Asti is best known outside Italy for its wines—excellent reds as well as the famous sparkling white spumante. The town itself has some impressive reminders of the days when its strategic position on trade routes between Turin, Milan, and Genoa gave it broad economic power. In the 12th century Asti began to develop as a republic, at a time when other Italian cities were also flexing their economic and military muscles. It flourished in the following century, when the inhabitants began erecting lofty towers (west end of Corso Vittorio Alfieri) for its defense. As in Pavia, near Milan, this gave rise to the medieval nickname "city of a hundred towers." In the center of Asti some of these remain, among them the 13th-century Torre Comentina and the well-preserved Torre Troyana, a tall, slender tower attached to the Palazzo Troya. The 18th-century church of Santa Caterina has incorporated one of Asti's medieval towers, the Torre Romana (itself built on an ancient Roman base), as its bell tower. Corso Vittorio Alfieri is Asti's main thoroughfare, running west–east across the city. This road, known in medieval times as Contrada Maestra, was built by the Romans.
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