In the late Carolingian age Asti was ruled directly by his bishops, who were the main landlords of the area. Most important are Audax (904-926) and Bruningus (937-966), who moved the episcopal seat to the Castel Vecchio ("Old Castle"), where it remained until 1409. The bishopric of Asti remained a powerful entity well into the 11th century, when Pietro II received huge privileges by emperor Henry II. In the second half of the century, Bishop Otto tried to resist the aims of the powerful countess Adelaide of Susa, who damaged the city several times. During Otto's reign, a commune and the consul magistrates are mentioned for the first time (1095).
The 13th century saw the peak of the Astigiani splendour, only momentaneously hindered by wars against Alba, Alessandria, Savoy, Milan (which sieged the city in 1230) and the Marquesses of Montferrat and Saluzzo. In particular, the commune aimed to gain control over the lucrative trade routes leading northwards from the Ligurian ports. During the wars led by Emperor Frederick II in northern Italy, the city chose his side: Asti was defeated by the Guelphs of Alessandria at Quattordio and Clamandrana, but thanks to Genoese help could recover easily. After Frederick's death, the struggle against Thomas II of Savoy became fierce: the Astigiani defeated him on February 23, 1255, at Montebruno, but Thomas (who had been taken prisoner) replied ordering all traders from Asti to be arrested in Savoy and France. This move showed the proccupation of the neighbouring states for the excessive power gained by the city, which had captured Alba and controlled both Chieri and Turin.
This led to the intervention of Charles I of Anjou, then King of Naples and the most powerful man in Italy. After some guerrilla actions, Asti signed a pact of alliance with Pavia, Genoa and William VII of Montferrat. In 1274 the Astigiani troops were defeated at Cossano, but, on December 12, 1275, were victorious over the Angevines at Roccavione, ending every Charles' attempt to expand in Piedmont. In the 1290s, after the defeat of William VII also, Asti was the most powerful city of Piedmont. However, inner struggles for the control of trading and bank enterprises, soon divided the city in factions. The most prominent was that of the powerful bankers of the Solaro family, who, in 1314, gave the city to king Robert of Naples. The free Republic of Asti ceased to exist. In 1339 the Ghibelline exiles recaptured the city, expelling the Solaro and their helpers. In 1342 however, the menace of the Solaro counter-offensive led the new rulers to submit to Luchino Visconti of Milan. Visconti built a citadel and a second ring of walls to protect the new burgs of the city. In 1345, in the Battle of Gamenario, the Ghibelline Astigiani and John II of Montferrat defeated again the Neapolitan troops. John also ruled over Asti until 1372, but seven years later the city council submitted to Galeazzo II Visconti's authority. Galeazzo in turn assigned it to Louis of Valois, Duke of Orléans.
French and Savoy domination
Asti was one of the main Savoy strongholds in the following wars. In 1616, besieged by the Spanish governor of Milan, it was defended by Duke Charles Emmanuel I himself. In 16301631 the city suffered heavy losses for a plague, and some years later was conquered by the Spanish, although Savoy regained it in 1643. Another unsuccessful Spanish siege occurred in 1650. In the November 1703, during the War of Spanish Succession, Asti fell to France again: it was reconquered in 1705 by Victor Amadeus II. In 1745 French troops invaded it once more, but was freed the following year.
In 1797 the Astigiani, raged by the continuous military campaigns and by poor economic situation, revolted against the Savoy government. On July 28 the Repubblica Astese was declared. However, it was suppressed only two days later. The revolutionary chiefs were arrested and executed. The following year the Savoy were expelled by Piedmont by the French revolutionary army, and Asti was occupied by general Montrichard. After a short reversal, the French returned after the victory at Marengo (1800) near to Alessandra: Napoleon himself visited Asti on April 29, 1805, but was received rather coldly by the citizens, and the city was demoted and incorporated with Alessandra under the department of Marengo. After the end of the French empire, Asti returned to Piedmont in 1814, and followed its history until the founding of the unification of Italy in 1861.
The area to the NW of the city, between the centre and the Cathedral, is very rich in medieval palaces and merchants houses, many with monumental towers. Asti was known as the city of 100 towers (although there were 120 in total) of which several still remain today within the old city walls. The most known are the Tower of the Comentini (13th century), the octagonal Torre de Regibus and Torre Troyana (13th century), as well as the ancient Rossa di San Secondo, built during the reign of the Roman Emperor Augustus.
Asti is the home to several old churches.
Arguably Italy's most important red wines, the renowned Barolo's, Barbaresco's are produced in the nearby Langhe, in Cuneo province, nearer to Alba, 30 minutes from Asti. Most of the Monferrato lies in the Province of Asti, and is an equally, though not so famous, important area for the production of fine wines. 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. Besides Asti Spumante being the most known wine abroad, the most renowned wine made in Asti and Monferrato is the red wine called Barbera.
While Asti province became famous around the world thanks to Martini and Rossi, Gancia and Ricadonna 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 Ruchè 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.
Asti province becomes a gourmands delight from October to December in the white truffle or "tartufo bianco" season. Although neighbouring Alba is better known for its October truffle fair, some of the best truffles are found around Asti's hills, and every weekend there is a local truffle festival.