For the visitor who wants to linger in the centre of Asolo, this journey of about two hours allows you to discover the important treasures of art and history of the town that are enclosed and protected inside the medieval town walls. In the ups and downs of the main streets, with a short walk one can enjoy the age-old essence of the village without ever going too far from the lion of St. Mark that quietly guards the main square.
Fontana Maggiore (8), Cathedral (5), Cappella del Cristo, Civic Museum (7), Palazzo della Ragione (6), Castle (16), Duse Theatre (17), Villa Contarini said of the Armenians (23), Palazzo Beltramini (18), Porta di Santo Spirito, the Duse house (19), Gothic House (15), Piazza Brugnoli (12), Villa Pasini Scotti (14), Rocca (10), Bot (13)
The first steps of the walk in the town of Asolo must have the monument, the symbol of the square, as the starting point: so we will start from the centre of the old town centre, from the Fontana Maggiore (8) . Until a few years ago still powered by the ancient Roman aqueduct, the fountain has always been a meeting point in the daily lives of the people of Asolo and reminder of the history of the town: the central part has its origin in a column of who knows which majestic palace of the ancient Roman municipium of Aceleum and the lion of St. Mark, which, sitting as a sign of peace, protects the coat of arms of Asolo, is a reconstruction of the 1800 work of Antonio del Zotto to reintegrate the original one destroyed in 1797 on the arrival of the French troops of Napoleon.
This date, 1797, put an end to the Podesteria (administrative organization) of Asolo, cutting the umbilical cord that had tied the town for more than four hundred years, since 1388, to the Republic of Venice. This detachment was unbearable for many Asolans and they organized a plan down to the minimum detail to make an attempt on the life of Napoleon, exactly in the old café that is still present at the side of the fountain today named Caffè Centrale. The subversive action was never put into practice because informers reported the assailants that were soon imprisoned, convicted and executed. But let’s go back to the fountain and follow the gaze of the lion to start to asolare through the streets of the centre. We turn down via Robert Browning, English poet of the late nineteenth century, who with the term “asolando” wanted to describe the habit which he also had of walking aimlessly with equanimity, taking in the beauty of the town. We will resist the temptation to carry on to the end of the road, protected by arcades, and cross over the road to walk along the side of the Cathedral (5) . If we just turn toward the arcades we can admire the wonderful facades of the Cesana, Polo and Martinelli palaces, whose frescoes are now just a pale impression. On the base of one of the pillars, a plaque recalls the terrible Santa Costanza earthquake that devastated the Asolan territory on 25 February in 1695. We carry on and immediately find on our left the entrance to a minute chapel, called the Cappella del Cristo , a place of intimate devotion for the people of Asola. Here an eighteenth century wooden crucifix of strong emotional impact is preserved, a work by Giuseppe Bernardi known as Torretto, the first teacher of Antonio Canova. Right in front we can enter into the Cathedral by the ancient fifteenth century porch that has an Agnus Dei medallion, perhaps in memory of bishop Agnello, who in the late sixth century administered the Diocese of Asolo, then dismissed in969 even if today Asolo has a bishop, only in a titular manner. The Cathedral, dedicated to St Mary of the Assumption, preserves works of great historical and artistic importance such as the altar pieces of Lorenzo Lotto and Jacopo da Ponte in the left aisle or the sixteenth century baptismal font in the Cappella del Santissimo in the right aisle, a gift from Caterina Cornaro to the town. Coming out of the main entrances the building which stands in front of us was once the Bishop’s Palace and now houses the sections of the Civic Museum (7) , a place that room after room revives the centuries-old history of Asolo from archaeological findings to exquisite paintings, to the memory of the women that made the name of the town international: Caterina Cornaro, Queen of Cyprus, Armenia and Jerusalem, the Divine Eleonora Duse and the eccentric English traveller Freya Stark. The Museum can be reached by going up the short stairway that leads to Piazza Garibaldi. On the corner is IAT (Tourist Information Office) where we can find material to find out more about Asolo and all the area. Coming out of the office we find the Palazzo della Ragione on the left (6), place of public administration during the Venetian Podesteria, recognizable also from a distance for the large fresco of the Defeat of Crassus against the Parthians. The building is divided with the Sala della Ragione upstairs where a precious marble of Canova is preserved representing Paris and a Canovian school cenotaph, besides the frame frescoed with all the crests of the Podesta surrounding the one of Caterina Cornaro; downstairs the Loggia del Capitano opens out, part of it covering the piazza of Asolo to protect the citizens from the sun and bad weather and that has commemorative stones, frescoes, memories of ancient buildings and places of Asolo, abandoned or destroyed over the centuries, among which to tombstones with Hebrew writing from the ancient cemetery of the Jewish community.
