The city of Ancona is located along the northern area of the Conero Promontory, in the Marche region, in an elevated and panoramic position overlooking the sea. Ancona is a city with over 2400 years of history and has a lot to offer: art and architecture, ancient churches, panoramas, green parks, and excellent cuisine. Founded by the Greeks from Syracuse to exploit the natural harbor offered by its gulf in the shape of an “elbow” (ankòn in Greek means “elbow”), Ancona was then a Roman city, a maritime republic in the Middle Ages and an important port until the modern era.
Among architecture, parks, and rugged coasts, this city is the perfect destination for the most curious tourists who do not want to give up a little relaxation.
Things to do in Ancona
Piazza del Plebiscito
The historic center of Ancona is delightful and is enclosed within the nineteenth-century walls. The best way to visit Ancona is by foot. The city is in fact not very large and you can walk pleasantly from one point of interest to another. The visit of the city can start from the central square “Piazza del Plebiscito“, called “Piazza del Papa” (Square of the Pope) by the Ancona inhabitants, in honor of Clement VII who in the 18th century revived the port of Ancona and the local economy. The statue of the Pope makes a fine show in the center of this elongated square. The Church of San Domenico, located in the square, contains two masterpieces: the Annunciation by Guercino and the Crucifixion by Titian. The Government Palace, the Civic Tower with the clock and some beautiful noble palaces overlook Piazza del Plebiscito. Piazza del Papa is the heart of Ancona, also thanks to the presence of numerous bars, cafes and restaurants. Crowded until late at night, especially in summer and weekends, it is a must for every visit to Ancona.
Mole Vanvitelliana (Lazzaretto of Ancona)
The Mole Vanvitelliana of Ancona, which in the city everyone continues to call Lazzaretto, has carried out various functions over the centuries. The pentagonal walls of this structure were designed by Carlo Vanvitelli on behalf of Pope Clement XII with the aim of making it a warehouse for goods arriving in the port, a structure to defend the city and, above all, a Lazzaretto where to keep quarantined the people who came from countries considered to be at risk of disease. It was built on an artificial island that could only be accessed by sea, until the construction of a bridge in 1800. Inside, the Mole is organized like a small city, with the square in the center of which there is a neo-classical temple dedicated to St. Rocco, protector of the plague victims. In reality, it is also a system of underground water tanks that fed the citadel. Today the Mole is above all a place of cultural events and manifestations. Do not miss a visit to the Homer Tactile Museum, unique in Europe. A wonderful experience for the blind and visually impaired and for anyone who wants to appreciate art not only with their eyes. Along the way there are about 150 reproductions of the masterpieces of art, from ancient Greece to the Renaissance: the Discobolus, the Nike of Samothrace, the Poseidon, the Venus by Milo but also scale models of the Parthenon, of the St. Peter Cathedral and reproductions of Michelangelo’s masterpieces. Upstairs there are original works by Italian and international contemporary artists. Admission is free.
Santa Maria della Piazza, Ancona
Santa Maria della Piazza is perhaps the most important and oldest church in Ancona. In the same place already in the 4th century BC there was an early Christian basilica, as evidenced by the splendid mosaics in the floor that can be admired through the glass plates. The current church was built around 1100. The facade is very beautiful, with a Byzantine bas-relief in the center from Constantinople representing the praying Virgin. The other two Byzantine bas-reliefs portray the archangel Gabriel and a peacock, a symbol of the resurrection and eternal life.
The cathedral of Ancona, dedicated to San Ciriaco, is located in a panoramic position, overlooking the Adriatic Sea, on top of the Guasco hill, and was built on the remains of the ancient Greek acropolis. In the 4th century BC the Greeks chose this magnificent place to build a temple dedicated to Venus, protector of sailors. Ten centuries later, an early Christian basilica was built on the ruins of that temple. Earthquakes, Goths, Saracens and various raids led to the completion of the basilica only in 1300, when it was dedicated to San Ciriaco, protector of the Maritime Republic of Ancona. The result is an extraordinary example of a cross between Romanesque and Byzantine. The body of San Ciriaco, a Christian martyr, is preserved in the crypt. Inside the church there is a painting of the Madonna, believed to be miraculous. Adjacent to the Cathedral is the Diocesan Museum “Mons. Cesare Recanatini ”which preserves over 460 works of extraordinary artistic and liturgical value: painted canvases, sculptures, parchments, precious fabrics and tapestries. To complete the museum there is the library specialized in art, sacred art and local history.
Heading from Piazza Roma towards the port, along Corso Mazzini, you can see, on the right, the Calamo Fountain, also known as the Fountain of the Thirteen Spouts. It is one of the symbols of the city of Ancona, the work of the architect Pellegrino Tibaldi, built between 1559 and 1560 in the Renaissance style. It is called the “Fountain of the thirteen spouts”, with clear reference to the number of water mouths. It is in fact made up of 13 spouts that represent as many masks all in bronze except the one placed in the center which is in stone.
Civic Art Gallery, Ancona
Little known also by the people of Ancona, the Civic Art Gallery collects works by minor local painters but some important works of the Venetian school. A small but interesting museum with a few works, all of which are excellent. These include a “Madonna and Child” by Carlo Crivelli, “Sacra Conversazione” by Lorenzo Lotto, “Portrait of Francesco Arsilli” by Sebastiano del Piombo, “Circumcision” by Orazio Gentileschi, “Immaculate Conception” and “Santa Palazia” by Guercino , “Four Saints in ecstasy” and “Musician Angels” by Andrea Lilli. But the most important work of art is certainly the “Pala Gozzi” by Tiziano Vecellio, depicting the apparition of the Virgin, considered the first signed work by the Venetian artist.
