Surrounded by the Asti hills, Canelli welcomes visitors to the Belbo Valley, where history is palpable and the land can be fully experienced with all five senses.
Canelli, the Piedmontese city called the Italian capital of sparkling wine (as well as “city of wine”) and home to the Underground Cathedrals—historic wine cellars excavated underground and part of a UNESCO World Heritage—is located in the southern area of the province of Asti. It is precisely here that the Langhe ends and the Monferrato begins.
Today, however, we’re not here to talk about its wines—its Moscato, Barbera d’Asti, or spumante—but we want to show you the city’s symbolic and historic places to visit, where diverse populations and cultures have convened since prehistoric times.
The central body of the city is situated on a modest piece of flat land, but in medieval times, a fort was erected on the surrounding hill. The Gancia castle is currently the private property of the Gancia family, who transformed it into an elegant villa in the mid-19th century. Built in the 11th century, the castle was constructed to defend the commercial route that connected Asti to the port of Savona. Over the centuries, it was enlarged and enriched with sculpted architectural details.
In the 17th century, the fort was almost completely destroyed by Spanish troops. In 1676, it was reconstructed by the Marchese Ambrogio Antonio Scampi Crivelli, to whom credit is due for its handsome current-day façade.
Up until 1929, different families owned the castle until the Gancia family purchased it, hiring architect Arturo Midana to transform part of its structure. He added two wings to the original square base and restored the Italianate garden. Its rooms were enhanced with the decorations by painter Giovanni Olindo, and numerous polychrome stucco ceilings give the castle its original 17th century appearance.
CHURCH OF SAN TOMMASO
As we already mentioned, countless populations and cultures have passed through Canelli since the beginning of civilization. The parish church of San Tommaso is a perfect example of how the Baroque age left its mark on the city. Already documented in public records in the 12th century, the church is located on a small hill in the lower section of Canelli near Piazza Gioberti. The current-day building is the result of a major reconstruction carried out in the mid-17th century and an expansion at the end of the 19th century, when the tiburium, presbytery, and apse were added.
Inside, you can find interesting decorations and canvases from the Baroque era. Among the most important are the canvas of the Nativity by Sebastiano Taricco, the altarpiece of the Day of Assumption made in 1785 by Carlo Gorzio of Moncalvo in the right nave, and the canvas of the Immaculate Conception by painter Giancarlo Aliberti (1670-1727) of Canelli. The church is further decorated with 17th century Baroque stucco and beautiful Renaissance marble sculptures in the Baptistery chapel.
The church was a “civic temple,” because the Municipality erected it. It’s for this reason that a dog emblem, symbol of the city, appears on the bell tower today, added over five hundred years ago.
La Stërnia è forse il più celebre “monuimento” canellese. Si tratta di una ripida strada ciottolata che, affiancando piccole abitazioni rurali e crotin scavati direttamente nella roccia, conduce nella parte alta della città fino al Castello, offrendo punti panoramici. Al terzo tornante si incontrano i sinuosi volumi in pietra e mattoni dell’Oratorio di San Rocco (prima metà del XVIII secolo) e, di fronte, la Parrocchiale di San Lorenzo, ricostruita verso la fine del XVII secolo. È su questa suggestiva salita che ogni terza domenica di giugno si celebra la parte più animata dell’Assedio di Canelli, rievocazione storica della battaglia che, nel 1613, vide la città dello spumante trionfare sulle truppe dei Gonzaga pronte a impadronirsi del Monferrato ai danni dei Savoia.
Durante la rievocazione, Canelli e la Stërnia si trasformano in una città del ‘600 che, grazie all’opera di più di mille figuranti, rivive le fasi dell’assedio, coinvolgendo i turisti nella battaglia. Particolare attenzione viene prestata all’enogastronomia canellese, che ripropone i piatti della tradizione nelle osterie e nelle taverne allestite in tutto il centro storico in un tripudio di agnolotti, bollito alla piemontese, arrosto cotto sullo spiedo, zuppe di legumi e robiole di pecora. Il tutto innaffiato da vini selezionati per l’occasione.
LE CATTEDRALI SOTTERRANEE
The Underground Cathedrals are the ancient wine cellars of the historic wineries of Canelli. The earth under the city is the perfect environment for making and aging wine: the calcareous tuff rock, in fact, acts as an optimal thermal insulator and maintains temperatures at a constant 12-14°C. Like underground naves of a church, the tunnels of Canelli are covered in brick and extend to great lengths or expand in huge rooms with arches and pillars. They reach a depth of 30 meters, for a total of 18 kilometers underground. Construction began in the 16th century, and they were expanded up until the 19th century, little by little with pickaxes and chisels.
Hundreds of wineries in Canelli own a crutin (an underground cellar), and many of these places also contain offices, art galleries, and warehouses. The Regional Enoteca of Canelli has transformed theirs into a unique restaurant.