Monastero Bormida, 1000 years of history run between alleys and carrugi in the shadow of the castle-abbey and the glorious Romanesque bridge.
"Monastero - from Monesté - the singular land between the Monferrato and the Langhe, which holds the castle below and the village at the top of all the other neighbors: but the castle at first was a monastery, and the tower a bell tower, and that big house up there it's still called "the convent", and up through the Tatorba certain rubble in the brambles are the remains - they say - of a women's retreat and something remained in the blood of the people".
Here is the land of Augusto Monti, with all the places, houses and descendants of the people who animate the pages of his Sanssossì.
Monastero Bormida from the large, somewhat metaphysical square with its unique arch in Piedmont connecting the isolated bell tower to the body of the castle, a stone bridge monastery that has survived eight centuries of floods, a monastery of alleyways and caravans today almost uninhabited once the fulcrum of the commercial life of this town of merchants and artisans that still counts the most important weekly market of the Langa of Asti.
The underlying identity that binds and unites the inhabitants is precisely the belonging to that castle of a hundred rooms, countless times restored in over a thousand years of history, patched and embellished, ruined at times but still saved from worse damage, even today center of public life, with the municipal offices, the doctor's surgery, the Red Cross headquarters, the Pro Loco party hall.
The castle-abbey that reassured the farmers of the countryside and pushed them to abandon the plebs of San Desiderio to build their houses in the shadow of its bulk is the very reason for the existence of the town.
And then the large square, which was the garden of the castle and of which it is still the natural continuation.
The market square, the churchyard where you stop at the exit of Mass, the scenographic theater where the secular rite of Polentone takes place, while in the streets all around one of the most impressive exhibitions of ancient crafts of Piedmont unfolds; we must live these moments, these spaces and these places to enter into symbiosis with the town, with its history, with its millennial traditions.
Monastero Bormida covers an area of 14.21 km² and has a population of about 930 inhabitants.
It is 42 km from Asti, the provincial capital.
Monastero - the name suggests it - was founded by a group of Benedictine monks who, around about 1050, came from San Benigno Canavese (abbey of Fruttuaria) called by Aleramo Marquis del Monferrato to tear down and sow the lands devastated by Saracen invasions.
The current castle corresponds precisely to the site of the original monastery, of which only the bell tower remains and a few walls, especially those facing the tower square.
In all likelihood there was a previous Longobard monastic foundation, witnessed by the cult of Saint Giulia (whose devotion was spread to northern Italy by the Lombards) that still today is the patron saint of the town and dedicated to the eighteenth-century parish church, and some Lombard toponyms like Braia, which means a region near a river.
The Saracens, coming from their Provençal base of Frassineto - near Saint Tropez - went down in Piedmont through the Alps and after having destroyed the monastery of San Dalmazzo di Pedona - today's Borgo San Dalmazzo - and that of San Pietro di Ferrania, poorly iron and fire the county of Bubbio and reached the walls of Acqui, where they were defeated in the IX century. Thus, the division of Lower Piedmont was born into three Marches (Aleramica, Arduinica, Obertenga), led by a Marquis. Monastero was included in the Marca of Aleramo, whose successors found themselves to govern a large territory completely looted: the whole Valle Bormida is defined by the documents of the time as deserted loea or Marchesato del Vasto, ie the devastated land.
It was then that the idea of calling the monks was born, so that they took the place of the old Roman mansiones, especially large estates with a villa, that is a farmhouse, and a chapel that later became a parish because the plebs, the people gathered there. The monks built the bell tower, the church (which stood where there is now the arch to join the castle), the monastery, the bridge.
Then, in 1393, after the abbot Alberto dei Guttuari granted ample privileges and immunity to the entire population, the Benedictines left the village and settled in the monastery of Saint Bartolomeo in Azzano d'Asti. From this moment it also begins for the Monastery of Saint Giulia - so the village was called up to the XVIth century - feudal history, with the investiture made by Pope Bonifacio IX to Antonio and Galeotto Del Carretto, then confirmed and made perpetual in 1405 by Pope Innocent VII.
The Del Carretto, as well as the Della Rovere succeeded starting from 1484 at the behest of Sisto IV and later also recognized by the house of Monferrato in 1589, always took care to maintain the immunity and rights that they had acquired in ancient times, as they confirm also the Statutes granted by the Duke Carlo Il Gonzaga of Mantua and Monferrato in 1664, which reproduce the laws and prohibitions of a more ancient medieval draft, already confirmed once in 1596 by the Senate of Casale.
