Casale Monferrato

Casale Monferrato

Casale Monferrato or Casale, city (1991 pop. 38,962), Piedmont, NW Italy, on the Po River. Manufactures include cement, electrical appliances, and farm machinery, and much wine is produced in the region. It became the capital of the marquisate of Montferrat in 1435 and was strongly fortified. In the mid-16th cent. the city came under Mantua, and in 1703 it passed to the house of Savoy. Of note are the Romanesque cathedral (12th cent.) and the citadel (15th cent., now a barracks).
Casale Monferrato is a town in the Piedmont region of north-west Italy, part of the province of Alessandria. It is situated about 60 km east of Turin on the right bank of the Po, where the river runs at the foot of the Monferrato hills. Beyond the river lies the vast plain of the Po valley.


The origins of the town are fairly obscure. It is known that the Gaulish settlement of Vardacate (from var = ‘water’; ate = ‘populated place’) existed on the Po in this area, and that it became a Roman municipium. By the beginning of the eighth century there was a small town under Lombard rule, probably called Sedula or Sedulia. It was here (according to late and unreliable accounts) that one Saint Evasius, along with 146 followers, was decapitated on the orders of the Arian Duke Attabulo. Liutprand, King of the Lombards is said to have supported the construction of a church in honour of Evasius. Certainly the martyr’s cult flourished and by 988 the town had become known as Casale di Sant’Evasio.

At the time of Charlemagne, the town came under the temporal and religious power of the bishops of Vercelli, from which it was freed by Frederick Barbarossa, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Italy. It was sacked by the anti-imperial troops of Vercelli, Alessandria and Milan in 1215, but rebuilt and fortified in 1220. It fell under the power of the Marquess of Montferrat in 1292, and later became the capital of the marquessate.

In 1536 it passed to the Gonzagas of Mantua, who fortified it strongly. Thereafter it was of considerable importance as a fortress: it successfully resisted the Austrians in 1849, and was strengthened in 1852.

Towards the end of the nineteenth century it became known as "Cement Capital" (capitale del cemento), thanks to the quantity of Portland cement in the hills nearby, and in the twentieth century it acquired printing press and refrigerator industries.

The historic centre

Piazza Mazzini and its environs

The historic centre of the town is itself centred on Piazza Mazzini, the site of the Roman forum. Named for Giuseppe Mazzini, a key republican figure of the Risorgimento, it is dominated by an 1843 equestrian statue by Abbondio Sangiorgio of Carlo Alberto, King of Piedmont-Sardinia, dressed in Roman costume, specifically as a senator, with his knees uncovered. The statue was commissioned by the municipal authorities as a mark of gratitude to the king for having selected Casale as the seat of Piedmont’s second Court of Appeal—a restoration, in some sense, of the old senate of Monferrato—and to celebrate the construction of Casale’s first permanent bridge across the Po. Locally the square is invariably called Piazza Cavallo: cavallo being the Italian word for ‘horse’.

The duomo

A little to the east of the square is the fine Lombard Romanesque cathedral of Sant'Evasio, originally founded in 742, rebuilt in the early twelfth century and consecrated in 1106 or 1107; it underwent restoration in 1706 and again in the 19th century. It contains some good pictures, and the relics of Saint Evasius, but is probably most notable for its remarkable narthex.

San Domenico

In 1471, after Guglielmo VIII Paleologo had chosen Casale as the permanent location of the Monferrato court, construction began of the church of San Domenico, to the north of Piazza Mazzini. Work on the building ceased for some time, as a result of political instability; in the early sixteenth century a fine, if slightly incongruous, Renaissance portal was imposed on the late Gothic façade.

Via Lanza

Via Lanza, which runs northwards from the north-west corner of Piazza Mazzini, is known for the Krumiri Rossi bakery, which indeed produces Krumiri: biscuits which have been a speciality of Casale since their legendary invention in 1870 by one Domenico Rossi after an evening spent with friends in Piazza Mazzini’s Caffè della Concordia (now a bank). Also in Via Lanza is the seventeenth-century church of San Giuseppe, probably designed by Sebastiano Guala; a painting attributed to the Ursuline nun Lucrina Fetti (c.1614–1651, brother of Domenico) shows Christ venerated by Sant’Evasio and includes a very accurate depiction of contemporary Casale with its civic tower. The church and convent of San Francesco, which housed the remains of many of the Marquises of Monferrato, was turned to other uses during the eighteenth century and demolished in the nineteenth. The high open tower which is a landmark of Via Lanza belongs to Palazzo Morelli di Popolo; it has been attributed to Bernardo Vittone, and also to Magnocavalli—both are believed to have had a hand in the refurbishment of the building.

