Ancona is often one of the more forgotten parts of Italy, not famed for its beauty or big, must-see sights. But, if you learn a little bit more about the history of this port town, you’ll find there’s more than meets the eye, with plenty of history in the old town founded by Greek settlers from Syracuse, and lots of fascinating Roman ruins and its gorgeous Renaissance palazzi.
Check out its calm, hilltop parks, overlooking the Adriatic Sea and take in Ancona’s lovely sense of life and you’ll fall in love with the city, easily. Here are eight things to do while you’re here!
1. Trajan Arch
The Trajan Arch is a Roman triumphal arch, built during the time of Emperor Trajan, in honour of his rule after he expanded the city with money from his own pocket. Vastly improving the infrastructure and landscape, this was a change that partially led Trajan to victory in the war against the Dacians.
Constructed by Syrian architect Apollodorus of Damascus, the arch is an impressive sight and is made from Turkish marble from Marmara Island, standing at a whopping 18.5 meters (60.7 feet) high on a podium, preceded by a wide flight of steps. The arch has recently been restored, making it fully operational and visitable. It remains today as one of the key images of Ancona.
Address: Banchina Nazario Sauro, 60121 Ancona AN, Italy
Website: Trajan Arch
2. Ancona Cathedral
The Ancona Cathedral is a Roman Catholic cathedral, located in the heart of Ancona and dedicated to Saint Cyriacus of Ancona. The seat of the Archbishop of Ancona, the building is a prime example of mixed Romanesque-Byzantine and Gothic elements and was constructed on the site of the former acropolis of the Greek city, on Guasco Hill, which overlooks Ancona and its gulf.
Built in white stone and guarded by statues of stone lions, the cathedral is a must visit if you happen to be coming to Ancona, both for its architecture and simply for the marvelous views of the city it offers.
Address: Piazzale del Duomo, 9, 60121 Ancona AN, Italy
3. Pasetto Monument and War Memorial
One of the main historical monuments of Ancona, sometimes known as the Passetto Monument, this memorial commemorates those who fell in the Second World War and it is easily accessible when coming up from the port. Made entirely of Istria stone, the memorial was heavily influenced by fascism era patterns and there’s an amazing view of the port and sea when you head up to the top. You might even catch a glimpse of Croatia while you’re up there!
If you head down from the monument, you’ll end up at Passetto Beach, where you’ll find some fascinating caves dug into the cliff.
Pasetto Monument and War Memorial
Address: Piazza IV Novembre, 60123 Ancona AN, Italy
Website: Pasetto Monument and War Memorial
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4. Mole Vanvitelliana
The Lazzaretto of Ancona, also called the Mole Vanvitelliana, is a 18th-century building, constructed on an artificial island as a quarantine area and Leprosarium for Ancona. Connected to the mainland by three bridges, it was a project commissioned by Pope Clement XII and designed by Luigi Vanvitelli.
Originally completely separated from the mainland, it was used to house infected travelers and lepers who arrived at the port, keeping the rest of society safe from their infectious diseases. Since then, the site has taken on different functions, such as a military citadel in the 19th century. Its simple, yet elegant design is intended to redeem its inhabitants, and is geometrically compelling - come see it for its unique shape and its fascinating history.
Address: Banchina Giovanni da Chio 28, 60121, Ancona, Italy
Website: Mole Vanvitelliana
5. Santa Maria della Piazza
The Santa Maria Church was erected during the 11th century and was previously home to two small Palaeo-Christian churches, which can still be visible from part of the church’s glass pavement. With a gorgeous statue of the Virgin Mary in the middle of the church and having survived the 1690 earthquake, this church is a sight to behold.
If you’re keen on exploring, head down to the subterranean levels, to check out the remains of the old churches destroyed during the Gothic Wars and see parts of the ancient Greek Ancona’s walls and some frescoes.
Santa Maria della Piazza
Address: Piazza Santa Maria, 60121 Ancona AN, Italy
Website: Santa Maria della Piazza
6. Grotte del Passetto
Pasetto is considered one of the most beautiful metropolitan beaches in all of Italy, and the caves of Passetto are a regular meeting place for the city’s inhabitants, since the early 1900s. The caves offer lovely shade from the hot summer days and are a nice quiet corner to enjoy the sea on which Ancona was built, yet distant enough from the city to enjoy a little getaway.
In a sense, the caves are a key part of Ancona’s history, with generation after generation visiting the sea, and you can almost always hear the laughter of young children weaving in and out the caves as they play on the beach, while old fishermen lead their boats out, onto the sea.
Grotte del Passetto
Address: Piazza IV Novembre, 60124, Ancona, Italy
Website: Caves of Passetto (in Italian)
7. National Archaeological Museum of Marche
Naturally, the National Archaeological Museum of Marche holds some of Ancona’s gorgeous archaeological wonders, with artifacts from the prehistoric age, including terracotta vases and agricultural history from the Neolithic age, not to mention spearheads and axes from the bronze age. You can also check out some ancient art, such as statues, vases and jewelry of everyday people.
One thing you might notice is a recurring symbol: the green woodpecker, a key symbol of the Piceno civilization and later adopted as the official emblem of the Marche region. There’s plenty this museum has to offer, and you’ll fall in love with its gorgeous interior decor, with its wide staircases and beautiful views of the sea and city.
National Archaeological Museum of Marche
Address: Via Gabriele Ferretti, 6, 60121 Ancona AN, Italy
8. Museo Diocesano
One more museum to check out while in Ancona has to be the Museo Diocesano, dating back to 1834 and housed in an old bishopric, beside the Duomo of Ancona. This Diocesano belongs to the archdiocese of Ancona and charts the history of twenty centuries of Christian history in the city. With medieval remains still fully visible in the old archbishop palace the museum is housed in, you’ll imagine the things this building went through, as it attempted to defend the Christianity of the Constantinople, which failed after the pontiff died of illness.
The Museo Diocesano represents a typical museum from the Duomo, consisting of collections of materials found during cathedral restorations, such as sarcophagi, graves and graffiti slabs, and later on acquiring new artifacts after the closure of certain churches or their destruction in WWII. Also, be sure to check out its collection of coins and medals from the Roman era, and some cool silver treasure, sacred fabrics and furnishings - a definite highlight of the museum.
Address: Piazzale del Duomo 9, 60121, Ancona, Italy
Website: Museo Diocesanoe (in Italian)
Ancona - Small in size, big in wonder
Far beyond its dingy appearance, there’s much about Ancona to fall in love with and discover with its long and illustrious history. Come discover this small port town and you’ll find yourself wanting to sink your time and efforts completely into plunging headfirst into the beautiful Passetto, or admiring what remains of the ruins from its glorious Roman past.
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