In 1620 Duke Ferdinand granted the market twice a week, a custom that will be repeated in 1696, even in a period of storms and wars, confirming the commercial vocation of the town. Also in the seventeenth century was settled a community of Augustinians, then replaced by the Capuchins, who built the convent of Saint Pietro extra muros, still visible in its main structures (cloisters, plant) even if the church has been replaced by a house.
In the early seventeenth century, Charles Emmanuel of Savoy, with 8,000 infantrymen and 10,000 knights, going to Cortemilia, besieged by the Spanish, devastated the territory of Monastero; even more risky was the passage, a few years later, of the duke Vittorio Amedeo, always in struggle with Spain.
In the mid-nineteenth century the fiefdom was granted by the House of Savoy again to the Della Rovere, while at the end of the century the castle was bought by the Polieri family of Genoa, who then sold it to the Municipality.
Food and wine and typical products.
Vittorio Emanuele II of Savoy loved to hunt here and stop in the farms to have lunch with the peasants.
The typical dishes are many and do not concern only Monastero, but most of the Langa of Asti.
Polenta, for example, to prepare it is not as simple as it might seem.
Meanwhile, you need the right flour obtained from the meria d'eut file (corn with eight rows of grains), ground under the big stones of the mill of Caesar, el muliné ed Vesme (the miller of Vesime).
Then you need a capable caudrein d'aram (copper pot) with water to be placed on the fire that crackles in the cast iron stove and to stir up a polentao de snerv (a stick of juniper). The polenta cooks slowly, "muttering" for more than an hour and poured on polentoira (wooden chopping board).
An occasion to taste it is the Polenta Festival (Sagra del Polentonissimo), which takes place on the second Sunday of March from 1573.
Another typical winter dish of the Langa is the puccia, a substantial single dish that has been rediscovered by the Pro Loco of Monastero. It is basically a soft polenta cooked in a broth of vegetables (cabbage and beans) flavored with a mixture of lard and onion.
The puccia is then seasoned with butter and cheese or left to cool and toasted on the stove and wood: a delicacy!
Of the precious pig, then, nothing is thrown away: from meat and fat, precious ingredients of cooked and raw meats, to lard - from which fusion lard and ciccioli are obtained - from the boiled tail to the bones and ribs, ideal accompaniment of chickpeas boiled.
Not to mention, then, the blood cake, the batsoà (the legs soaked in fried vinegar), the griva and the frisse, peasant preparations made from liver and other offal, to be eaten fried and very hot.
On cold winter evenings it is necessary to make the most of what the pantry offers and then here are sauces and jams, preserves and baths of different types: red, green and the deadly bagna d'l'infern, a spicy taste sauce suitable to be tasted with a tasty Piedmontese boiled mixed.
The monastery enogastronomic basket is completed with other typical products of the Langa of Asti. Viticulture has its strong points in the production of excellent wines D.O.C.and D.O.C.G. like the Moscato d'Asti, the Brachetto d'Acqui, the Barbera d'Asti and the Monferrato, the Dolcetto d'Asti and d'Acqui. The Chardonnay, the Cortese and the Freisa complete the enological panorama.
The dairy sector includes the Robiola di Roccaverano D.O.P., the flagship of the gastronomy of Monastero and the Langa of Asti. In the area there are many producers-breeders who follow the rules of Robiola and produce the "classic" Roccaverano with only raw goat's milk.
The goats belong to the Roccaverano breed, a splendid native variety saved from extinction thanks to the careful policy of protection of the Unione Montana Langa Astigiana Val Bormida.
Robiola of pure goat consumed fresh or seasoned, alone or combined with honey and grape mustard, is unmissable in the most famous restaurants and in the most famous gastronomy nationwide.
The small hill stalls breed heads of Piedmontese cattle and the best are fattened with care to participate in the San Desiderio Fair, the third Sunday of July.
The spread of sheep and goat breeding allows you to place on the market on Thursday - especially for Easter - a good amount of lambs and kids, from delicate and tasty meat thanks to the aromatic milk due to the diet based on wild herbs.
Another traditional form of breeding is that of poultry animals: rabbits, hens, guinea fowls, turkeys and above all capers of pure and ancient Leghorn breed. The slaughter of the pig is still a ritual lived in almost all the farms and here is the delicious series of meats and sausages that are regularly found in the butcher's shop of the town: cooked salami and raw, head in the box, blood sausages, frizze, grive, sausage, cacciatorini, bacon and lard.
Numerous hazel groves keep up the tradition of Piedmont Hazelnut I.G.P. Ideal complement of chocolate for the preparation of classic Piedmontese desserts; there is no lack of honey production in the acacia, chestnut and millefiori varieties.
