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“…WE HAVE TO GET TO THE CORNER OF MAZZETTI HOUSE FIRST”

The chronicler Guglielmo Ventura, a modest pepper merchant lived about from 1250 to 1324, is who reports the news of the Palio race for the first time: “…in 1275 the citizens of Asti came in Alba, destroyed vineyards and trees and, close to the doors of the city, the Palio of Asti took place, like usually they do in Asti on the occasion of the feast of Saint Secondo, and it happened on the day of the celebration of the Blessed Lauwrence (10th August) in 1275..”

The history of the Palio seems to have begun long before that date, even if there is not reliable information about it. Then Ogerio Alfieri, an ancestor of the famous dramatist Vittorio, tells how his town “in the year of the Lord 1280 was full of richness, closed by solid and recent walls and almost entirely formed by many buildings, towers, palaces and houses recently built.” Ogerio does not fail to give praise to his fellow citizens of Asti, judging them “sensible and noble, rich and powerful”; the great ability of merchants and businessmen belonging to that families that nowadays populate the Palio’s parade was famous: Solaro, Guttuari, Turco, Roero, Pelletta, Malabaila, Troya (the owners of the tower of the same name located in Piazza Medici); Isnardi, Alfieri (of which the tragedian Vittorio, born in 1749 from the branch of Cortemilia was a member), Comentina, Asinari, Buneo, Catena families etc

At the end of the fourteenth century Gian Galeazzo Visconti, having become the lord of Asti, establishes that the race “for the honor and respectability of the City” continues to be made according to the tradition on the occasion of the celebration of Saint Secondo. From the half of the fourteenth century, under the governance of Visconti, we start to run the Palio “alla lunga”, that means “on the long road”, so on a straight route made of dirt roads that from Viale Pilone (where a big marble memorial stone is still located, at the eastern border of the town) reaches the palace of Mazzetti from Frinco, where the finish of the race was put, passing through the central Contrada Maestra (the current Corso Vittorio Alfieri). Even now the jury of the historical parade positions itself in Mazzetti Palace, respecting tradition. The last meters settled the race when, level with Piazza Roma and Mazzetti Palace, the road increased its slope. Not by chance, still today, in the local dialect we say, to highlight a not yet reached purpose, «a vanta rivé er prim ar Cantun d’Casa Massét», that means “we have to get to the corner of Mazzetti house first”.

In 1507 also the King Luis XII of Orleans attended the race, hosted in Malabaila Palace, while from 1545 the Duke of Savoy Emanuele Filiberto furnishes the City with two banners for the Palio every year. The Palio even takes place at the beginning of the eighteenth century, while Asti is being besieged by the army of the Duke of Vendome. At the end of that century, the canonic Stefano Incisa gives to us a precise and detailed discussion of Palio. In the nineteenth century, during the french domination, the Palio becomes a horse racing celebrating the victory of the battle of Marengo. In 1861 with the unification of Italy this competition takes place “in tondo” or “alla tonda”, that means “ in circles”, so a circuit in the Market Square.

In 1929 the Palio begins to be run again “alla lunga” thanks to the Podestà Vincenzo Buronzo, but on Corso Dante, without the presence of the historical parade, while in 1931 the fame of this event starts to encrease again, thanks to the presence of the Princes of Piedmont. Artists of the likes of Giuseppe Manzone and Ottavio Baussano (whose some works are exhibited at Mazzetti Palace) collaborate to the realization of Palio painting the banners and drawing costumes, sketches for posters, postcards and promotional material. The Palio takes place last time in 1935, then it is suspended and we have to wait for 1967 when, under the pressure of some intellectuals, the Palio starts again in a modern version, characterized by the participation of the city districts and Municipalities of the Province of Asti and by the presence of a great historical parade referred to the medieval period. In the end in 1988 the seat of the race changes, from the “basin-shaped area” of Piazza del Palio to the beautiful setting of Piazza Alfieri. More recently the tradition also has been kept alive through some events organized in Mazzetti Palace, the ancient finish line of the race “alla lunga”, dedicated to some Masters of Palio: Antonio Guarene and Sergio Unia.

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