A is for Aosta “The Little Alpine Rome”.

Roman theatre feature

Most people pass quickly by Aosta on the Autostrada on their way to or from the Mont Blanc Tunnel and their onward journey. It is worth a brief stay, however, for it has a charming old centre and is chock-full of history. In particular it retains a lot of its roman heritage. It was constructed by Emperor Augustus in 25BC after he defeated the local Celtic Salassi people because it formed a strategic stronghold before the St Bernard alpine passes. The triumphal arch he built as an entry to the town is still standing, pretty much unspoilt after two thousand years. Ah, the romans and their incredible invention of cement.

Arch of Augustus

The Arch of Augustus

Incredibly Aosta has kept its original roman layout, the long main pedestrianised road was once called Decumanus Maximus and the surrounding streets are set out in squared blocks, like a chessboard. The fortified wall is still visible in several places and in the town centre the Porta Praetoria gate remains an impressive sight.

Praetorian gate (2)

The Praetorian Gate

From Augustus’s Arch I walked back along the narrow high-walled roman road out of town, crossing his original stone bridge as I did so, and imagined the romans walking the same path two thousand years ago. Such thoughts always stir me. The layers of time over places people have walked.

Arch in past

The Roman view from the bridge

Of the other roman remains around the town the most spectacular are the Roman Theatre, which used to seat up to 4,000 spectators and looms 22 metres high, and the underground cryptoporticus which was constructed beneath the forum. I marvelled at the vaulted network of subterranean tunnels and arches that were built to last so long.

Cryptoporticus

Roman theatre 1

The Roman Theatre

Other time periods have left treasures too. The churches of San Lorenzo and 11th century Saint Orso, for example. Beneath the former an archaeological dig of an earlier 5th century church complete with the tombs of Aosta’s first bishops is exposed. And beside the latter are its peaceful cloisters, always a favourite of mine, with the columns’ capitals depicting biblical and other religious stories. The capitals are well-preserved and quite beautiful, evidently “one of the most remarkable examples of Romanesque sculpture in the World”.

But it was as I was wandering the history-laden back streets that I came across the lovely church of St Etienne which was not marked on my tourist maps. Its façade was adorned with colourful frescoes and inside light filled the small space and showed off its baroque altars to advantage. It seems the Aostans want to keep this little jewel a well-kept secret. I picnicked on a bench outside so that I could enjoy the frescoes for a while.

St Etienne was much more pleasing on my eye than the more famous cathedral, though the latter’s bright terracotta statues and frescoes on its façade are also striking.

Cathedral 2 close up

And of course as you explore Aosta all around you tower snow-capped mountains, a wonderful backdrop to a delightful place. If that is not enough to please you there are castles by the plenty in the surrounding valley and hills.

Cross & Cyclist

The 16th Century City Cross and surrounding mountains

So if you pass through the Mont Blanc tunnel on your way somewhere ELSE, why not call in to see Aosta – the little Alpine Rome.

And how am I feeling?  Well, I am starting to acclimatise a little to being alone on a journey again; slightly anxious at times especially when driving (heavy snow in Chamonix on summer tyres on Day One did not help); but liking anew the selfish realisation that I can do completely as I please at any moment of the day – including leisurely hanging around as many historical monuments as I wish without annoying a soul!

Cross & Jazz

My musical café seat overlooking the Cross

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Comments
2 Responses to “A is for Aosta “The Little Alpine Rome”.”
  1. Maggie says:

    Liked your new post. Aosta looks a charming and interesting little town and the sun was shining 🌞. Looking forward to hearing more!

  2. Joannie says:

    Oh how wonderful, you made this place come alive.

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