Moncalvo: discovering the smallest city in Italy
Moncalvo, the smallest city in Italy, owes its name to the geographical conformation that characterizes it: local historians have always assumed that the name Moncalvo could derive from the Latin "mons calvus" or "bald mountain, devoid of vegetation" probably because around the year 1000 there were numerous deforestations that affected the area on which the city stands.
The inhabited area develops on a hill with an average altitude of 305 meters above sea level.
Moncalvo has participated since 1929 in the Palio of Asti (participation was suspended in the 1950s and subsequently resumed from 1967), the historic horse-mounted riding race protagonist of the Settembre Astigiano.
It is 20 km from Asti, the provincial capital.
In the early fourteenth century, the territory of Moncalvo passed under the dominion of the Paleologi and in those years Moncalvo saw its castle grow, where illustrious exponents of the political and cultural life of the time stayed.
Over the decades, other historic buildings sprang up in this small town, such as Casa Lanfrancone, still visible today in the historic center street, popularly called "La Fracia".
The Paleologi reigned in Moncalvo until the first half of the sixteenth century, an era in which Moncalvo territory became part of the domain of the Gonzaga family, who controlled it until the early eighteenth century and then handed it over to the Savoy.
In the seventeenth century Guglielmo and Orsola Caccia embellished the city with their exceptional paintings preserved today in Moncalvo churches, in the Parish Museum and in the Civic Museum.
In 1705 the Duke of Mantua Ferdinando Carlo Gonzaga granted Moncalvo the title of City, a privilege which was later reconfirmed by the Savoys through the City licences granted by King Vittorio Amedeo III in 1774.
Subsequently, the history of the City of Moncalvo will travel in parallel with that of the Savoy Kingdom, merging in 1861 into the newborn Kingdom of Italy.
Today, Moncalvo still enjoys the title of "Smallest city in Italy".
Food and wine and typical products.
As in all the Monferrato towns, a substantially agricultural economy has prospered for centuries in Moncalvo as well.
Still, today the excellent local wines are renowned all over the world: Barbera, Grignolino, Freisa.
The genuineness of the still natural products, grown and directly distributed on the spot to the consumer, is the driving force behind a continuous flow of demanding visitors.
Since October, Monferrato land offers one of its most fragrant and tasty treasures, the white truffle.
The Truffle Fair takes place every year in Moncalvo, a traditional collection and trade center for the precious tuber, which is attended by all the expert seekers ("trifolao") in the area.
The cuisine also offers dishes that are sure to please: from mixed fried "alla monferrina" to mixed boiled meat called "alla moncalvese", from tasty agnolotti to sumptuous financier, to conclude with a good "bunet", a typical dessert made from eggs, amaretti and chocolate.
To fully enjoy the variety and quality of the Monferrato, as well as Moncalvo cuisine, just join some food and wine events that take place during the year.
To be seen.
The churches of Moncalvo, in particular the parish church dedicated to Saint Francesco (XII century), host various religious paintings painted by Guglielmo Caccia called "il Moncalvo" (1568-1625) and by his daughter Orsola Maddalena, both exponents of the Piedmontese counter-reformist mannerism.
Their works are widespread not only in Monferrato but well beyond Piedmont.
Another illustrious moncalvese is Gabriele Capello, a refined cabinetmaker from the Savoy-Albertine era, to whom the homonymous street where Palazzo Tadini stands is dedicated.
Of the ancient castle, former home of the Paleologi, the powerful bastions that date back to the XII century remain.
Among the ramparts of the ancient Castle, the passion of the tambourine that divides towns and squares lives on today.
The "tambass" or the one in the wall speciality of Monferrato whose sphaeristerium in Moncalvo is set up right in the moat, with natural and historical banks the ramparts of the fortification.
In the "lions' den" as well as on the other squares in the hills of Astigiano and Alessandrino this discipline has been the first tournament since a decade elected to the Italian championship by awarding a trophy.
Returning to talk about the architectural heritage of Moncalvo, the historical center is particularly suggestive, with some medieval views (Casa Lanfrancone and Casa Montanari in via XX Settembre, better known as La Fracia in piazza Garibaldi where there is also the Belvedere Bonaventura) and small shops.
The building that houses the Town Hall, formerly owned by Guglielmo Caccia, was later a convent of the Ursuline nuns (first half of the 17th century).
Piazza Carlo Alberto overlooks the municipal theatre, dating back to the mid-19th century, erected on the grounds of the ancient sixteenth-century Guardhouse, and the Synagogue (known worldwide for being the only synagogue erected on the main square of the city which hosts it).
Among the civil buildings, Villa Foà, a splendid bourgeois residence that stands on a dominant hill over the whole city, should be noted.
Moncalvo was the capital of the Marquisate of Monferrato (10th and 11th centuries) and is today known all over the world for the title of the smallest city in Italy.