Piemonte is so rich in authentic places, jewels of unknown beauty. Why does the whole world fly to Firenze or Siena and drives as fast as possible along highway A26 without visiting such wonderful monumental towns? Casale shows how Piemonte possesses an important patrimony of art although many visitors are probably unaware of it. Casale is strategically positioned at the northeastern point of the hills of Monferrato and the Po river and was often sieged and destroyed but always built up again. Author Umberto Eco (born near Casale himself) cites Casale in many of his novels: Ubertino di Casale, a historical figure, appears in his Name of the Rose, and the novel Island of the Last Day starts with Roberto de la Griva in Casale. Known in Roman times as Vardacate, Casale became important during Middle Age, when it became Monferrato´s capital. Although there are clear Renaissance influences it´s most important period is Baroque.
A visit to this beautiful town is absolutely rewarding. It´s historical centre is dominated by some interesting 17th century buildings but a more closer look will reveal more monuments of highest value, all situated in little distance in the historical part of Casale.
The Castello, a citadel built near the river in quadrilateral form with towers on the corners was built in the Paleologhi period (12th century) and later in 15th century strengthened when Casale was under the reign of Mantova and often sieged by it´s neighbour states. It´s now seat of the Enoteca Regionale of Monferrato and of various events.
Most striking of all, is the Synagogue (1595 AD), one of the best preserved synagogues in Europe, and a most beautiful example of Baroque. It shows the abundance of Jewish life in town, which saw it´s highlight in Napoleonic times. The synagogue is still maintained by a little Jewish community (Piemonte has 25 synagogues, but this one is best known). The museum next to the museum shows historical Torahs written on lambs-skin and interesting chandles, result of an international contest for artists.
At the same place opposite to the Castello we find a neoclassical building, the Teatro municipale (1791), again an example of Italy´s wealth of cultural highlights at unexpected places. On the outside it looks exactly like Verdi´s theatre in Parma, it is used as theatre, opera house and dance theatre.
More inside the old centre of Casale there is the old Duomo, or Cattedrale di S.Evasio, unfortunately somewhat hidden behind buildings, but still impressive. It´s first architecture dates from Romanesque period, later it has been adapted and gradually restructured during the ages, showing clear signs of various periods. The elliptic chapel is interesting but most important are the mosaics of the 8th century, found nearby and conserved at the walls behind the choir.
A stroll in the town is something every Italy lover will appreciate: there are nice bars, little shops of which some in Liberty style, offering local gastronomic delights like the Krumiri (a local sweet) and in summer one can enjoy city life from the terraces with a good local capuccino or a glass of Monferrato wine. Piazza Mazzini and also piazza Santo Stefano are delightful small squares. There are some places for eating out of which ristorante Le Torre is famous for it´s excellent kitchen.
From the Torre Civica (11th century) there is a wonderful sight on the town and the surroundings, the meandering Po river and the first hills of Monferrato.
On the other part of the old centre one finds the most interesting Museo Civico, situated in the former S.Croce monastery, boasting an abundant art collection: at the ground floor is the collection of the famous 20th century sculptor, Bistolfi, also called ´gipsoteca´ because many of his works are of gypsum. On the first floor we find the Pinacoteca, with paintings, sculptures, tessiles, ceramics and other art works, worth a visit, also because of the works of Casale´s Renaissance painter Spanzotti or local painter Niccoló Musso.
Most impressive is also the Santa Caterina church (1725) which was once part of the monastery of the Dominican nuns in seclusion. Above the altar the statue of Our Lady of the Assumption, a wonderful Baroque sculpture. The elliptic dome is a rare example of Baroque architecture and the frescoes, painted by Aliberti, with help of Benaschi and Vittore, are of great beauty. The choir of the church is not open to public but shows the wonderful wooden choir with 44 seats where the monks used to sing during the service.
Outside the centre we found an old artisanal distillery: Distilleria Magnoberta, it was still working when we entered – october is harvest time, so the wineries deliver the vinaccia, the last dry parts of the finished must, of which then grappa is distilled. The 12 meter distillery towers high above the building, whereas below the vinaccia is heated in order to distil the last alcohol and fluid. We finish this wonderful day with a tasting of different grappas, young and aged versions, some of aromatic grapes. How surprising a day in one of Piemonte´s most unknown towns!
The town contains more interesting monuments, palaces and places than I am able to mention, for example: Palazzo Treville, Palazzo di Anna d´Alençon, Chiesa di S.Filippo Neri, among others.
Visits: for informations email the local turist organisation Mon.D.O.: www.monferrato.org email@example.com
Visits to the Synagogue are possible on appointment: www.casalebraica.info
About Distilleria Magnoberta: www.magnoberta.com
Information about the theatre program at:
Many thanks to Marco Bertoncini of Mon.D.O.