Via Saffi

Running west from Piazza Mazzini to Piazza Castello is Via Saffi, which contains one of the town’s most recognizable landmarks: the Torre Civica. This brick tower, square in plan and 60 metres high, dates from the eleventh century but suffered severe fire damage in April 1504 when a festival to celebrate the peace between Holy Roman Emperor Maximillian I and King Louis XII of France got out of hand. The reconstruction, completed six years later by Matteo Sammicheli, produced a taller structure which included the current bell-chamber. The balconies attached to the upper part of the tower were added during the period of Gonzaga rule. Subsequent restorations were carried out in 1779 (after a lightning strike which destroyed the fifteenth-century clock) and again in 1920.

Adjoining the tower is the church of Santo Stefano which stands on the east side of a small sqare named after it. The church’s origins date to the beginning of the second millennium, but it was largely rebuilt in the mid-1600s under a project attributed to Sebastiano Guala; work on the current façade began in 1787 but was not completed until the late nineteenth century. Inside are paintings by Giovanni Francesco Caroto (1480 – 1555), Il Moncalvo (1568 – 1625), Giorgio Alberini (1575/6 – 1625/6), and Francesco Cairo (1607 – 1665). Adorning both the walls and the vault are 15 tondi depicting prophets, apostles and the Virgin painted by Pietro Francesco Guala in 1757, the last year of his life.

The south side of Piazza Santo Stefano, facing back towards Via Saffi, is formed by the neo-classical Palazzo Ricci di Cereseto. The imposing façade, marked by four massive brick columns, was built in 1806 to an earlier design by the local architect Francesco Ottavio Magnocavalli.

Also in the square is a marble statue of the archaeologist and architect Luigi Canina by Benedetto Cacciatore.

Piazza Castello

Piazza Castello is a large irregularly shaped open space used as a car park and as a market square; it is dominated by the castle of the Paleologi which occupies most of its western side. The square arose in 1858 through the demolition of the castle’s eastern ravelin, and was extended in the late nineteenth/early twentieth century when the remaining ravilins were removed.

The castle

The castle itself is an imposing 15th century military construction, with a hexagonal plan, four round towers and an encircling moat.

Santa Caterina

At the south-east corner of the piazza is the elegant Baroque church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, better known by its earlier designation of Santa Caterina. A master-work of Giovanni Battista Scapitta, completed after his death by Giacomo Zanetti, it is marked by an elliptical cupola, and a façade curvilinear both in plan and elevation.

Teatro Municipale

The theatre, which stands at the north-eastern corner of the piazza at the end of Via Saffi, opened in 1791 with a performance of the La moglie capricciosa, an opera buffa by Vincenzo Fabrizi. Its construction, to a design by Abbot Agostino Vitoli of Spoleto, had taken six years. However it fell into disuse during the period of Napoleonic rule and remained closed for several decades. After extensive internal embellishment, the theatre reopened in 1840 with a performance of Vincenzo Bellini’s Beatrice di Tenda. In 1861 the theatre was sold by the Società dei Nobili to the local authority (the comune) which made it more accessible to the general public. Nevertheless it fell again into decline; during World War II it was used as a store. Major restoration work took place in the 1980s and the theatre finally reopened in 1990 with a performance by Vittorio Gassmann. Since then it has offered a mixture of theatre, music and dance, while the foyer is used for exhibitions, usually photographic.

The horseshoe-shaped auditorium with stalls, four tiers of boxes and a gallery (or loggione, i.e. the gods) is richly decorated with frescoes, stucco, gilding and velvet. The curtains of the royal box hang from a structure supported on stucco caryatids by Abbondio Sangiorgio who also designed the equestrian statue in Piazza Mazzini.

Via Garibaldi and Sant’Ilario

From the side of the theatre Via Garibaldi leads westwards to the sixteenth-century church of Sant'Ilario, founded in 380 in honour of Hilary of Poitiers. It was completely rebuilt in 1566 and was largely restructured towards the end of the nineteenth century. The church’s polychrome façade is of interest and it contains two important works by Niccolò Musso: the Madonna del Carmine (‘Our Lady of Mount Carmel’) and San Francesco ai piedi del Crocefisso (‘Saint Francis at the foot of the Crucifix’) originally from the church of San Francesco.

