Asolo: the city of a hundred horizons
Robert Browning, an English poet from the mid-1800s, entitled his last work Asolando. It is a neologism that combined the name of the village in the Veneto region that provided the setting for some of his poems, and where he lived just before dying, with the word “asolare”, which literally means “go out for some fresh air, enjoy the outdoors”.
Taking the word play a further step, you could replace the “A” at the beginning with an “I” and get “Isolando”, which, perhaps, would more aptly describe the spirit of this village, nestled in the green hills of Treviso, solitary, but close to large cities, secluded but discernible by the outline of the fort that is striking even from afar.
Browning was not the only one to be fascinated by Asolo. There are a number of famous people that have been enthralled by the city: Palladio, Canova, Hemingway, Eleonora Duse. The latter came here seeking respite from the strains of acting or from the heartaches she suffered from her relationship with Gabriele D’Annunzio. The “Divine Dusa” was so captivated by the town that she chose to be buried here.
But what is so special about Asolo that has charmed so many people and enthralled so many artists?
The town is dominated by the fort that sits atop Monte Ricco, in the middle of lush vegetation. There is a pleasant footpath leading up to it that skirts along its walls. The views over the surrounding hills justify its nickname as the “city of a hundred horizons”.
The fort dates back thousands of years, passing from one dominion to another, enduring the ignominy of neglect, but in 1994, it was restored and between its walls and from its bays you can sense the stories and legends from ages past.
The heart of the city that lies below the fort is Piazza Garibaldi with its fountain decorated, unavoidably, by Saint Mark’s Lion, evidence of the extent of the Republic of Venice’s borders.
From the piazza you can reach the Castle, which provides a counterbalance to the fort and which, beginning in 1489, was the residence of the court of Caterina Cornaro, the exiled Queen of Cyprus. It was here that Pietro Bembo, the renowned humanist, wrote Asolani, a dialogue on love, printed by Aldo Manuzio, considered the first modern publisher. From the original structure, only a part of the castle wall, the Watchtower and the dilapidated tower known as Reata remain.
At a short distance the facade of the Palazzo della Ragione can be recognized by its fresco painted by Giovanni Contarini.
The nearby collegiate church is noteworthy as well, containing works by Lorenzo Lotto and Bassano. These artists, together with Bellini, Giorgione and Cima da Conegliano, included in some of their paintings backgrounds of hilly landscapes dotted with battlement walls and turreted cities, symbols of a world and a system that governed individuals and territories, and that seems to be taken from the panorama still visible today around Asolo.
Walking along Via Regina Cornaro, the main street of the tiny city center, is like travelling back in time to the 1400s. The narrow street is lined with porticoes and buildings which permit a glimpse, here and there, of frescoes and double lancet windows. The whole town offers extraordinary sights, angles of authenticity, roads where you can lose yourself and, as it should be, is full of wine bars, trattorias, cafés and restaurants where you can pause to enjoy some of the many wine and food specialties of the regions.
Asolo is part of the national Città del Vino route involving some of the most important Italian cities for wine, and each year in August hosts a “Chalice of Stars” festival. The local hills produce the DOC wine Montello and Colli Asolani.
Depending on the season in which you choose to visit, there are diverse specialties, such as sarde in saor (onions in a sweet and sour sauce), bigoli (long, tube-shaped whole-wheat pasta) with sauce, mushroom soup with pasta and beans, risotto with Trevisano chicory or white asparagus from Bassano.
All that is left is to start your journey to discover what Asolando really means.