Asti, about 600 kilometers from Rome, was founded in the last quarter of the second century BC, at the time of the Roman expansion campaigns in Cisalpine Gaul led by Consul Marcus Fulvius Flaccus.
The Roman soul of Asti, more than two millennia later, is made up of small and well-preserved gems that emerge where we least expect them: let’s think of the capitals from the Imperial Age that were reused as the base for the stoup in the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Assumption, or the Red Tower, or the walls traces of the amphitheater that can be seen from the windows of an elegant building in Via Massimo d’Azeglio, or, finally, the remains of the Domus in Via Varrone.
The Domus of via Varrone
The Domus of Via Varrone represents a find of exceptional importance, because it testifies to the engineering ability of the Romans, their capacity to combine functionality, elegance and comfort typical of a modern home.
There is, in fact, a floor mosaic in almost perfect conservative conditions, measuring 3×1.70 meters, decorated with geometric frames in black and white tiles, animal and plant figures (ivy and fish of different species) and geometric inserts of multicolored marble and stones. Moreover you can see the pillars belonging to the heating system defined hypocaust (literally: “burning underneath”, from the ancient Greek): it consisted in a cavity created below the floor in which the air heated by a furnace was conveyed. Then the fragments of plaster, still visible, refer to wall decorations painted in the style of those of Pompeii, better known.
Its location, at the extreme western end of the Decumanus Maximus, the main road that crosses the city longitudinally, guaranteed the house to remain sheltered from the hustle and bustle of the town and, at the same time, to be put not too far from the Forum, which was located in Corso Alfieri in the area between Piazza Roma and the Crypt and Museum of St. Anastasio.
The Red Tower
The so-called Torre Rossa (Red Tower) also dates back to Roman times: originally, in fact, it must form one of the sides of the gateway to the Roman city, the door located at the western end of the Decumano Massimo. Based on the comparison with other preserved city gates dated to the same period (such as the Porta Palatina in Turin), it is easy to assume that in the site there should have been a second tower, then destroyed over the centuries.
Another curiosity is revealed about this piece of Rome in Asti: the tower was raised in the Middle Ages, with the addition of the two upper floors, decorated with small arches, alternating terracotta and sandstone, according to the typical Romanesque style of Piedmont (you can see similar features in the Complex of S. Pietro). For a period it was also used as the bell tower of a Romanesque church, then demolished in the eighteenth century to make room for the present baroque church of Santa Caterina.
In via Massimo d’Azeglio, through the windows of an elegant shop, it is possible to see the remains of the walls of the amphitheatre of Asti, located under a building erected in the previous century. Placed in the north side of the Decumano Massimo (the current famous Corso Alfieri), it was intended to host gladiatorial games and entertainment shows for the urban plebs of Hasta, just like the Colosseum in Rome.
Nothing is lost, in short, of the history of Asti. More simply, something is hidden, among the different stratifications of the city that we can still appreciate today. Hasta is there, in hundreds of fragments to be revealed.