San Francesco alle Scale
Continuing the walk, you will reach the Church of San Francesco alle Scale. The annexed church and convent were founded by the Franciscan order in 1323 and dedicated to Santa Maria Maggiore. The magnificent Gothic portal is embellished with plant motifs and a bas-relief with St. Francis receiving the stigmata. The interior of the church, with a single nave, recalls the eighteenth-century style and houses important works of art by Pellegrino Tibaldi and Lorenzo Lotto.
Port of Ancona
The port of Ancona is the most touristic and busy area of the city. In fact, from here the ferries that connect Italy to Croatia depart and it is the first port in Italy in terms of frequency and volume on this route. The historic center district adjacent to the port was partly destroyed by bombing in the Second World War.
Teatro delle Muse
Not far from the port, you can admire the largest theater in the Marches: the Teatro delle Muse (Theater of the Muses), dating back to the 19th century, which has a splendid neoclassical bas-relief depicting the Nine Muses on the facade. The Theater, partially destroyed following the bombings of the Second World War, was reopened to the public and inaugurated in 2002. Every year the Teatro delle Muse presents a prestigious program of shows: operas, theatrical performances, musicals, ballets, classical music and jazz.
Arch of Trajan, Ancona
Located in the current port, the Arch of Trajan was built in 100 BC. by the Senate of Rome in honor of Emperor Trajan who had, at his own expense, enlarged the port of Ancona so that sailors coming from the East could have a safer landing in Italy. At the time of construction, it was located on the sea and was visible from all incoming ships. Thanks to the restoration work in 2006, the white marble with which it is built have returned to shine. A clever night lighting makes it a destination for suggestive evening walks by Ancona citizens and tourists.
The Passetto is an area of Ancona with a green park in an extraordinary panoramic position overlooking the sea and the Cònero. The park is ideal for those who want to walk in spring or autumn or to shelter from the heat and go to the beach in summer. The magnificent stairways that descend to the sea, allow you to reach the sea on foot, walking only a few minutes from the historic center. It is a rocky beach, with long stretches of high cliffs from which you can enjoy a fantastic landscape. The Passetto caves were excavated in the late 19th and early 20th century by fishermen who needed to create a refuge for boats from the waves. The oldest caves were dug by hand with a pickaxe, the more recent ones using small explosives charges. Today the Passetto caves are used by bathers. The center of the ward is the War Memorial, an early 1930s temple built to commemorate the soldiers who died in the First World War. From the monument on foot through two long stairways carved into the rock or by lift you reach the sea. The area is equipped with establishments, swimming pools, an ice rink and is very popular with people, especially for its ease of access to the sea. In the evening it comes alive thanks to the cafes built on stilts, directly in the water.
Between the Guasco hill and the Cappuccini hill, you can admire the Roman amphitheater dating back to the 1st century BC. The amphitheater, which can accommodate up to 10,000 spectators, stages various representations of the ancient theater during the summer. Another interesting place is the largest urban park in all of Ancona: The Cardeto Park, overlooking the sea, where you can take long walks to fully enjoy the luxuriant nature which, in the spring months, is covered in a wonderful flowery mantle. The park is also to be considered as an “open-air museum” as it houses important places of memory, including the Jewish Field, one of the largest and best-preserved Jewish cemeteries in Europe; the English Field; the San Paolo Bastion, dating back to the sixteenth century which conceals a series of underground tunnels that can be visited by appointment; the old nineteenth-century lighthouse that dominates the whole city; the powder magazine, recently restored and today a location for cultural events; the Cardeto Fort.
Ancona is also the starting point for the discovery of the Conero Park, an extraordinary combination of sea, hills and medieval villages. Here you can go for walks, bike rides, excursions, and climbing. There are 18 trails in all. One of the most beautiful is the crossing of Mount Conero that passes through hills, mountains, and coast on views overlooking the sea. Mount Conero is also a wonderful place to go to the beach. One trail starts right from the beach of Portonovo and then goes into the hills behind the coast. Here there are ancient towns, some well known as Recanati (birthplace of Giacomo Leopardi) and Loreto with the “Black Madonna” and the much-visited sanctuary; Castelfidardo with its handcrafted accordions; Sirolo with the square overlooking the sea and many other smaller towns, less known and therefore intact and fascinating.
What to eat in Ancona
We are in a seaside town, so no surprise at the prevalence of fish in the local cuisine, a predominance that takes over when we talk about “brodetto” and “baccalà”. The first one is a typical fish soup (it takes 13 different varieties) to which tomatoes and toasted slices of bread are added. The baccalà (stockfish) competes with the brodetto for the role of the dish of the heart of the Ancona people, an important role given that an “Academy of stockfish” was founded in the city. Then there are “moscioli” (wild mussels), squid, anchovies, and all the fish from the Adriatic Sea. To oppose this prevalence of the sea there is the “vincisgrassi”, lasagna of puff pastry with meat and tomato. Also worth mentioning are the famous “Ascoli olives”, olives stuffed with a mixture of roasted and then minced meats, mixed with egg, grated Parmesan cheese, and nutmeg. They are fried and served hot. This is also an area of excellent wines, in particular way Rosso Cònero and Verdicchio di Jesi.