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Remnants of the ancient wall
and tower of Sant'Orso, Aosta


Piazza Chanoux, Aosta


Horse and buggy ride, Aosta


Teatro Romano, Aosta

 


 

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Welcome to Aosta
from Jesse's Journeys in Italy

Population: 33,926 (2001)
Lat/Long:
4543.98′ N 720.04′ E
Official website:
Aosta
Wikipedia:
Aosta
Map: MapQuest

Aosta is the capital city of the Region of Valle d'Aosta, and shares its general history.   After defeating the Salassi, a Celtic tribe that had settled the Baltea Plain, the Romans established a military camp (Augusta Praetoria Salassorum) here in about 25 BC, to guard and taken advantage of the most important passes between Italy and what is now France and Switzerland. 

The city sits at the confluence of two rivers, the Buthier and Dora Baltea, and at the junction of two ancient roads that carry the traveler north, one to the Great St. Bernard pass, the other to the Little St. Bernard pass. The Romans built on a simple grid, with two roads intersecting at right angles, with gates in the walls leading into the city along them.

A small city, Aosta has not suffered the terrible devastations that have been inflicted elsewhere by passing armies, or by the earthquakes that have shaken other parts of Italy. There is a spacious, and timeless alpine feeling throughout the city, particularly in and around its principal piazza, the Piazza Chanoux.

As a result of remaining a more or less stable and peaceful city, there are many extant and easily accessible Roman ruins, and later medieval buildings which have not been pulled down, but certainly show all the effects of exposure to the Alpine climate over the last 10 centuries.

While there are some important industries, most especially  hydroelectric generation and distribution, and steel and aluminum production, it is not a city characterized by the hustle and bustle of most modern cities.

The traveler will be able to explore all the city's major monuments and buildings in the course of a day, even if one lingers at some.

Starting outside the medieval walls of the "old" city, one will find the Collegiata di Sant'Orso, a large complex including a church, bell tower and monastery, mostly in the Romanesque style.  The bell tower (campanile) stands at 46 meters high, and has four floors with mullioned windows near its top.  It was built between 994 and 1025AD, (with some rebuilding in the 15th century) and it is probably the most important medieval building in the city.  The Gothic interior of the church, which contains a remarkable wooden choir (14th century) is decorated with frescoes, some of which date to the 11th century.  Below is a crypt with five small aisles, dating to the same period.  The right aisle has doors to the Romanesque cloisters, probably added in the 12th Century.

Large sections of the city's medieval walls, and several towers are clearly visible, in some places, still in use.  The  Porta Pretoria, still extant, is one of the two principal gates into the city following the north-south road.  In the walls near the gate, one can still see chunks of the marble slabs that used to line the walls.

The tower to the right of the gate is the Torre dei signori di Sant'Orso, a building used during medieval times by the Signori who ran local government.  The lower floor has been renovated as an exhibition space.

A couple of other towers are of interest.  The Torre dei Belivi, near the theater was a governor's residence in its early days, but has also servered as a court and later a prison. The Tour Fromage, named for its original owners, not because it was a cheese factory.  Like so many historic buildings in Italy, it too has been transformed into an exhibition space.

Walking through the gate into the city, you will encounter the neo-classical Palazzo del Municipio on the Piazza Chanoux.  The Romanesque Cathedral of the Assumption also sits on the Piazza, and it gives way to what used to be the Roman Forum, the place where Roman's conducted their markets and public meetings.  Archaeologists working on the Cathedral site have discovered a variety of paleo-christian works including paving stones, stairways, tombs, baptismal fonts and mosaics.

Another of the important churches in town is Chiesa San Stefano with a facade added in the 18th century.  Inside, there is a frescoe cycle consisting of 10 panels celebrating the life of the saints.  Also inside, one encounters a large statue of San Cristoforo carved out of a section of walnut tree with a diameter of one and a half meters.  Also keep an eye out for the small Gothic Church of San Lorenzo.

The Tour Pailleron (tower of straw), near the train station is an expanded version of the original Roman tower in the Roman wall that was used to store straw.

The Tour Bramafan evolved into a castle and the Tour  Lebbroso - or tower of the leper - is the scene of a famous French story by Xavier de Maistre about a leper who was kept confined there.  There are two bell towers, one built by the Cathedral, and the other at the monastery just outside the city walls.

The "bailiff's tower" was built in the late 12th century.  The building was used as the principal seat of local government starting in the mid to late 14h Century.

Near the Arch of Augustus inside the medieval walls, in the Piazza d'Augusto, is a bridge, the Ponte Romano, that used to span the Buthier River.  It  serves no purpose now because the river has long since changed course.

Nearby is the Teatro Romano whose facade, about 22 meters wide, still stands.  The Convent of Santa Caterina partially obscures the amphitheatre behind the wall at the back of the main theater.  The theater complex was quite capacious having room for 20,000 spectators.

The Museo Archeologico contains relics and artifacts from, of course, the Roman and medieval periods, but also some that originate at a much earlier time, when the area was under settlement by the Salassi.

One does not have to spend all ones time peering at ancient things.  Aosta has a number of restaurants, cafes and shops in the "centro storico" where one can bide one's time.  The local fare is a hearty blend of Italian, French and Swiss.

Best times of year to come? Probably just before and after the August holiday to avoid the inevitable crowds of impatient tourists.  Of course, those travelers who like to partake of winter sports should plan a winter trip, and use Aosta as a base camp for excursions into the cold and snowny mountains......brrrr!

by Vian Andrews, 11 September 2005

Valle D'Aosta Region

 

Directions

By Car: A5 from Torino; T1 from Charmonix, France (Mont Blanc tunnel); A2-T2 from Lausanne, Matigny (Switzerland).  Air: small airport at Aosta.  Train/Bus: Local and International lines to Aosta.

Directory
 

 


Tower of the Church of Sant'Orso, Aosta

Cathedral of the Assunta, Aosta
 

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