From Alba Pompeia to the capital of the Langhe

Back to the magazine

All articles

Alto contrasto Aumenta dimensione carattere Leggi il testo dell'articolo

Inhabited in the Neolithic era by hunters and farmers, Alba preserves many prehistoric finds in the archaeological site in the city centre.  

The oldest populations that have alternated and are known are the Celts, the Ligurians, the Gauls since the fifth century. Al 190 BC the Roman penetration dates back to the annexation into the empire. From 89 BC Alba enjoys the ius Latii (it could elect magistrates and priests), a right granted to social war ended, by Gneo Pompeo Strabone. From him the name of Alba Pompeia. Some remains of mosaic pavement and architectural fragments in marble suggest a rich urban structure (from the aqueduct to the sewer system) as early as the first century BC The Roman forum was the current Piazza del Duomo. The maximum cardo followed roughly the North-South route (Via Vittorio Emanuele Il and Via Vernazza), while the decumanus was on the East-West route (via Vida, via Cavour).

The city was protected by an imposing polygonal wall. Caesar Augustus was hosted in the Gaul. Here was born Publius Elvio Pertinace emperor in 193. Alba followed the fate of the empire of which she made doors. With the weakening of the Government of Rome, Alba also declined. From the fifth century – in the times of Odoacre and Teodorico – pagan buildings were transformed into Christian churches. First invaded by the Burgundians and then by the Longobards of King Rotari, the municipality of Alba lost its count which was replaced by a Longobard Gastaldo. After improvements under Charlemagne, Alba is threatened by Saracens and Hungarians. ln this period (900) the diocese was suppressed and combined with that of Asti. In 1158 Federico Barbarossa arrived here. From 1200 the Municipality expanded with the urbanization: the landowners ceded their lands to the Municipality obtaining the citizenship. The municipality strengthened the boundary wall by equipping it with battlement towers. Monasteries, churches and even six hospitals are founded. The Municipality drawn up the first statutes, including that book of the Catena, still preserved in the Town Hall. The guilds of the Arts and Crafts were founded, gathering all the artisans and merchants, have a bearing on the administration of the Municipality and of justice. Even then the market was held on Saturday, four annual fairs. In 1214 St. Francis of Assisi was received in Alba by Bishop Bonifacio II del Carretto, and here the Umbrian saint founded a convent. From the middle of the thirteenth century the city had dominance over Barbaresco, Neive, Santa Vittoria, the county of Loreto. This contrasted with Asti. The rivalries between the Guelphs and the Ghibellines also disturbed the order. In 1259 at the arrival of Carlo d’Angiò, Alba asked for submission to France, in order to keep Asti in check for twenty years. In 1276 there was then a removal from French politics, for the alliance with the Marquis of Monferrato and with Genoa. Intrigues, clashes, betrayals between the two pro-imperial and pro-pope factions characterized the ‘300 Albese until 1369, when the city came under the dominion of the Marquis of Monferrato. In the fifteenth century it was under the Savoy and then returned to the Monferrato. The first half of the 1500s was the scene of clashes between the Spanish and the French. In 1537 Charles V, emperor of Spain, entered Alba.

After the peace of Cateau – Cambrésis signed on 3rd April 1559 Alba was assigned to the Gonzaga of Mantua. In the sixteenth century there were earthquakes: in 1541 until 1549 several telluric settlements made themselves felt in the Albese, contributing to making even the already precarious economic conditions worse. An economic recovery was instead recorded in the second half of the 16th century thanks to the urbanization favoured by the dukes of Mantua with the pardon of debts, concessions and favours to those who came to live in Alba. When Francesco Gonzaga died, Carlo Emanuele I of Savoy who aspired to the domain of Monferrato, sacked Alba on April 23, 1613. The dominion of the Savoy lasted a few months. Alba was then returned to the Gonzaga family, allied to Philip III of Spain, the Duke of Nevers, the Grand Duke of Tuscany and the Republic of Venice. From 1628 the Savoy finally appropriated the city of a hundred towers.

The seventeenth-century plague described by Manzoni did not leave Alba immune (1630). The inhabitants were decimated, so much so that the two municipal councils could not even be reunited, whose number decreased from 24 to 15 and from 8 to 6 by order of the duke Vittorio Amedeo I who succeeded Carlo Emanuele I. In the meantime Vittorio Amedeo elevated Alba to provincial headquarters and granted privileges. At his death the regency passed to his wife Cristina of France who intervened in favour of the capital of the Langhe with concessions and concessions. Dawn at the end of the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries had to support the passing troops, until in 1706 the French, defeated in Turin, put an end to the fighting. In 1771 another earthquake shocked Alba. And then at the end of the century the ideals of the French Revolution were also breathed in this provincial town. The tree of liberty was erected in the Piazza del Duomo. On 28th April 1796 Napoleon entered Alba. But France soon asked the city for very high taxes for the Napoleonic wars. The inhabitants protested and Luigi Paruzza was shot. When Napoleon fell and went back to the throne, Emanuele I, returned to the status quo. King Carlo Felice completed the monastery of the Magdalene, returning it to the Dominicans and arranged the Alba-Savona road which passed through Cortemilia. In 1847 Carlo Alberto had a masonry bridge built on the Tanaro. In the last world war Alba participated in the Resistance, constituted an independent government enough to deserve the gold medal for military valour.

