Welcome to Ancona
Ancona, with a population of just over 100,000, sits on the Adriatic Coast in northeast Italy, and has been an important port since Greek refugees from Syracuse began settling the area in about 390 BC.
The name Ancona derives from the Greek word for "elbow" - "ankon" - because the harbor is embraced in the crook of an arm made by two extremities of a promonitory of Monte Canero. One extremity is Monte Astagno, site of Ancona's impressive citadel (the head quarters of Italy's 7th Army) and at the other is Monte Guasco, upon which sits the domed Romanesque Duomo of Ancona (with Gothic entrance).
The original village grew on the harbor front, and in the course of time, spread up the slopes behind in the direction of both the citadel and the Duomo, and inland, until it assumed today's proportions as a modern, busy city with the industrial feel that many port cities on Italy's east coast (Pescara, Bari) also share.
Ancona is the largest city in the Marche Region, and serves as the capital city of both the Region and the Province of Ancona. However, other than as a major Adriatic ferry port, the city is not known as a tourist destination, a circumstance that is changing, however, as more and more travelers are leaving the well-trodden paths Rome, Florence, Pisa and other more famous Italian places.
Ancona has been intermittently destroyed by earthquakes and war, enabling ever newer versions of the city to take shape. The "modern" Ancona is laid out in a grid pattern of wide streets fronted by modern commercial buildings, interspersed by ancient buildings and monuments. Many piazzi, shaded by palm trees, sit at their intersections giving way to streets full of restaurants, cafes and shops.
The important buildings and monuments of Ancona form an impressive list.
The Cathedral of San Ciriaco (the Duomo), is thought to have been built on the Greek's Temple of Venus, who remains still is the protective diety of the City. The domed cathedral, originally built in the Romanesque style, was built between 1125 and 1189. A Gothic facade was added in 1228. Inside, there are ten columns said to have come from the Venusian temple, along with various painted screens and statues. The badly deteriorated church underwent a major restoration in 1980.
Giorgio Arsini - otherwise known as da Sebenico - was a busy architect in Ancona, working mostly in the Gothic style. He built the churches of Sant'Agostino and San Francesco, the Loggia dei Mercanti, the Palazzi Benincasa and del Senato, and the Loggia dei Mercanti.
Cultural exhibitions are often mounted in the Lazzaretto, a very large (20,000 sq. m.) pentagonal-shaped building original built in 1732 as a facility to protect for military people from contagion, which arrived regularly on ships. It has also seen duty as a barracks. Another such facility at the other end of the city is now a sugar refinery.
Other sites to keep an eye out for include the broken-down Episcopal palace, the death place, in 1464, of Pope Pius II. The church of Santa Maria della Piazza with a wonderful arcade on its facade, and the Palazzo del Comune, twice restored since it was built.
If you are interested in Renaissance architecture, don't miss the portal of the church of Santa Maria della Misericordia.
A visit to the Museo Archeologico Nazionale delle Marche will impress with its collection of artifacts and antiquities dating to pre-Roman times, indicating the city's rich and compelling history. Of particular note, bronze statuary and a couple of ornate ivory beds.
They ancient Greek settlement was eventually subjugated by the Romans, but now long ago is not known with precision. Apparently it was a naval station as far back as the Illyrian war in 178 BC. Julius Caesar subjugated it before he crossed the Rubicon in 49 BC. The Emperor Trajan, under whom Rome reached its Imperial apogee, significantly enlarged and improved the harbor.
Indeed, one of the most interesting and finest of Roman monuments in the entire Marche region is is Trajan's arch. Erected in about 114 AD, the arch stands 35 meters (61 feet) high and has a portal, flanked by Corinthian columns, only about 3 meters (10 feet) wide.
When Rome went into decline, Ancona was subjugated by the usual succession: Goths, Lombards and Saracens. In due course, Ancona was included in the Exarchate of Ravenna, one of the five cities referred to historically as the Pentapolis (others were Fano, Pesaro, Senigallia and Rimini). It evolved into a more or less independent state until Gonzaga seized it (1532) and pulled it into the Papal States, where it remained, except for a brief time during the Napoleonic conquest, until Italy's unification in 1861.
So, what to make of Ancona? We say, go and take a look. It won't bring rest to the weary, but it will energize the curious and yield its own special pleasures!
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