« … Ed Asti repubblicana. Fiera di strage gotica e de l’ira
di Federico, dal sonante fiume ella, o Piemonte, ti donava
il carme novo d’Alfieri. »
(from Piemonte, Giosuè Carducci)
Asti (Ast in Piedmontese dialect) lies in Piedmont. With its 75,910 inhabitants, it is the main town of the province of Asti.
This Roman “Municipium”, known as Hasta Pompeia or simply Hasta, was the seat of the Dukedom of Asti, Longobard dukedom of Neustria. As a free Commune in the Middle Ages, Asti had the right to mint the coin of the dukedom and it became one of the most important commercial towns during the XII and XIII centuries. Its merchants develop commercial and credit relations throughout Europe. It is internationally renowned for its wines, above all Asti spumante. Every year, in September, Asti holds one of the major wine competition in Italy, known as Douja d’Or. Its Palio (historic horse race) is one of the oldest horse shows in Italy: it takes place in September and culminates with a bareback horse race. In recent years, the Festival delle sagre astigiane (Asti Country Fair), a food and wine celebration of the city and its territory, has nationally become a remarkable event. It takes place the week before the Palio of Asti. During this celebration, over 40 local organizations of the province of Asti offer their gastronomic specialties, together with their DOCG wines, in a big open air restaurant which is visited by thousands of people coming from all over Italy every year.
Situated between the Langhe and the hills of Po river, in the heart of the Monferrato along the Tanaro river, Asti is the smallest province in Piedmont and is often represented as a bunch of grapes for its geographical configuration. In fact, grapes is Asti’s main source of income and the reason for its unquestioned pre-eminence in the national wine sector. Its landscape is very diverse: there are hills, valleys, vineyards, meadows and woods among which picturesque towns and castles are immersed. The romantic, gentle hills of Monferrato and the stronger contrasts of the Langhe slope down to the valley of Tanaro river, with its numerous greenhouses and vegetable gardens. This area embodies the hard work and commitment of the locals. The province of Asti includes 120 communes, many of which have less than 500 inhabitants. Castelnuovo Don Bosco lies in the north of the province and is the birthplace of the Salesian Order’s founder and of many other blessed; for its proximity to Turin, this area shares with Piedmont’s capital similar traditions and costumes. The area around Villanova is a growing industrial and competitive agricultural district; Moncalvo, in the heart of the Monferrato, is an historic and cultural centre; Canelli is an international wine centre, renowned for Asti Spumante; finally the Langhe, with the beautiful communes of Bubbio and Monastero Bormida and the higher buttresses of San Giorgio Scarampi and Roccaverano, features a more typical mountain landscape, due to its numerous pastures. In the very heart of its province, Asti boasts a millenary history and a man-friendly centre .
THE PALIO OF ASTI: the word Palio literally indicates a large crimson velvet cloth that depicts the coat of arms of Asti and San Secondo, Patron Saint of the town; but Palio is also the great horse race which takes place in September with 21 participants representing 14 town wards and 7 Communes of the province.
This historic event dates back to 1275, when the inhabitants of Asti used to organize it in honour of their Patron Saint.
There are 7 horses for the three preliminary heats and 9 for the final: the dream of thousands of fans is obviously the victory. The winners will be mad with joy and they will immediately forget all the efforts done throughout the year: the hard work to study and prepare the precious costumes for the historic pageant, the dedication to organize the great propitiatory dinners held on the eve of the race or to create flags and banners. All these activities are rewarded by the dreamed crimson velvet cloth, that the Rettore (the most important figure inside the ward) holds in his hands:
the Palio… The most fascinating element for the visitors who assist to the Palio it’s the historic pageant, with over 1200 characters in medieval costumes.
Thanks to the accuracy of the historical research, the richness of the costumes and the ability of the experts to precisely recreate the fashions of medieval times, this pageant is an extraordinary and unique event.
The pageant is characterized by tableaux vivant, which represent real facts in the history of Asti: so you will see nobles and countrymen, soldiers and men of the cloth, ladies-in-waiting and knights which for one day will populate the town again showing the everyday life of seven centuries ago.
FESTIVAL DELLE SAGRE (Country Fair): Asti and its province are internationally renowned for their wines. As a tribute to these excellent ambassadors, since 1974 the Festival delle Sagre is held on the second Sunday of September, under the aegis of Douja d’Or: it’s a great festive occasion, which has been defined as “the most truthful representation of peasant life”. Over 40 local organizations of the province of Asti offer their gastronomic specialties, with Asti DOC wines, in an open air restaurant enriched by the typical wine glasses, dishes and cutlery in biodegradabile materials, parasol and colourful tableclothes: this perfect mix of tradition and modernity, together with the cabins set up by the local organizations, gives to the square that hosts this event a cheerful atmosphere. An incredible pageant that winds its way through the town contributes to make the Festival delle Sagre a truly memorable day: over three thousand people take part in, with authentic period costumes, vintage farm tractors and farming tools which represent the values and traditions of this beautiful land.
For those who love the simple and genuine aspects of peasant life, with its stories, characters and customs to hand down, this pageant is a not-to-be-missed event.
DOUJA D’OR: the province of Asti is one of the few, true Wine Lands in Italy. For this reason the “Douja d’Or”, one of the most important and famous wine competition in Italy, is held in Asti for over 30 years; it takes place in September and it is organized by the Chamber of Commerce of Asti.
Douja is the term in Piemontese dialect that indicates the traditional wide jug used for holding wines.
ASSEDIO DI CANELLI (Siege of Canelli): it is an historical pageant which takes place in the town of Canelli, on the third weekend of June. It recalls a well-known historical event: the siege of Canelli by the army of Carlo Gonzaga, Duke of Nevers, occurred in 1613 during the wars of succession for the Marquisate of Monferrato.
This unique event starts on Saturday afternoon: the town is closed, inns and taverns are opened to the public and 4000 characters populate the pageant.
In the evening the inns and taverns offer their dishes with authentic period recipes.
On Sunday the enemies assault the town, but they are blocked by the inhabitants, which celebrate their victory with songs and dances.