From Sancti Damiani Oppidum to be a city: San Damiano d'Asti, the "villa nova" jewel of the High Monferrato.
San Damiano d'Asti is a city of the Upper Monferrato, almost located in the center of the Colline Alfieri, a territory consisting of the extreme edges of the Langhe, Monferrato and Roero.
San Damiano, with a land area of 47.87 km², is the second largest municipality in the Asti region, only surpassed by the capital Asti, and the fourth by population with about 8300 inhabitants.
The city is 15 km from Asti and 45 km from Turin.
The village has developed on a low hill (the highest point reaches 339 meters) on the left side of the Borbore stream and consists of three large villages developed around the historic center: Borgo Rondò to the north-east (towards Asti), Borgo Piano to the west and Borgo San Rocco to the south. Among the vineyards of the surrounding hills are scattered the numerous farmhouses and hamlets of the village.
The history of the foundation of San Damiano d'Asti is documented by the medieval chroniclers of the time, from Guglielmo Ventura to Ogerio Alfieri and the Astesano: in 1275, during the invasion of Piedmont by Carlo d'Angiò, the Astesi, after having driven out the invaders, they besieged and destroyed the castles of Gorzano, Castelnuovo, Lavezzole and Marcellengo, all located in the Borbore valley.
In a place where there was a church with this title, the Astesi family founded the fortress of San Damiano, forcing the men of the destroyed villages to live there.
The founders quickly made it an important military stronghold, also building a castle, of which today remains only the base of a circular tower, then adapted to the bell tower for the Parish Church of Saints Cosma e Damiano.
From that moment on, the fate of the new town will roughly follow that of the nearby founding city.
For more than two centuries, not without frequent passages of power, San Damiano will be the domain of the Marquises of Monferrato, who will keep it until 1631, the year of the definitive passage to the Savoy.
The government of the powerful marquisate began in the mid-fourteenth century, but after a short time it had already passed into the hands of the Visconti who held it until 1377.
Ten years later it was included among the dowry possessions of Valentina Visconti for her wedding with the Count of Valois: in the dotal act San Damiano is described as "a large villa that has the town, kept by the Marquis of Monferrato". At the end of the 14th century, the Marquisate had another insidious enemy in the princes of Acaia who, with rapid incursions, occupied the town for a short time.
In the clashes between Gian Giacomo di Monferrato and Filippo Maria Visconti, the first, having suffered the worst, gave his land in custody to Duke Amedeo di Savoia, his relative, until peace was stipulated.
In 1435, three years after this, the duke obtained several places for indemnity including Chivasso and Livorno Ferraris; on the other hand, he returned as many to the Monferrato, including San Damiano. Between 1537 and 1559 the municipality, which in the meantime had deliberated its Statutes obtaining the approval of the regent Anna d'Alencon (1521), was besieged on several occasions by the French, sometimes resisting attacks, others succumbing.
The cruelest episode was certainly the assault on the castle, which remained in enemy hands from 1551 to 1559. With the peace of Cateau-Cambrésis San Damiano returned to the Marquisate of Monferrato.
Hostilities resumed in the early seventeenth century with the Monferrato wars of succession. In fact, the Duke Carlo Emanuele I of Savoy ordered that the important fortress be besieged. But the surrender of the Sandamianesi, although next, in reality did not happen for the providential interruption of the war.
In 1617 the Franks-Piedmontese returned to the attack: it was on this occasion that Andrea Prando was more distinguished, who directed the defense operations with skill and courage until losing his life.
Now in a bad way, the besieged accepted the surrender provided that there were no violence and looting, conditions that were not maintained. In the same year, with the peace of Pavia, the city returned to the Gonzaga.
San Damiano was then occupied by the Savoy in 1628: membership of the illustrious family was sanctioned three years later with the peace of Cherasco.
So it was that San Damiano was built in fief, passing first to the counts San Martino di Agliè and, from 1722, to the lawyer Carlo Giuseppe Carlevaris, although these, in reality, had been commissioned to acquire the fief on behalf of the municipality and not for himself, as he rather did not do well.
The eighteenth century was for San Damiano a period of political stability and consequent tranquility.
At the end of the eighteenth century began the dismantling of the city walls, an operation that would lead in the following century to the expansion of the city.
Already at the time of Felice Daneo, ie at the end of the nineteenth century, the two doors called "Sovréra" and "Sottèra" were almost ruined, as well as the castle, which we know demolished in 1617 by the hands of the Savoy troops.
At the entrance of the village, under the rampart Palestro (whose place is still remembered at Piazza Camisola) there was a large moat where there was an underground passage that led on the opposite side towards the castle.
The ditch, now deprived of all functions, first became the gym for the "game of the ball balloon" and then, once raised up to the street level, the Piazza Camisola, formerly Piazza Umberto I.
On January 31, 2018 San Damiano d'Asti was given the title of city by the President of the Republic, Sergio Mattarella.
San Damiano d'Asti is home to the Unione di Comuni Terre di Vini e di Tartufi.
Food and wine and typical products.
San Damiano is known as a land of great wines, truffles, sweets (famous the "sandamianesi" with a heart of cream, chocolate and hazelnuts enclosed by a wafer) and, above all, for its capon.
Opportunities to taste them are the Fair of Saint Giuseppe (Fiera di San Giuseppe), the oldest food and wine fair in Piedmont, the Fair of the Saints (Fiera dei Santi), the patronal festivals of Saint Giulio and the one dedicated to the saints Giacomo and Grato, and the Borgo Rondò Festival (Festa del Borgo Rondò).
The La Barbera incontra festival is dedicated to the wines, three days with concerts, cultural meetings, entertainment, art, gastronomy and tastings; for truffle lovers, instead, the Regional Truffle Fair is worthy of note, in November.
