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ASTI, THE TOWERED TOWN

The medieval past of Asti is proved by the existence of many and ancient towers still visible today strolling through its historic centre. In fact these towers, such as in the case of the Troiana Tower, located in Piazza Medici, and the Comentina Tower, still rise above the surrounding buildings after centuries. The appearance of Asti in the Middle Ages, and especially in the 13th century, the best moment of its economic development, was that of a real towered town. The tower, excluding its defensive function, was used by noble families as a means to show and establish its own richness and prestige. The difference among these towers and those built for defense is demonstrated by a greater attention to the decorative and coloristic elements, for example visible in the masonry or in the crowning bands. Nicola Gabiani, who worked from the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries, was a famous citizen of Asti who made a long and consistent research about the medieval remains of the town. He noted that “.. after the year 1000, and especially in the 12th century, in addition to towers built in the ancient times around the cities together with the defensive walls and the fortresses, to allow a greater protection to them, in the most powerful cities also the tradition that the private nobles built towers in their houses at their expense took hold. At that time the possibility to build and have similar towers was considered an evidence of undisputed nobility, because they enjoyed the privilege and the power of rising them.” The will to affirmation of power using this building type became so spread that created an actual competition among families, with taller and taller buildings, to the point where the municipality of Asti had the need to regulate their height. In fact new legislative measures were introduced in the City Laws; they prohibited to “build towers in masonry that exceeded in height those of Bertramenghi and Scarampi families.” The last one was an ancient tower, 36 meters high, shared between two noble families and already destroyed at the time of Gabiani. Disregarding the instructions given by Statute, some city families like that of Troya and De Regibus, built towers far above the limits imposed; the Troyana tower itself is still today 44 meters tall. Further laws were promulgated, leading to monetary penalties for violators and height reduction obligations.

The medieval tower of Alfieri Palace However not all the towers of Asti are well visible, many were destroyed from the end of the 13th century and were included in the buildings erected later. The medieval tower of Palazzo Alfieri is an example of this second case. In fact this tower is visible exclusively visiting the interiors of this important building, acquired in 1901 by the count from Asti Leonetto Ottolenghi from Alfieri descendants, with the intention of making it a place for local studies and memories. During the centuries, the memory of the tower was completely cancelled and we will have to wait more recent times, in particular the 2008, to see the first works of restoration that will bring back it to light. In fact the ancient tower was completely incorporated in the palace during its reconstruction, made by Benedetto Alfieri in the second half of the 1730s. Over the centuries many interventions led to its disappearance, from the replacement of the original horizons with brick vaults to the reconstruction of the interior masonry, that were chiseled and palstered to expand its spaces. The cross vault of the attic itself had been hidden by a ribbed vault, as well as the icehouse, a useful room to store foodstuffs, that had been filled with scraps of burnt coal.

In order to recover the architectural and chromatic uniformity of the tower, a “sewing and unpicking” operation was carried out; it allowed to restore masonry continuity, with the replacement of degraded parts, without affecting the load-bearing function during the progress of the work. The work also took special care in restoring and preserving the holes in the interior walls. These holes could originally have different functions; they could be “pontaie” holes, that means holes intentionally made during the construction to support scaffolding, or cavities to support medieval floor beams. Currently, the tower can be seen within the Palazzo Alfieri exhibition route, between the Great Hall and the so-called Gallery of Life; it serves as a link, thanks to a walkway suspended in the void of the tower itself, that allows visitors to admire its inner section.

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