Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Asti, a city of nobles, of writers and of sparkling wine.

From Alba, we followed the Tanaro river, first going west over to Pollenzo as we reported in our last post, and then  backtracked , following again the Tanaro river, this time  upstream, going north east, past Neive, past Barbaresco, and arriving to a city  called Hasta Pompeia in Roman times. Hasta in Latin means spear of Javelin, but today this city is simply known as Asti.
Statue of Vittorio Alfieri in
Piazza Vittorio Alfieri
When Estela and I decided that we had to include Asti as part of our pilgrimage along the Via Francigena in the Piedmont region of Italy, it was motivated more out of curiosity, and our love for its famous vini spumanti or sparkling wines, especially the Asti Moscato. Little did we realize that Asti is much more than sparkling wine.

Torre Comentina, Piazza Roma,
When we arrived in our van, traveling north from Pollenzo, we realized as we started to enter the downtown area of Asti that parking was limited, and that many of the streets would be more comfortable for us to visit on foot, so when we asked around for a good parking lot, we were told to look for Piazza Alfieri (first picture in this post). Who was Alfieri?

Monument Unità d'Italia, Piazza Roma, Asti
Alfieri wrote in his autobiography "Vita scritta da esso": "In the city of Asti, in Piedmont, on January 17th of the year 1749, I was born of noble, wealthy and honest parents". His father died when he was one year old, and his mother remarried. He was educated in his palace in Asti, but by the time he turned 18, he began one of passions of his life, travel: France, London, Holland. This passion led to his passion for writing. He is buried alongside Michelangelo, Machiavelli and Gallileo in the Basilica di Santa Croce, in Florence. 

Santuario di San Giuseppe,
Piazza Fratelli Cairoli

Asti is in the heart of the Monferrato region, famous for its red wine, the Barbera di Asti, as well as its sparkling white wines and Moscato. Many compare the Asti sparkling white wines with French Champagne, or with the Cavas of Barcelona, but each one has a different origin, a different process, and a different gastronomical setting.

Sparkling white wine of Asti

The Asti sparkling wines are a marvelous everyday wine, while the Cava is drier sparkling wine, and Champagne is more formal. Champagne ferments in the bottle, and the bottle, set upside down, must be turned regularly.

A "Spritz" is a popular early
evening drink at cafes and bars
in Italy, made with an "bitter"
or low alcoholic (or even a 
zero alcoholic) drink, and
sometimes it they add an
"Asti secco" sparkling white
wine, and a piece of lemon.
Super refreshing! Order one on
your next stop at an Italian bar!
In many cases (but not always),  the Asti sparkling wines are ferment under pressure, in the stainless steel tanks. Italians not only drink Asti sparkling wines during special occasions, such as Christmas dinner or il Pranzo Pasquale (Easter Luncheon), but right before lunch or as a mid-afternoon cocktail, such as a "Spritz" (see above picture). Here you would use a "Asti secco" instead of a "Prosecco".

Equestrian Statue of Umberto I
Piazza Fratelli Cairoli.

Asti was an important commercial city throughout the middle ages, as it was on the crossroads to France, Switzerland, and the Holy Roman Empire.

Façade of the Collegiata di
San Secondo

Saint Secundus (San Secondo) is the patron saint of Asti. Saint Secundus was born in the first century.

The side of the Basilica of San Secondo offers us
Splendid example of Piedmont Gothic style
Estela and I overlooked the possibility of entering into this Church, which contains the relics of the martyr and patron of Asti. Something we will leave as a pending item for our next trip to Asti.
Here is a closer view of the dome of this Basilica
a jewel of Piedmont Gothic style architecture
with its pinnacles crowning the dome,
Saint Secundus born of a Patrician family, became a high ranking officer in the Roman Legion, converted to Christianity, and beheaded by orders of the Emperor Hadrian, when he refused to recant his belief in Christ.

Estela strolling down the elegant
pedestrian walkway of Benso
di Cavour, with the Piazza
Statuto and its Torre dei
Guttuari in the background.
If you are in the vicinity of the Monferrato, take the time to come see a relaxed and enjoyable Piedmont city: Asti. I have been told that the Palio is really worth seeing. It will be time well spent!!!.  

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