What to do

The towers

They constitute the dominant element for the city slender shape, visible from a distance. Built between 300 and 400 by local noble families, they had a dual function. They were a sign of distinction between the most powerful lords of the city (Folletti. De Braida, Corradenghi, De Morozzo) and means of sighting and signalling for the safety of the Municipality. In the past they were much more numerous, so much so as to justify the title given to Alba by “Città delle Cento Torri”. Today there are only a few left. The others have been torn down or lowered to the level of the roofs. However, those that are seen are not the oldest. In fact there is news that already in 1100 there were towers in Piazza del Duomo. Today the towers overlooking the Piazza del Duomo are the highest and best preserved.

City ​​Hall

It was built on Roman walls and it has undergone several transformations. Outside, the terracotta arches and the cross vaults resting on the columns of the portico are valuable. On the side of the main arch you can see a marble plaque dating back to the end of 1600. On the walls of the wide staircase that leads into the building there are two groups of frescoes from the Church of San Domenico. In the order they represent: a Deposition, the Magdalene on the background of fifteenth-century architecture, San Domenico and San Francesco. In front of figures of friars, Adoration of the Magi, Saint John the Evangelist, next to a Dominican friar. The council chamber is full of paintings including the “Virgin enthroned” by Macrinus with the Child holding an apple, between San Francesco d ‘Assisi, San Tommaso d’Aquino and two ladies who are supposed to be a Marchioness of Monferrato and the daughter, cousins ​​of Annibale Paleologo. The style of the 1501 painting is Lombard-pre-Leonardo. On the opposite wall to the Macrino table there is a Baroque painting: “Concerto” attributed to the Caravaggio-like Mattia Preti. The painting comes from the collection of the Falletti Marquises of Barolo. In one corner of the room is the bronze bust of the Italian Michele Coppino, Minister of Education. Important name for the Italian school. It was he who introduced the law on compulsory and free primary education at the end of the 19th century, fighting illiteracy. In the archive of the municipal building is kept the book of the chain, the statute of the Municipality.

Piazza Risorgimento

Commonly known as Piazza del Duomo, it is a lively and picturesque place, characterised by low porticos and ancient cafes of the romantic era and once also a meeting place for the fans of the elastic ball. It is overlooked by the town hall and the imposing cathedral of San Lorenzo.

Cathedral of San Lorenzo
It has a red brick facade and a very ancient origin. It dates back to Roman times. But we have precise information from the 11th century. Destroyed several times, the church changed its aspect and the Romanesque style was converted between the 15th and 16th centuries into Gothic. Many were also restored in the 1600s following earthquakes that caused the collapse of the vault of the main arch. The last definitive restoration dates back to 1868. The façade, tripartite with strong pillars with cuspidate aedicule, was later made in 1878. Then a large window in Gothic style was opened along with the statue of San Lorenza (by Luigi Cocchio of Milan) with those of the symbols of the evangelists of the Vercellese sculptor Carlo Drusio, whose initials form the name of Alba (Angelo Leone Bue Aquila). The Latin cross building, inside has a starred and azure vault, supported by six cruciform columns that rise supporting arches sometimes ogival, it is high and spacious. On the walls you can see the Via Crucis depicted in paintings of the same style of the church. There are eight altars: the first on the right, the altar of the massive bronze crucifix, the second the altar of the Madonna, then the one dedicated to the Holy Family. Then there is the chapel of the Blessed Sacrament  with a Baroque altar and Rococo chandeliers. The altarpiece represents the Virgin of Carmel and the Prophet Elia, realised by  Molineri or Cuniberti from Savigliano. On the two side paintings you can see the prophet who receives the bread from an angel and then he with the priests of Baal. The martyrdom of San Donato is in front of the choir of the bishops. On the vault Elias, abducted by the chariot of fire, drops his cloak as a gift to the prophet Elisha. On the left the first chapel is dedicated to San Teobaldo, then the chapel of San Bovo (protector of the peasants of Alba) and that of San Luca and then the chapel of the Baptistery. On the top of the staircase leading to the presbytery is the high altar of Baroque style. Behind the altar, in a large urn under the table are the bones of San Fortunato. The choir – behind the high altar – dates back to 1500, the work of Bernardino Fossati, known as Cidonio. It consists of 35 benches, of which the central one is higher, reserved for the bishop. The backrests are all inlaid and different from each other. On the side walls four large chiaroscuro by the painter Luigi Hartmann from Chiavenna, with four scenes of the martyrdom of San Lorenzo.