Via Roma, ghetto and synagogue

Behind the shops on the south side of Via Roma, which runs eastwards from Piazza Mazzini, lay the ghetto which persisted until the emancipation of the Jews in Piedmont following Carlo Alberto’s concession of a constitution, the Statuto Albertino, under the revolutionary pressures of 1848. The Synagogue of Casale Monferrato is inside a building at Vicolo Olper 44 that offers no hint from its nondescript exterior that it is a synagogue, built in 1595, and recognized as one of the most beautiful in Europe. The women’s galleries now host an important Jewish museum. Of particular interest are the Tablets of the Law in gilded wood, dating from the eighteenth century, numerous Rimonim (finials to scrolls of the Law) and Atarot (crowns for the scrolls of the Law) carved and with silver filigree.

The Giardini pubblici and public sculpture

The public gardens which front the railway station extend westwards, dissected by various streets, almost to the southern end of Via Roma. They contain a range of monuments to figures of local and national renown including Giovanni Lanza (sculpted by Odoardo Tabacchi, 1887), Giuseppe Antonio Ottavi (Leonardo Bistolfi, 1890), Filippo Mellana (Giacomo Ginotti, 1887), and Giuseppe Garibaldi (Primo Giudici, 1884).

The most important, however, is Bistolfi’s war memorial of 1928 (pictured left). A marble exedra with four caryatids in the form of winged victories is raised on a dias fronted with steps. The bronze sculpture Il Fante Crociato, a foot soldier in crusader-period costume, takes centre stage; a second bronze a lightly robed Primavera Italica (Italic Spring) steps down from the platform and out of the ensemble.

Other public sculptures of note in Casale include the monument to King Carlo Alberto in Piazza Mazzini mentioned above, Bistolfi’s 1887 monument to Urbano Rattazzi in Piazza Rattazzi, Benedetto Cacciatori’s Luigi Canina in Piazza Santo Stefano.The Monumento alla difesa di Casale (Francesco Porzio, 1897; pictured right), situated to the north of the castle, commemorates the vigorous action which took place during the First Italian War of Independence in 1849 to defend the city against Austrian troops who had just taken part in the defeat of the Piedmontese army. In the Priocco district, to the south of the historic centre, in Viale Ottavio Marchino, there is a monument by Virgilio Audagna to the cement industrialist Ottavio Marchino, son of the founder of Cementi Marchino, which is now part of Buzzi Unicem.


The historic centre is marked by many palazzi which are often Baroque in appearance (though the substance is often earlier), reflecting the urban renewal which took place in the early decades of the eighteenth century. Among the best known are:

  • the fifteenth-century palazzo of the marchesa Anna d'Alençon in Via Alessandria.
  • The fifteenth-century Palazzo Treviso, in Via Trevigi, was restructured on behalf of the Anna d’Alençon before being given to the Dominican convent. During the Napoleonic period it was used as a lyceum and has subsequently remained in scholastic use.
  • Palazzo Del Carretto, also known as the Casa Tornielli, in Via Canina, again dating from the fifteenth century, now housing a language school.
  • The medieval Casa Biandrate, at the junction of Via Guazzo and Via Morini, has preserved its late gothic character.
  • Palazzo Sannazzaro, a gothic building in Via Mameli, remodelled in the baroque style by Giacomo Zanetti (1698–1735).
  • Palazzo Gozani di Treville, regarded as the most beautiful in the town and as one of the two most important works of Giovanni Battista Scapitta, the other being the church of Santa Catarina, mentioned above. The rococò atrium and courtyard are particularly praised, as is the long and gently curved façade which follows the path of Via Mameli.
  • Palazzo Gozani di San Giorgio, now the town hall, was partially rebuilt in the years 1775–8 to a design by Filippo Nicolis de Robilant. The façade is of three orders with its windows surrounded by decorations in stucco. Via Mameli.
  • Palazzo Magnocavalli has a façade commissioned from Giacomo Zanetti by the architect Francesco Ottavio Magnocavalli. Inside, the monumental twisted staircase, supported by two columns, fits gracefully into a very restricted space. Via Mameli.
  • Palazzo Fornara, built in 1840 in the neo-classical style by the Vercellese Pietro Bosso, forms the west side of Piazza Mazzini. The site was previously occupied by the church of Santa Maria di Piazza which was deconsecrated during the Napoleonic period. Since 1925 it has been a bank.
  • Palazzo Langosco, in Via Corte d’Appello, encloses part of the main cloister of the former Augustinian convent complex of Santa Croce. Once the seat of the Senate of Montferrat, it now houses the public library.
  • The neo-classical Palazzo Sacchi-Nemours, beside the Teatro Civico in Via Saffi, was built in 1750–2 by the local architect Francesco Ottavio Magnocavalli.
  • Palazzo Ricci di Cereseto, in Piazzetta di S. Stefano, has an imposing neo-classical façade fronted by four massive brickwork columns, constructed in 1806 by G. Battista Formiglia, probably following a design by Magnocavalli.
  • Palazzo Gaspardone-Ottavi, in Via Cavour, came into the possession of the Ottavi family during the nineteenth century and is noted for Bistolfi’s plaque commemorating Ottavio Ottavi (an oenologist known also, in his home town, for writing the Inno ai krumiri, or ‘hymn to the krumiri biscuits’) and a memorial tablet to Saint Luigi Gonzaga.

