Having researched and written about the heritage of the Ferrero Family, I had to visit Alba, if only to buy some truffled goodies!
Alba is the second most populous town in the province after the main city of Cuneo. It’s the historical and economic capital of Le Langhe region. Located just 50 km (31 miles) from the capital of Piedmont Turin, it stands largely on the right bank of the river Tanaro, on a broad flat basin surrounded by the beautiful hills, covered in vineyards, of the Langhe and Roero.
How it all began
Alba’s origins date from before the Roman civilisation, connected probably to the presence of Celtic and Ligurian tribes in the area. Consequently, it’s one of the most important Neolithic sites in Italy.
The modern town occupies the site of ancient Alba Pompeia, the name given after being officially recognised as a town by the Roman consul Gnaeus Pompeius Strabo while constructing a road from Aquae Statiellae (Acqui) to Augusta Taurinorum (Turin). Alba was the birthplace of Publius Helvius Pertinax, briefly Roman emperor in 193.
After the fall of the Western Empire, the city was repeatedly sacked by pretty much everyone. In 11th century it became a free commune (or city-state) and was a member of the Lombard League. Montferrat and the Visconti fought over the town; later it became a possession of the Gonzaga. Charles Emmanuel I of Savoy conquered it twice, while later France and Spain battled for its possession.
The Treaty of Cherasco (1631) assigned Alba definitively to Savoy. During the Napoleonic Wars, it was part of the Republic of Alba (1796) and of the Subalpine Republic, both French, before being annexed to the French Empire in 1802. It was liberated by Austrian troops and returned to the Kingdom of Sardinia (Duchy of Savoy’s name after gaining Sardinia in 1720) in 1814.
Alba won a Gold Medal for Military Valour for the heroic activity of its citizens in the Italian resistance movement during the course of World War II. In October 1944, the town was liberated by partisans who established a Republic of Alba which for a few weeks was able to maintain its independence from the Fascist Republic of Salò. The republic lasted until November 1944, when the Republic of Salo retook it. French troops finally liberated it on 2 May 1945.
In 1994 the river Tanaro overflowed causing much damage to the city and its wonderful monuments. Principal of which is its Cathedral San Lorenzo, built in 15th century by Bishop Novelli, in neo-Gothic style on the ruins of an ancient Roman temple. Its bell tower incorporated one from 13th century. The cathedral is in Piazza Risorgimento, historically the place dedicated to mercantile exchanges. On the same square there is the Town Hall built on the remains of its Roman forum. In the main Council Hall, along the main staircase and on the first floor there are works by local artists spanning the centuries.
Nearby , there are other significant buildings such as the church of San Domenico (12-14th century) which contains some lovely frescoes and the Baroque Confraternity of St. Joseph (17th century) recently renovated and now home to cultural events.
Piazza Rossetti, right beside the Cathedral, is the birthplace of Beppe Fenoglio, now the seat of the Centre for the Study of literature, history, art and culture dedicated to him.
Alba was known as the city of a hundred towers, there are only a few left (the best preserved are those between Piazza Risorgimento and Via Cavour) and, among those that remain, many have been lowered to the level of the surrounding roofs or incorporated in buildings.
Fill your boots
In addition to traditional agriculture, Alba is a very important centre for wine playing host to 290 wineries that cultivate an area of 700 hectares (1,700 acres) of land, divided into:
The city has a thriving economy, boasting the confectionery industry’s world-renowned Ferrero, the publishing house Società San Paolo, the textile firm Miroglio, Italy’s largest co-operative bank Banca d’Alba, and the international food chain Eataly. Alba is also famous worldwide for its white truffles, and its annual Truffle Festival which is held in October.
There’s a richness that underpins the entire region and consequently we’ll return, most probably in autumn.