To be seen.
The current urban fabric of San Damiano, when compared to the city plan recorded for the land registry in the eighteenth century, does not appear much changed, rather it is still well-read the original features of a preordained medieval system, typical of the villae novae.
Even today, in fact, the city's axes are via Roma and the central Piazza Libertà; on the sides, forming a road network with a regular development, a series of minor roads branch off, in which some palaces of medieval origins can be observed, adapted in later periods.
From Piazza Camisola, connected to Piazza 1275 by a remarkable staircase with eclectic architecture, looking towards Canale, stands the new city.
In Piazza 1275 there is the presence of the Foro Boario, a multifunctional center inaugurated on December 16th 2017.
Returning to the historic center of San Damiano, we briefly retrace the most representative buildings that can be seen along Via Roma and Piazza Libertà.
Renovated in the eighteenth century, on probable pre-existing mediaeval, is Casa Castelli, which was the home of the architects Giuseppe and Filippo Castelli, originally from Varese but residing in Piedmont.
The building, in exposed brick, located on the corner between via Roma and via Gioberti, is on two floors on porch and was designed - reports the Daneo - by the same Filippo, author, among other things, also the bell tower of the beautiful Brotherhood of Saint Giuseppe.
On reaching Piazza Libertà, some noteworthy Baroque palaces immediately stand out.
First of all the ancient Town Hall which, erected on a portico with twin pillars and round arches, is internally connected to Palazzo Vagnone, uniform to the first in external decorative characters.
The council building, which was built in 1763-64 on a previous design by Giuseppe Castelli by the entrepreneur Domenico Conza, however, soon turned out to be insufficient to contain the municipal offices, so much so that, after acquiring Palazzo Vagnone, the municipality in 1884 he entrusted the restructuring to the engineer Giuseppe Bistolfi of Alessandria to adapt it to contain primary schools.
The new seat of the municipality then became Palazzo Carlevaris, so named after the owner who acquired it in 1884.
The interior, which runs on two floors, to which is added a third formed by mezzanine (open, in all likelihood, during the nineteenth century restoration), is distinguished by beautiful stately halls with stucco, frescoes and painted panels above.
Also in Piazza Libertà, there are the presence of two other buildings of excellent workmanship: that of the Counts Ceca from Vaglierano (Palazzo dei Conti Ceca di Vaglierano) and Casa Demarie.
Remaining in the historic center, the Clock Tower is also worth a visit, raised at the end of the 18th century.
Moving now to the south, in the area of Baluardo Montebello, we find two prestigious buildings: Pescarmona Palace (Palazzo Pescarmona) and Casa Daneo, the latter known for its beautiful frescoes ceilings.
At San Damiano is also the civic museum which houses the collection of Pietro Capussotti dedicated to electrical equipment, engineering, science and technology in environmental protection.
On the municipal territory there are two castles: of the first, founded by Astesi in the Middle Ages, remained only the base of one of the circular towers (the other sections of the fortress were destroyed by the Savoy troops in 1617) then adapted - in the fifteenth century - to tower bell of the majestic parish church of Saints Cosma e Damiano.
In the fractional territory stands the Castle of Lavezzole (Castello di Lavezzole), transformed into an elegant private residence and now on sale.
Equally, rich in testimonies is the heritage of ecclesiastical goods scattered throughout the territory.
A prominent place is occupied by the parish church of Saints Cosma e Damiano, with an imposing Baroque façade divided into two orders by a molded string-course that encloses a shaped window in the center.
It is probable that an old chapel with this name already existed before the foundation of the city and that around it a small settlement had been created coming, initially, from Lavezzole.
The first document concerning the church dates back to 1202, even if only the bell tower seems to have remained of the Gothic period, which, as already mentioned, was born as a defensive tower of the city walls.
In the sixteenth century the confraternity of Disciplinati of Santissima Annunziata obtained permission to build their church next to the parish church, so that it had to close the original entrance to the west to open another to the south: the Confraternity of Annunziata, was erected, with the interior with three naves and six chapels, open almost exclusively on the northern side.
Next to the Clock Tower we find instead the Baroque Church of Saint Giuseppe, ancient seat of the homonymous Confraternity.
From Piazza Libertà, taking the street of the same name, you reach the parish church of Saint Vincenzo Martire. Of Gothic origin, it was then restored in the seventeenth century and richly adorned at the turn of the following century with stucco cornices made by the archpriest Emanuele Giaccone.
About three kilometers from the town, along the provincial road to Villanova, lies the small church of Saint Giulio in the homonymous village. It is a Romanesque building completely rebuilt in the early nineteenth century, except for the bell tower, from the provost of the cathedral of Asti, which was in Saint Giulio prebend.
The façade, as De Canis recalled, was erected by taking inspiration from the "German" style of the Duomo, revealing, on the part of the client, a personal taste more than ever updated.
The interior, although simple and essential in its rather recent furnishings, preserves a truly unique work of art for the Asti region: it is the precious marble statue of Our Lady with the Child in her arms, perhaps performed, according to recent studies, between the end of Two hundred and early fourteenth century for the Chapel of the Blessed Virgin of the Cathedral of Asti.
San Damiano d'Asti is the most significant example of the locus novus of Asti Monferrato.
Built in 1275 by Astesi on the territory once occupied by the municipality of Astixio, it still represents today, in the orthogonal mesh of the historic center, a splendid example of Roman oppidum (fortified city), with the Contrada Maestra - the current via Roma - cut by 10 districts.
It is unusual to note that San Damiano d'Asti, despite having been for almost three centuries under the dominion of the Marquisate of Monferrato, has never been erected as a fief; nevertheless the community gave regular oaths of fidelity to the marquis and delivered feudal goods and rights.