At the conclusion of the day’s lectures, we had an opportunity to tour the neighboring town of Alba (which we learned later was the home of the Ferrero company which makes Nutella). We met our tour guide, Giuseppe, who was waiting for us as we got off the bus. He was young and engaging and extremely knowledgeable about the architecture and the history of the town. Alba is an ancient town, settled by Celtics in the 5th century BCE (Alba is a Celtic name meaning “highlands”) and then colonized by the Romans in the 2nd century BCE. There are still remains of the octagonal city walls that characterize many ancient Roman cities. Our first destination was the Piazza Duomo but we first stopped briefly at a small art museum that was temporarily displaying the newly restored “Il Martino di San Lorenzo” by Tiziano Vecello, a 16th century masterpiece depicting the martyrdom of Saint Lawrence, the patron saint of Alba. Giuseppe spoke briefly to the clerk, who let the entire group inside without paying and we spent a few minutes viewing the painting and marveling at the quality of the restoration. We then continued to the Piazza Duomo which featured the Cathedral of San Lorenzo. A statue of the saint was positioned over the door and across the front were statues of an angel, a lion, an ox, and an eagle. The first letters of the names of these creatures in Italian spell “Alba”. The Roman initially constructed a temple on this site, which was replaced by a small church in the 6th century CE, suitable enough in size to support the small population of the town, many of whose residents fled the city after the fall of the Roman Empire. In the 11th century, the city was repopulated by tradespeople and a larger church was constructed. This medieval church was restored in the 15th century, but vestiges of the 11th century church are still visible. Particularly interesting was the octagonally-shaped baptistery in the basement of the church, visible through a grate in the floor.
The highlight for me, as a faculty member of Providence College (a Catholic and Dominican school) was our visit to the Chiesa di San Domenico, which featured both aspects of Gothic and baroque architecture and which had many uses since its closure by Napoleon in the 19th century. It had at one time served as a stable (and still showed signs of damage from this use) but now serves as an art gallery. The characteristic black and white colors were still visible, as were two murals used by the Dominicans, the Order of Preachers, to teach Bible stories to their followers. Our next visit to the Chiesa de Maddalena also had a Dominican connection, as it served as the church for the Dominican nuns and was a wonderful example of baroque architecture.
We enjoyed walking back to the bus, peering into shop windows at beautiful clothes and shoes and gazing at mouth-watering pastries. We were tired from a long day, but had worked up an appetite for dinner at the hotel restaurant—another “Slow Food” establishment at the Albergo Dell’ Agenzia.