Going up along Via Cornaro we get closer to the rock spur that supports the castle but let’s first enjoy the few steps, looking up and admiring the surviving traces of frescoes on the facades and near the end of the road we recognize the rayed holy wafer, symbol of the Blessed Bernardino da Feltre, founder of the Monte di Pieta of Asolo.
After the short climb, we take the cobblestone road that goes up to the left and we enter through the big main door into the area of the Castle of Caterina Cornaro (16). Inside the building, evidently modified during the last century is the Duse Theatre (17) , which was once the throne and reception room.
Walking in the outdoor area from a small terrace under the archway of the medieval walls that protect the Castle the roofs of Asolo can be admired, which really resemble Venice; climbing the steep steps of the Reata Tower, the observation point for the Queen’s guards and prison for her enemies, other beautiful views of the city of a hundred horizons can be seen, just as they can from the short scenic walk that looks toward the south or from the Belvedere della Specola (observatory viewpoint) to the north which offers the eye a view over the palaces that wind along Via Santa Caterina and in the distance gives the best view of the massif of Monte Grappa. On the hill to the left rise the outlines of the fresco of Villa Contarini said of the Armenians (23) and the particular cupola of the oratory. We continue our walk and at the end of the cobblestone road of the Castle we are facing Piazza D’Annunzio, once used as a seed market. The building with massive white columns is Palazzo Beltramini (18) , the Town Hall, refined by Giorgio Massari in the eighteenth century with a strange asymmetrical cut of the facade to make the perspective of the square larger than it is.
Above an arch of the palace in front of us there is still a plaque of the Monte di Pietà, established at the end of the fifteenth century to compete against the moneylending business of the Jewish families, who had their homes along Via Belvedere and in Contrada Canova, exactly to the north and east of where we are now. On the facade of the palace, north of the square and at the intersection of four balconies the faded image of the face of the Duce, covered by a helmet brings back less glorious moments in the history of Asolo and of Italy. We go down along the silent Via Canova as far as the Porta di Santo Spirito or Santa Caterina (Gate of Holy Spirit or of St. Catherine), fourteenth century access to the town walls. Casa Duse (19) the two-tone red and white building that is against the arch and on which a commemorative stone was affixed, written by Gabriele D’Annunzio, that recalls when the “Divine” lived in Asolo. The room in which Eleonora Duse used to live is the room just above the arch. We go back up Via Canova passing under the arcades on whose beams swallows generally nest to give birth to their little ones that will then leave in the autumn. Along the road we can also see one of the most prestigious handicraft products of Asolo: the School of Ancient Embroidery, which, with its refined products, has decorated the homes of noble Italian and foreign families. Leaving Piazza D’Annunzio on the right we go straight along Via Dante, that just at the beginning of it on the left, has the ancient sixteenth century gate of the Colbertaldo family residence. At the end of the road we look up to the right to the old Gothic House (15) where a striking Venetian gothic three-mullioned-window has alchemical symbols in the capitals of the columns, part of the mystical atmosphere of the town. Let’s stop in the shade of the horse chestnut trees in Piazza Brugnoli (12) to admire the wonderful Villa Scotti Pasini (14) dominated on the summit of Monte Ricco by one of the faces of the Rocca (10) . We go down along Via Roma, imagining the splendour of the Roman baths whose remains lie beneath the porphyry surface of Piazza Brugnoli and whose waters were provided by natural springs of the hills channelled into the Bot (13) . In front of us we can see once again the Fontana Maggiore, the departure and arrival point of our itinerary.