Alpignano: an alternative stay among thousand-year-old churches, river woods and nineteenth-century countryside

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Author Alessandro 8 June 2023
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The village of Alpignano is located on the remains of moraine hills dating back to the glaciation that took place between 230,000 and 185,000 years ago.

Already known in ancient Rome by the name of Alpiniarum, it probably owes its name to the Latin gentilicium Alpinius (from Alpes).

What to see in Alpignano

This seemingly anonymous town actually hides some places of particular natural interest and several historical gems, including several millennium-old churches, its ancient medieval village, the factory where the first carbon filament light bulb was produced, walks in the woods along the river that divides the town, and the surrounding countryside, which has remained almost unchanged over the centuries. Finally, if you are lucky enough to visit in July, you can witness the famous Palio dei Cussot.

But the strengths of Alpignano do not end here.

The village is, in fact, along with Val della Torre and Pianezza, a strategic point for travelers who want to thoroughly explore the city of Turin and for mountain enthusiasts who have chosen the Val di Susa as their destination.

Monument of the Fallen Alpignano
Monument of the Fallen Alpignano

A peaceful place with an almost non-existent crime rate, Alpignano boasts some peculiarities that will certainly be of interest to our vanlife and camper friends. Unlike many neighboring towns (such as Val della Torre), it has numerous tolerated parking areas, excellent for campers and vans, and free water points, including purified and chilled water (SMAT water points).

The map: Alpignano (TO)

In the map below, we have indicated the historical points of interest in brown, the natural ones in green, and the itineraries also in green. We have marked the parking areas where, as of now (June 2023), parking is tolerated for campers or vans. Finally, we have marked the points where water can be obtained.

A bit of history

Monument of the Fallen Alpignano near the cemetery
Monument of the Fallen Alpignano near the cemetery

Pre-Roman and Roman era

The territory on which Alpignano stands was inhabited in the pre-Roman era by Celtic-Ligurian populations, first by the Ligurian tribe of Taurini or Taurisci, and later by the Gauls, before finally becoming a Roman colony.

In the Augustan era, this land, known as Mutatio ad Octavum, was a horse-changing station on the ancient route to Gaul, the famous Via Francigena, which maintained communication between Italy and Gaul through the Montgenèvre and Mont Cenis passes.

Roman Empire
Roman Empire

The Roman origin of Alpignano is attested by numerous archaeological finds discovered during excavations carried out in 1832 in the San Marcello area and in 1891 during the construction of the municipal road to Pianezza, which revealed a small Roman necropolis from the 1st century AD consisting of 15 burials.

The discoveries formed a small collection at the municipal headquarters, which is partly dispersed today and partly transferred to the San Massimo Museum in Collegno.

Among the findings were tombs with brick floors, walls made of worked stone slabs, and marble covers containing bone fragments, pottery lamps, household items, earthenware bowls, and three inscriptions.

The longest and oldest of these inscriptions concerns the funerary monument of a certain Cornelia, a freedwoman of Lucius, now owned by the Consolata Missionary Institute, currently on display at the local civic library. The other two inscriptions, however, are preserved in private collections.

According to the local historian Cupia, in 312 AD, the plain west of the road connecting Alpignano with Rivoli was the scene of the first major conflict between the armies of Constantine and Maxentius, who were fighting for imperial supremacy. According to Cupia, these lands would be the famous Taurine Fields. However, others believe that the Taurine Fields include Musinè and the surrounding lands.

The Middle Ages

From the end of the Roman period, there is no further information about Alpignano until 1007. It is likely that the town suffered attacks from neighboring barbarian populations, including invasions by the Franks and Lombards. The settlement was then severely affected by the plague, and according to some documents, only two men remained.

The first subsequent documents date back to the 11th century. A deed for the sale of land dating back to 1170 and related to the Bishop of Turin would establish the official birth of the city.

In the document, Anselmo, Ottone, and Evradro of Alpignano offered all their land to Bishop Milone of Turin, only to receive it back as a feud, committing to live there permanently.

The document reveals the strong jurisdictional power that the bishop held over Alpignano and the surrounding territory.

Among the first vassals of the bishops of Turin, we find the Di Alpignano and Arpino families, devoted to their lord even when the fortunes of the Turin episcopate began to decline due to the rise of the Counts of Savoy in the mid-13th century.

Other ecclesiastical institutions claimed rights over the area, including the powerful monks of San Michele della Chiusa Abbey, San Pietro della Novalesa, Rivalta Abbey, and the distant Nonantola.

The House of Savoy

In 1294, Count Amedeo V ceded Piedmontese lands south of Rivoli to his nephew Filippo I, who became the Prince of Achaea through marriage. Thus, Alpignano came under the jurisdiction of Filippo, who governed the territory with his representative, the castellano, at the beginning of the 14th century.

