According to the historian Ogerio Alfieri, ancestor of the more famous Count Vittorio, in the Year of the Lord 1280, the city of Asti “...was bursting with riches, enclosed within solid walls erected recently, and consisted almost entirely of buildings: towers, palaces and houses, all of recent construction...” In his accurate, detailed description, Ogerio stresses the good qualities of the people of Asti, stating that they are “…wise and noble, rich and powerful...” and says that in case of need the city can count on “...a cavalry of six hundred men with two horses each...” while the surrounding countryside can supply “...an additional cavalry of one hundred and sixty men each with a horse or a mare...” It was at about this time that the Palio was first held in Asti. The first mention of the race goes back to the year 1275 when, according to Guglielmo Ventura, another local historian, his townsmen ran a horse race for their own amusement, beneath the walls of the enemy city of Alba, causing heavy damage and devastation to the vineyards. Today, the city still preserves a structure that bears witness to the greatness of its past, with the towers and bulwarks of its medieval palaces and the characteristics streets of its historical centre that provide an appropriate setting for the fascinating historical revival of the Palio. There are twenty-one contenders in the race and, in the weeks that precede it, they all do their utmost to propitiate the victory by holding huge banquets, enacting magic rituals, playing terrible pranks on their adversaries, right up until the big day when they meet on the field, preceded by a sumptuous parade of over twelve hundred persons in medieval costume.
After a difficult challenge requiring all their skill, passion and courage, only one of them will win possession of the crimson banner with the coat of arms of the city and the image of its Patron Saint. In the days preceding the race, visitors may enjoy many collateral and preparatory events: the Palio of the Flag-wavers, the colourful flea-market, the trials of owner-jockeys on the field. Opportunities not to be missed for those who really want to immerse themselves in the special atmosphere of this event. But Asti is more than just its Palio: the interested visitor can discover museums and monuments, antique shops and flea markets, embattled towers and mysterious courtyards. Walking from east to west on Corso Alfieri, the ancient main street, it is impossible not to notice an imposing, elegant palace in Baroque style: the home of the Alfieri counts, from whom Vittorio descended (b. Asti, 1749, d. Florence, 1803), the great tragedian and free spirit, famous for his works as well as for his love of horses. Asti is as famous for its wines as it is for its fine food: heavenly white truffles, agnolotti accompanied by Barbera, rich boiled meats enhanced by “bagnetti”, and especially “bagna caôda”, a rich sauce with anchovies, garlic and oil in which to dip vegetables of the Tanaro.
Plus there's “bönet”, a sort of chocolate pudding, fragrant almond cookies soaked in a goblet of Asti Spumante, and all the typical recipes of a city in which fine food and wine go hand in hand with centuries of history.
…and the days before
Saturday 19th September 2015
From 9 AM to 00 PM San Secondo Square - last day of the coloured Palio Market
From 3.30 PM : Piazza Alfieri – General trials of the horse race. Free entrance
From 8.30 – banquets in the town to propitiate the victory
Friday 18th September 2015
From 9 AM to 00 PM San Secondo Square – first day of the coloured Palio Market
From 1.30 AM to 7.30 PM : Piazza Alfieri – Trials of the horse race. Free entrance
Thursday 17th September 2015
8 PM San Secondo Square – Palio of the flag - throwers