As for corn, a timid production of the old eight rows is being reborn, ideal for cooking the traditional polentone that liven up the festivals of the towns of the area. Corn flour is also an essential ingredient for the already named puccia.
To be seen.
The nucleus of Monastero Bormida is dominated by the splendid fourteenth-century castle (opened by reservation and for the Castelli Aperti review), which was originally a monastery and whose tower, which can be visited, was its bell tower.
On the square of the castle we find the parish church dedicated to Saint Giulia, built in the eighteenth century, with a neoclassical structure and baroque decorations, and the Literary Benches, which show verses by Augusto Monti, Cesare Pavese, Beppe Fenoglio.
The buildings are located in the lower square of the village, which can be accessed by crossing the wonderful Romanesque bridge over Bormida: built by the Benedictine monks, it is one of the most important civil engineering works of the Bormida valley, able to resist all the floods that have happened over the centuries, even the disastrous one of 1994 that seriously threatened its static nature.
In Santa Libera Region we find the homonymous church, a resting and refreshment point for the many hikers who decide to get to know the hills of Monastero walking along them following, for example, the Path of Santa Libera or that of the Five Towers (Cinque Torri).
In San Rocco Region, a giant bench with a heart-shaped backrest, created by the artist Raffaella Goslino, is named after Fabio Francone, best known as dj Francone, an entrepreneur with a passion for music, who died age of 45 following a traffic accident.
A copy (the Baby Heart Giant Bench) - small in size - of the Heart Giant Bench was inaugurated on 9 June 2019 near the Romanesque bridge over the Bormida.
Monastero Bormida is the homeland of the "professor" par excellence: Augusto Monti.
Born in 1881, two years later, following the death of his mother and due to the precarious economic conditions, the whole Monti family moved to Turin, where his father had already lived in his youth.
In 1904, after completing his classical studies, Augusto Monti graduated in literature and after a brief experience in the "Pacchiotti" Technical Institute of Giaveno, he began teaching at the gymnasiums and high schools throughout Italy Bosa, Chieri, Reggio Calabria, Sondrio.
Deeply involved in the battle for the renewal of Italian society, he meets characters such as Giustino Fortunato, Gaetano Salvemini, Giuseppe Lombardo Radice and collaborates with the most important magazines of the time ("La voce", "Nuovi doveri", "Unità") writing articles of educational didactic topic.
With the consistency that distinguishes his personality from the beginning, he participates as a volunteer in the Great War; taken prisoner by the Austrians, he spent two years in the camps of Mauthausen and Theresienstadt.
At the end of the conflict, he immediately returned to the chair and in January 1919 he obtained the transfer to Brescia.
Finally, he arrived in Turin in 1924, professor of Italian and Latin at the Massimo D'Azeglio High School, where they teach among others Umberto Cosmo and Zino Zini; here, until the mid-thirties he became the master of an extraordinary generation of students such as Cesare Pavese, Massimo Mila, Giulio Einaudi, Leone Ginzburg, Salvatore Luna, Giancarlo Pajetta, Franco Antonicelli, Vittorio Foa, Tullio Pinelli.
During this period he made an intense friendship with Piero Gobetti ("the student who becomes a teacher..."), who in 1923 published him the first book, "Scuola classica e vita moderna"; in the meantime, he began to collaborate in "Rivoluzione liberale", "Corriere della Sera" and "Baretti", collaborations that ceased one after the other with the advent of fascism.
In his spare time, he writes his masterpiece, "La storia di papà", a family saga and of the Italian Risorgimento, which after a first edition was released in three parts by the Milanese editor Ceschina between 1928 and 1935, It will be published by Einaudi in 1947 under the title "Tradimento e fedeltà", to become then definitively fifteen years later "I Sansossi" (The Carefree).
Meanwhile, in 1936, he was arrested and sentenced by the Special Court to five years in prison; refused to sign the request for pardon that would have earned him immediate release, he spent three years in the prisons of Regina Coeli and Civitavecchia.
In 1939, following the general amnesty, he was freed and returned to Turin; some time later, however, he was forced to leave the city and take refuge in the country because of the intimidating searches he was subjected to on several occasions.
After World War II he devoted himself full time to the activity of writer and columnist, collaborating on the Turin pages of the newspaper "L'Unità".
He still publishes two novels, "Ragazza 1924" and "Vietato pentirsi", and his autobiography as a professor, "I miei conti con la scuola", which traces the picture of a century of Italian school in the form of a budget.He died, at eighty-five, in Rome in 1966.