The first castellano of Alpignano was Guglielmo di Montbel, Lord of Entremont (Upper Savoy), one of the most loyal and important vassals and vicar of Filippo for Piedmont.

In 1337, Alpignano became a fief, along with San Gillio, of another Guglielmo di Montbel, descendant of the first.

The rule of the Montbel family lasted for over 200 years. In 1559, Carlo di Montbel died without heirs.

Emanuele Filiberto then enfeoffed Alpignano, Frossasco, and San Secondo to Andrea Provana di Leinì, of the Lords of Leinì, who was a companion fighter in the defense of Nice against Frederick Barbarossa and in the wars of Charles V in Germany, Flanders, and Picardy.

Emanuele Filiberto Savoia
Emanuele Filiberto Savoia

After the Treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis, Andrea Provana di Leinì returned home with the Duke and organized a small navy to counter Ottoman Empire raids and Barbary corsairs. He is remembered for his participation as an admiral in the Battle of Lepanto in 1571.

In this victorious battle, Provana suffered a deep head wound, but despite the lingering effects of the blow, he wrote the longest and most important known account of the battle two days after the grand event. He was awarded the title of Knight of the Collar and later Grand Admiral of the Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus.

His family held local governance until 1798 when feudalism was abolished. He is credited with the construction of the castle of Alpignano on the remains of the medieval era.

Provana strengthened his right to enjoy the fief against any possible claims from the heirs of the former owners by marrying Caterina Spinola, the widow of Carlo di Montbel.

Alpignano was struck again by the epidemic plague in 1630.

The last count, Filiberto Provana, died in 1799, and the castle passed into public domain. In 1804, it was sold by the French to the lawyer Modesto Paroletti, who intended to demolish it due to the legend of a hidden treasure circulating in the village.

Paroletti sold it to the Revelli brothers, who restored and embellished it. Later, it passed to the Robbio di Varigliè family, then to the Riberi family, their descendants Abelli-Riberi, and in 1944, to the Consolata Missionary Institute.

Cappella dei Caduti

Cappella dei caduti Alpignano

La Cappella dei Caduti di Alpignano is one of the most interesting places in Alpignano. Evidence proves its existence since 1031, originally dedicated to San Martino and later also to Sant’Antonio Abate.

The building, a small church in Romanesque architecture, with its oldest part represented by the bell tower, features a side chapel characterized by pointed arches resting on cylindrical pillars, whose corner bands join in a cross on the top of the vault.

Since 1925, the chapel has been a memorial monument to the Alpignano Fallen of the Great War.

Inside the small building, you can admire a stained glass window depicting San Giorgio, added in 1963, and a large wooden crucifix placed there in 1946.

Monument of the fallen, Alpignano

Until 1868, the village cemetery was annexed to the chapel.

Chiesa di Santa Maria del Ponte (11th century)

Built on the banks of the Dora Riparia River along the current Via I Maggio, it was a shelter for travelers and pilgrims.

The modern mosaic on the facade replaced the previous symbols of the Passion, which had become illegible. Inside, there are a choir and a tribune from 1840, supported by four stone columns donated by the Revelli brothers.

At the entrance, there was a pond, which was eliminated in 1855 with an expansion of the building.

Il Castello, la piazza, la Torre (13th century)

Piazza San Martino Alpignano

In via della Parrocchia, near the ancient entrance to the Castle, next to the current Parish Church of S. Martino, there is Piazza della Parrocchia, the Medieval Ball Square, the central hub of the Medieval village, once surrounded by walls.

Torre campanaria Alpignano

On the square stands the ancient bell tower, in terracotta, dating back to the 14th century.

Originally a watchtower or corner tower of the ancient castle, it was raised and partially rebuilt as a civic tower in 1728, assuming its current function as a bell tower only in 1807, when the adjacent church became the parish church of the village.

In the bell cell, there are 3 Sol3 bells, still rung manually with ropes.

Chapel of San Sebastiano (15th century)

The Chapel of San Sebastiano, dedicated to San Sebastiano, San Rocco, and San Grato, is currently located at the entrance of the historic center of Pianezza and has been the protagonist of important and curious historical events.

Chapel of San Sebastiano

It has a square plan of 6 meters per side, made of river pebbles arranged in a herringbone pattern, and is surmounted by a bell tower with three spires.

The interiors were completely frescoed, and the surviving frescoes on the walls and vault depict the devotees under the mantle of the Virgin, San Sebastiano accompanied by San Rocco, and the temptations of Sant’Antonio. These frescoes are attributed to the numerous Jacquerio family and the artists Bartolomeo and Sebastiano Serra of Pinerolo.

An integral part of the Chapel of San Sebastiano is the Well of San Sebastiano, which was once completed by an oven. Both were subject to the ban of the feudal lord: during the day, the population could use both the oven and the well.