Museums and galleries

The civic museum is located in the ancient convent of Santa Croce, whose cloister is decorated with frescos by il Moncalvo.


Casale was an important center for Italian music from the 13th through the 17th centuries. During the Albigensian Crusade, Casale was a refuge for troubadours fleeing regions to the west; the music of such troubadours may have been decisive in the formation of secular Italian musical styles in the 14th century (see Music of the Trecento). In the 16th century the town was incorporated into the holdings of the Gonzaga family, who were patrons of music throughout the Renaissance.

The cathedral there has in its archives polyphonic music by Jean Mouton, Andreas de Silva, and Francesco Cellavenia, as well as important prints by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina and other major composers of the period. In the 17th and 18th centuries, Casale was the site for premieres of operas by Giulio Cesare Monteverdi, Pietro Guglielmi, and Pasquale Anfossi, and was the birthplace of the Swiss-Italian composer Carlo Evasio Soliva. Currently the city's musical center is the Teatro Municipale.


Casale is situated in a plain where rice cultivation is predominant, and in an area of cement-bearing hills and wineries.


The town’s football club, A.S. Casale, was founded in 1909. Within five years it achieved the twin peaks of its success: in 1913 it became the first Italian club to beat an English professional team (Reading F.C.), and in the 1913–14 season it won the Italian Championship. The team dropped out of Serie A in 1934, however, and in the 2006–7 season it is playing in Serie D/A.

The local basketball team, A.S. Junior Libertas Pallacanestro Casale Monferrato, was founded in 1956 and today competes in LegADue, the second tier of the sport in Italy.


  • Annual
    • Saint Joseph’s Fair (Mostra mercato di San Giuseppe). A fair of industry, commerce, handicraft, and agriculture held since 1946. Mid-March; Cittadella.
    • Rice and Roses (Riso&Rose). A festival of concerts, pageants, markets and other events held in and around Casale since 2001. May.
    • Folkermesse (from Folk + Kermesse). The world folk music and dance festival, first staged in Casale in 1983, includes the town on its summer itinerary. July–September.
    • Magiche Figure. Exhibition of puppet theatre from Italy and abroad. September.
    • Festival of Wine and the Monferrato. A celebration of local wine and food together with related events. Mid-September.
  • Monthly
    • Antiques market. Founded in 1973, this popular market is held on the second weekend of the month (except August) in the Mercato Pavia.
    • The Artemista craft market and Il Paniere market of organic produce market are held on the third Saturday of each month in Piazza Mazzini.
    • Casale Open City (Casale Città Aperta, a play on the title of the classic neorealist film Roma, città aperta). Many of the town’s monuments are open, with free guided tours on the Sunday afternoon. Second weekend of the month.
  • Twice weekly
    • Market days. Tuesday and Friday; Piazza Castello.

Notable Casalesi

Notable people born in Casale, or with close connections to the town, include:

Fictional Casale

A siege of the town plays a significant off-stage role in Alessandro Manzoni’s’s novel The Betrothed, and is the centre of Chapter 2 of the novel The Island of the Day Before by Umberto Eco, who was born in neighbouring Alessandria. Casale also appears in a best-selling historical yarn Bellarion the Fortunate by the Anglo Italian writer Rafael Sabatini. A real 13th century personality, Ubertino of Casale, is a character in Eco's historical novel The Name of the Rose (1980).

References and footnotes

Some of the content of this article comes from Casale Monferrato (retrieved September 10 2005).

Grignolio (see above)The historic centre
Grignolio (see above)

Casale città aperta (2002 pamphlet produced by the Museo Civico)Music
Crawford, David: 'Casale Monferrato', Grove Music Online ed. L. Macy (Accessed December 18, 2005), .Events
Ente Manifestazioni - Casale Monferrato - AL - Italy

Profilo della città di Casale Monferrato

Riso & Rose in Monferrato, a flourishing festival!

Ethnosuoni - Folkermesse Footnotes

External links

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