Aosta Travel Information

Mother Earth Travel > Italy > Aosta > History

Aosta has a rich history and this history is evident in the numerous architectural monuments that it presents to its visitors. Tourists will appreciate the visible remains of Aosta, the Roman city, which is still in a good condition. There is also medieval Aosta which displays evidence of a more recent history in various areas of the city. A visit here could become a journey in time that begins in 25 B.C, when the Romans called this city Augusta Pretoria. It was fomerly in the hands of the mythical 'Salssi' and called Cordelia. However, the history of Aosta began even earlier than this, when the Dora plain was inhabited. There is evidence of a necropolis in the megalithic area megalitica of Saint Martin de Corleans, where ancient, anthromorphic objects were found that are now on display in the Museo Archeologico. In the eastern entrance of the city, the ideal visitors route starts at the traces of ancient Rome. The first construction here is the donkey back bridge in Piazza Arco d'Augusto, which is known as Ponte Romano. This bridge no longer links the two banks of the Buthier river as, over centuries, the river has changed its course. The Romans built the city around the course of the river as well as the river Dora, in order to exploit the land between two bodies of water. For this reason, the city has a rectangular shape. There are two main roads; the "cardo decumano" and the "cardo principale", and there used to be a gate at the two ends. Now only one still remains, the majestic, Porta Pretoria. Up until around forty years ago, travelllers entering the city walls used to pass under the Arco d'Augusto. This was a typical, Roman construction, a triumphal arch dedicated to the victory of Ottaviano Cesare Augusto over the Salassi. It is now surrounded by a large flower bed and in certain, architectural details, no longer retains its original shape. Continuing from the arch towards the west of the city, you will reach the Porta Pretoria, that like the arch is built from heavy, stone blocks on which marble slabs were placed. In order to keep the bricks in place, the Romans used a kind of resistent cement, the composition of which is still unknown. On the right side of the gate is a tower, built in feudal times on the wall, and called the Torre dei signori di Sant'Orso. The renovated ground floor of the tower is now an exhibition space. On the right of the gate is the Teatro Romano, a majestic building whose 22 metre façade remains. There is a semicircular structure on the back of the theatre and on the north corner of the theatre is the Anfiteatro. This ampitheatre is now partly hidden by the nearby convent of Santa Caterina. Some external arches are visible; there are sixty on two sides and it had a capacity for around 20,000 people. Walk up the road of the Porte Pretoriane to reach the neo classical, luxurious, palazzo del Municipio, which faces the beautiful Piazza Chanoux. The architect that planned this was obviously influenced by Piazza San Carlo in Turin. Don't be fooled by the "Hotel de Ville" or, townhall sign on one of the buildings. Leaving the square, turn right to reach the Roman ruins. This is also the site of the Cathedral which opens onto the Foro Romano. The Roman Forum was also a market, court and a meeting place as well as housing a temple. The temperature in these places was always low, and historians claim that this was a cool place for people to gather in summer. Evidence of Augusta Pretoria is also found on the walls where there were guard towers, that were replaced by proper towers in medieval times, and sometimes houses, as is the case with the Torre dei Balivi, near the theatre. This was once the home of the city's ruler, and was then used as a court, and later as a prison. Near to the Balivi tower is Tour Fromage, which gets its name from the family that built it, and is now an exhibition space. On the opposite corner of the wall , near the railway station is the Tour Pailleron, that used to be a Roman tower. There is also the imposing Tour Bramafan. This is a castle, built by the Challant, on a large site. According to legend, the Aostans gathered here during a long famine to ask for food from their rulers. The last of the towers is the Lebbroso, which was made famous by Xavier de Maistre in the story "Il lebbroso della città di Aosta". In a melancholy style, the French author records how he met a leper who was segregated in the tower and the long conversations they shared. Famous for its Roman ruins, Aosta also boasts notable monuments from other eras. On the same square as the Forum is the Cattedrale. The original building dates from the tenth and eleventh centuries and has been renovated a number of times. There are two belltowers, built for different buildings. The original one is on the right of the church. Inside the Cathedral are three, simple, austere naves and, at the back of the central nave is the canons choirbox, which has two stalls in a gothic style and is rich with strange, symbolic figures. Outside the Roman walls is the tall, historic church of Aosta, the Collegiata di Sant'Orso. In a small square, the belltower, the church, the cloisters and a limetree recreate an atmosphere that takes visitors back into the medieval world of the monks.