It is believed to have been erected after the plague of 1428 or the one in 1460 when the epidemic also hit Pianezza. It is certain that it was built in the 15th century.

During the plague epidemic of 1630, the Heads of the Community, gathered in the chapel, vowed to celebrate 36 masses per year dedicated to San Rocco and San Grato, also establishing the feast of San Rocco and the Visitation.

The Chapel gained fame (La Domenica del Corriere dedicated a cover page to it) in the years 1931-32 when it was completely relocated from its original location further upstream to the current site, 140 meters away, to allow better passage for the Pianezza tramway.

Chapel of San Sebastiano 1930s

Properly wrapped, it was moved a few meters each day on rollers placed on rails.

During the process, the portal closed in the 16th century was restored, highlighting the bust figures of the Prophets painted in the intrados of the arch.

Parish Church of San Martino di Tours (1695)

Parish Church of San Martino di Tours
Parish Church of San Martino di Tours

The current Parish Church of San Martino di Tours, built in 1695 by the Confraternita di Santa Croce, is a reconstruction of the ancient church of San Rocco, perhaps already mentioned in a document from the Novalesa Abbey dating back to 1031. In 1807, it was restored, enlarged, and converted into a parish church.

Inside, valuable works of art are preserved, including a Madonna by Stefano Maria Clemente and the wooden crucifix of the main altar from the 18th century, a work by the Ticinese sculptor Carlo Giuseppe Plura, collaborator of Juvarra, court sculptor in 1717 and author of the first processional statue of the Consolata in Turin in 1707, among numerous other important works in Piedmont.

The central medallion on the vault, depicting the Virgin and the two patrons of Alpignano, San Giacomo and San Martino, was created in the mid-19th century by a student of Revelli, Giovanni Enea Coda.

Also remarkable is the stucco high altar frontal from the 18th century, stylistically attributable to the Ligurian school, representing San Martino di Tours, which originally belonged to the assets of the ancient parish dedicated to San Martino, now the Chapel of the Fallen.

The church is equipped with a mixed transmission pipe organ from 1903.

Church of San Giuseppe (1769)

Church of San Giuseppe
Church of San Giuseppe

Another place of interest in Alpignano is the Chapel of San Giuseppe (or San Martino Vescovo), a small religious building in Baroque style built in 1769 by the Bertolieri brothers, located in the current *Via Arnò 32.

The chapel later became the property of the Dabbene family, which donated it to the Parish of San Martino in 1931.

The place of worship was open to the population during the rogation processions, which were celebrated annually to propitiate the harvest, and during the pastoral visits of the Archbishop of Turin.

Chapel of San Giuseppe Alpignano
Chapel of San Giuseppe Alpignano

The interior of the chapel is decorated with stucco, with Borrominian influences, while the façade reflects the Victorian style.

The Erratic Boulder

Near the Old Bridge over the Dora, it was once possible to admire a large erratic boulder known as The Spinning boulder, dragged downstream by glaciers.

Its name was due to the local legend that every Epiphany night, it would make three spins on itself, almost marking with a pirouette the exit of the twelfth night. The boulder no longer exists as it was blown up to build a power plant.

The Ghiaro Forest

Upstream of the town of Alpignano, it extends over an area of 38,891 square meters on the right bank of the Dora Riparia, the Ghiaro woodland area.

The current vegetation is characterized by tall specimens or aged suckers of broad-leaved trees.

The forest can be traversed along an unpaved road, a path that runs alongside the Dora, and some secondary trails that wind through the green area. In this section, the appearance of the riverbed is relatively sinuous, unlike the urban stretch, which is enclosed between high banks.

There are two pedestrian accesses: one from the pedestrian walkway above the parking lot behind the library, and the other from Via Chiri.

Other natural areas of particular interest reachable from the town are:

  • The rural area between Alpignano, Rivoli, and Rosta with access always from Via Chiri: instead of turning right towards the Ghiaro forest, once you cross the railway overpass into the countryside at the end of Via Chiri, turn left (access 1: 45.0976771846632, 7.525663676676079, access 2: 45.097401408242334, 7.523888653407331)

  • The rural area on the opposite side of the Dora, which leads from Via Almese to Caselette to Monte Musinè with its trails (Coordinates 45.098803578239206, 7.522545276559112)

  • The rural area that leads from Alpignano to Pianezza, San Gillio, and Val della Torre with its paths, accessed from Via San Gillio (Coordinates 45.10531531851466, 7.527622535519188) 6
  • The nature trail that runs along the Dora, from Alpignano to Pianezza and Collegno. Accessed from Lungo Dora Giuseppe Esposito, near the intersection of Via6 Pianezza and Via Cavour (access 1: 45.09980740325565, 7.538218446818188)

The Old Alpignano Bridge

The Dora Riparia divides the municipal territory exactly in half.

