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Acqui Terme, from acque termali, “thermal waters,” is not all that this city has to offer. If we were to describe Acqui Terme in just one word, it would be synthesis, expressing its mix of a multicultural background, territory, and natural elements.
“…ubi aquae calidae sunt…” – … where the waters are warm… Paolo Diacono, Historia Langobardorum, II, 16, 8th century A.D.
The city rises of the left banks of the river Bórmida, its southwest edge bordering the territory of Alto Monferrato where the ancient population Ligurian Statielli lived until the Roman conquest in 172 B.C. In remembrance of the conquered populace and to recognize the area’s most distinctive element, the Romans founded a new urban center and called it Aquae Statiellae. Acqui Terme was thus born as a city of conquest, the strategic center of the main thoroughfares of communication between the plains and the sea (in 109 B.C., the road Aemilia Scauri was constructed to connect present-day Tortona and Vado Ligure, called in ancient times Dertona and Vada Sabatia), in a variegated territory where the Apennine Mountains of Liguria soften into the rolling hills of Monferrato, and the earth is enriched with the shallow waters from the river and subterranean water sources that break through the land in thermal springs.
These elements that outline the multiform features of the city are gathered in their entirety as you begin to discover Acqui Terme from the south, starting from the 19th century bridge of Carlo Alberto. By way of Corso Bagni, the bridge connects the central historical part of the city to the right bank of the river, offering a view to admire the remains of the Roman Aqueduct. This was constructed in the First Century A.D., channeling the fresh waters of the Erro stream to cool the hot thermal springs that the Romans took advantage of inside their spacious complex during the Imperial Age. It’s worth a visit to the pool that once functioned as a calidarium, or spa, found and excavated along Corso Bagni near Piazza Italia. The use of thermal waters was interrupted with the Barbaric invaders in the 10th century, but flourished again and today still represents great value for the city. The active spring works are found in two distinct zones with different spring water sources: the first to the right of the river by the Lake of Springs and the Marcia Water Fountain is the 17th century Antiche Terme, now located in the Regina House of the early 1900s and in the more recent Lake Spa of the Springs; the second on the left bank near Piazza Italia, called the Nuove Terme, is from the end of the 1800s and fed by Boiling Springs, called the Bollente.
Next to Boiling Springs is Piazza della Bollente, another area privileged with a beautiful view of the city. Here, in the heart of the city, the water that bubbles from the central fountain flows at a temperature around 75°C (167°F). From the piazza, the steep, narrow streets conduct you to the high part of the town, Borgo Pisterna, a medieval nucleus on the slopes of the hills that overshadow Acqui Terme. Along this road is the Paleologhi Castle of the 11th century, reconstructed beginning in the 16th century and today housing the Civic Archaeological Museum. The roads are pleasantly lined with inviting restaurants that serve traditional dishes, such as I Caffi, a locale with a great variety of food and housed in a building that dates back to 1500. On the road that leads to the lower part of the city, don’t miss a visit to the Duomo, the Cathedral of St. Maria Assunta. Consecrated in 1067 by the bishop Guido, the city’s patron saint, and modified over the centuries, this cathedral preserves a Romanesque transept, a bell tower, and three semicircular apses. Cross the 15th century Piazza del Duomo, passing under the archway of the Vicolo della Schiavia (which, along with the Pisterna gateway and Civic Tower, are testimony of the Medieval city wall), and take the set of stairs that leads up to main street Corso Italia. A narrow street that follows along the larger Corso allows access to the Regional Wine Bar (Enoteca), which is housed in the 16th century Palazzo Robellini together with the Tourist Information and Reception Office. The main entrance of the Palazzo is in Piazza Abramo Levi, where the Municipal Building is, a noble dwelling of the 1600s.
Not too far from here is the ancient Basilica of St. Pietro in Piazza dell’Addolorata. Of Paleochristian origins and reconstructed in Romanesque style in the 10th and 11th centuries, this Basilica became a Benedictine abbey before its total reconstruction in the 1930s. It Medieval construction is preserved in the octagonal bell tower base, the apses, and the high part of the central nave. Turning onto the nearby Via Mazzini, you must stop by the historical osteria Da Bigãt, which has served traditional dishes since 1885, including chickpea farinata, tripe with pig skin, and cod all’Acquese.
Your visit to Acqui Terme concludes exactly opposite of where you began, that is in the north on the hills of Monferrato that overshadow the city. Returning to Corso Italia, at the end of the pedestrian area is Via Nizza that stretches until Strada Monterosso. In 2 km (1.2 mi) you can reach Villa Ottolenghi – Borgo Monterosso, the seat of the Society of Vittoria Agriculture. This is an interesting stopping point for the great architectural and artistic value of the Villa (constructed in 1920 by Marcello Piacentini and the landscape architect Piero Porcinai, with the collaboration of artists of such caliber as Arturo Marini and Adolf Wildt); the high quality of the wines produced by the winery; the cultural and gastronomic initiatives organized here; and to admire Acqui Terme from the hills of Alto Monferrato.