Church of the Maddalena
In Baroque style it has a brick facade. It was built in the first half of the 700s on the plans of the architect Bernardo Vittone to replace the pre-existing one that belonged to the annexed Dominican monastery. This, which passed into the ownership of the municipality, has the merit of having a vast courtyard that, especially in summer, comes alive with city events. The interior of the church is typically baroque with an elliptical plant with two side altars, in addition to the main one, behind which there is a grandiose wooden choir. In the chapel on the left we can see the incorrupt body of the Blessed Margherita of Savoy – Achaia, widow of the Marquis of Monferrrato Teodoro Il, founder of the convent. In the cloister it lived for 44 years in strict cloister, and in great humility, virtues recognized by Pope Clement X who granted its worship in 1676. The silver urn that contains the relic was donated in the last century by Queen Maria Cristina delle Due Sicilie, wife of Carlo Felice who came to the church to make his devotions during the long holidays in the nearby castle of Govone.

Church of Saints Cosma and Damiano
Also of Baroque construction, it was built in 1786 by the Albanian architect Carlo Francesco Rangone di Montelupo.

San Domenico
Of Gothic-primitive style with semi-acute arches, it was built on the ruins of a Roman theatre in the second half of the 1200s by a primitive nucleus of Dominican friars. The gabled façade is simple, of wide spatial expansion and interrupted only by the four buttresses in correspondence of the four rows of columns that are inside. The interior has a basilica plan, with three large naves and cross vaults, supported by arches with strong creases, resting on cylindrical-shaped pillars. The medieval frescoes are not very visible, only some have been recovered thanks to the most recent restorations.

Church of Santa Caterina
is located beside the major seminary and it is Baroque. The façade is divided into three parts, distinguished by four pilasters surmounted by Ionic capitals, which support a large tympanum. The interior has an octagonal plan with a single vault with pointed arches. On the sides of the presbytery and on the sides of the entrance door there are four statues depicting San Lorenzo, San Domenico, Santa Caterina da Siena, Santa Rosalia and the Pope Innocenzo l.

Church of San Giuseppe
It dates back to 1700. The façade surmounted by a tympanum with denticulate decoration is divided by four pilasters. In the upper part there are two niches with shell decoration. The interior is typically baroque, with a single nave, quadripartite by sturdy arches resting on columns and buttresses whose top is decorated with capitals.

Piazza Michele Ferrero

It is the heart of the life of Alba inhabitants and the place where tourists are welcomed. The fountain dedicated to the knight of labour Giovanni Ferrero, who died in 1957, was set up in the centre of the square.

Via Vittorio Emanuele

It is the main artery of the city that crosses the old part of Alba, coming out on one side in Piazza Savona and on the opposite side in Piazza del Duomo. Many commercial activities are concentrated along this street, always populated by visitors, and frequented by tourists because there are monumental buildings: medieval houses, palaces and churches. Noteworthy is the Fontana house, an example of a ‘400 building with an elegant terracotta frieze on the facade. Degiacomi embellished in the atrium by a 16th-century bas-relief depicting San Giorgio, the Palazzo dei Conti Belli, the Serralunga Palace and beyond a fifteenth-century house with three orders of ogival arches.

Piazza San Paolo
Not far away we find the Pious Society of Saint Paul founded in 1914 by the  theologian Giacomo Alberione who edited the “Christian Family”. The square, in addition to the majestic church of the same name with an imposing and austere façade, houses the headquarters of the Albanian Merchants Association (A.C.A).

Piazza Cristo Re
It is a “young” place that was established where once, during the harvest period, the daily market of large production grapes like Dolcetto and Barbera was held, since the prized ones like Barolo, Barbaresco, Moscato were purchased directly on the places of production or even in the vineyard.

Corso Langhe

Moretta area

Dominated by the Sanctuary of the Madonna Moretta, with its imposing façade and a graceful circular dome, corso Langhe is a long avenue overlooked by many commercial activities. It represents the place of walking, especially in the summer and spring season.

Corso Piave
Recently renovated, one-way, it is from the Langhe villages like Barolo, Monforte, Grinzane, La Morra to enter the city centre. Also populated with shops and offices, it represents the economic and artisan development of the “Capital of the Langhe”.

Share the article


Trovate qui i nostri consigli enogastronomici sulla città