The two original hamlets were connected by a small bridge from Roman times, rebuilt in 1736 and only 3.5 meters wide.

During peak hours, especially in the summer when farmers returned with their agricultural carts, crossing the bridge became a real problem.

This bridge, renovated with modern techniques, still exists today and is known as the Old Bridge. It connects the two banks of the town at the height of the historic center and the municipal library.

The New Alpignano Bridge

During the fascist era, between 1935 and 1936, the construction of a second bridge was completed, now known as the New Bridge. This bridge is sadly known in the chronicles of Turin for the numerous suicides.

Opificio Cruto

Ex Opificio Cruto Alpignano
Ex Opificio Cruto Alpignano

During the 19th century, Alpignano underwent a radical transformation. From being predominantly agricultural, it became a reference point for the manufacturing of electrical materials, light bulbs, and lamps.

In the city center, in 1885, an area previously occupied by Count Revelli’s mills and part of the gravel bed of the Dora river became the location of the first incandescent light bulb factory, the “Italian Society of Electricity System Cruto”, founded by the entrepreneur Alessandro Cruto.

He was known worldwide for inventing and lighting the first electric light bulb and intended to produce internationally the carbon filament electric light bulbs that he invented.

Alessandro Cruto Alpignano
Alessandro Cruto Alpignano

The son of a simple foreman, without scientific knowledge or great resources, Alessandro understood the potential of carbon sheets and perfected the new invention at the physics laboratory in Turin.

Obsessed with the dream of producing an artificial diamond that he would never bring to light, he ended up using his acquired experience to create the first artificial carbon filament for light bulbs.

With the use of ingenious tools he invented, this resident of Piossasco, contemporary of Galileo Ferraris and Thomas Edison, managed to obtain homogeneous carbon sheets capable of replacing the carbonized bamboo, which had been used as the filament for light bulbs until then.

In 1886, the Cruto company manufactured its first light bulb with a carbon filament in Alpignano, at via Matteotti 2.

Alessandro Cruto died in 1908 without receiving any public recognition for his work.

His factory grew and changed location, passing through the lamp factory “Z” and then to Edison Clerici. In the 1930s, it was acquired by the emerging Dutch giant Philips (which established a second plant in 1967).

Cruto Ecomuseum

In 2004, the Sogno di Luce Ecomuseum dedicated to Cruto was inaugurated inside the factory. The premises of the factory have remained largely unchanged from the period when they were used for light bulb production.

As of June 2023, the Cruto Ecomuseum is closed and not open to visitors for unspecified reasons. We hope that the municipal administration will reopen it as soon as possible.

Inside the Opificio Cruto, a Roman epigraph was found, which is now preserved in the civic library.

Palio dij Cossòt

On July 25th, during the Feast of San Giacomo, a race called the Palio dij Cossòt takes place through the streets of the historic center. During the race, four representatives from the respective neighborhoods of the town compete by carrying hollowed-out pumpkins filled with water on their shoulders. The winner is determined based on the order of arrival and the volume of water saved.

It was the statue of the patron saint, who is depicted carrying a walking stick with some pumpkins hanging from it, that led the people of Alpignano to be called by the residents of neighboring towns “mangia cusot” (translated from Piedmontese: pumpkin eaters).

See you soon Alpignano!

As we conclude our journey through the charming town of Alpignano, we can’t help but reflect on the history and beauty that make this place that bit special.

Alpignano is not just a stop on a traveler’s itinerary; it is a place where legends intertwine with history, where innovation meets tradition and where the warmth of its people leaves an indelible mark.

While the Ecomuseum Cruto currently awaits its reopening, we hope that the local community, inspired by the timeless spirit of Alessandro Cruto, will preserve and showcase the historic treasures hidden within the Opificio Cruto.

This ecomuseum has the potential to not only celebrate the achievements of an extraordinary inventor, but also to educate future generations about the city’s industrial heritage.

The Palio dij Cossòt, with its bizarre tradition of racing with water-filled pumpkins, continues to bring joy and laughter to the streets of Alpignano during the San Giacomo festival.

This unique event showcases the city’s sense of community and its ability to proudly embrace its cultural heritage.

While visitors explore the natural wonders of Alpignano, such as the Bosco del Ghiaro and the picturesque Dora Riparia through the paths and cycle paths that line the banks of the ** Dora river , while the sun it sets on the **New Bridge, illuminating the town with gold, we say goodbye to Alpignano.

Until we meet again, dear Alpignano. Thank you very much!

A note: Alpignano is the town where we grew up! :)

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Alessandro Lussi
Computer scientist, electrical engineer, mechanic and jurist, traveling on the road since birth.
Passionate about off-grid life and self-production, I write for passion.