Up the Adriatic Coast
Part II: An Afternoon in Ancona
The brown, brick buildings of Ancona’s old town sweep up the bluff like a wave surging at the sandy shores. From a distance, the city looks like a jumble of blocks punctuated by the domes and towers of the town’s churches. Once inside, the picture changes and the jumble of blocks becomes a succession of stately constructions that climb the hill on stone-cobbled streets following the elegant contours of the hillside. From a distance, Ancona may look like a rough and tumble child – but up close, one can see she is a refined lady.
I had only two hours to spend in Ancona. That isn’t entirely true…I had as much time as I wanted but my dog, Bonnie, was back at a hotel in Falconara Marittima and I didn’t want to be too late – so I set my alarm for 2 hours and set out to see what I could see of this modest port.
The city of Ancona was founded by settlers from Syracuse (Greece) in the 3rd Century BC and like much of the region has been destroyed, rebuilt, and resettled countless times through the centuries.
For many visitors, their first glimpse of Ancona is Lazzaretto – a pentagonal fortification on a small island at the edge of the port. One forgets, in our modern ports-of-entry constructed of glass and steel and computers and uniformed officers safely tucked behind bullet-proof-glass that places like Lazzaretto still exist. Constructed during the 18th century as a quarantine station for lepers and potentially infected sailors, travelers, and goods, Lazaretto is an impressive structure that has also done duty as a military barracks, and now, an exhibition space.
The Old Town
From Lazzaratto I walked up the cobbled streets – stepping to the side or into a doorway to avoid the occasional car. Something about the city felt familiar. Something about the quiet, private way the people who live in these old buildings went about their lives. I’ve only seen it a few places before. A feeling or a sense came back to me and transported me across Europe to the tiny Arcos de la Frontera – one of Spains Pueblos Blankos. I returned to Ancona as a car stopped in the middle of the quiet street to drop a woman off. She stepped out of the car and lingered for a bit to talk with the driver until another car, wishing to get by, honked at them.
A blanket of shadows cast by the tall buildings protected the streets from the intense Adriatic sun. Like Venice, the buildings in Ancona are from mixed providence – some dating back to the early middle ages, while others follow patterns from the Renaissance and Baroque eras of style. Also like Venice, the providence of the buildings could be read in the window arches, some arched, some with the intricate High Gothic pointed arches, some simple squares, others with ornate facades.
I continued up the hill, through the Piazza del Papa with its brick Church and marble statue of Pope Clement XII, Past shops and restaurants, past the hemispherical green-domed church of Saint Pellegrino (Scalzi Ancona), up the steps through a winding, wild park, to the Duomo – the cathedral that crowns Ancona’s highest point.
There was a wedding inside the cathedral. I accidentally crashed a wedding at the Cathedral in Bari – walking in a side door in the middle of the service. Slightly embarrassed, I slipped into a back pew and pretended I was there for the wedding. In Ancona, however, I had no interest in crashing a wedding. Instead, I wandered around the outside of the cathedral, admiring the splendid 13th century façade and catching the views over the rolling city.
I headed back down the hill by way of a different path, stopping in at the tourist information office to get an idea of what I missed in my sojourn in this charming port town: the parks of the five bastions of the Cittadella atop the adjacent hill, the castles of Offagna Rock and Castelfidardo, Jupiter’s Arch, the Archaeological Museum, and some of the many ruins from the Roman times that dot the city’s landscape.
I’ve developed a philosophy about missing things: “Saving them for next time” is how I put it. When you travel, you see what you see. Sometimes the sights – as magnificent as they are – are dwarfed by every day interactions with locals who live in ordinary places. My experience of Ancona will always be colored by the two days I spent working on Bonnie’s paperwork with the veterinary from Falconara Marittima who very kindly shuttled me around to get Bonnie an EU Pet Passport so that I could get his travel signature for my trip back to the US. He refused to charge me for the service explaining that it wasn’t a part of his usual practice. The kindness of others is a far greater sight than any historic building or magnificent view and I will never regret how I spent my time on Le Marche.
Ancona has ferry connections to Albania (Adria Ferries), Montenegro (Montenegro Lines), Croatia (Jadrolinija), and Greece (superfast). Ancona also has direct rail connections west to Bologna and Milan, and South to Bari. Bologna and Milan, of course, have rail connections north to Venice and South toward Rome.
Read more about Ancona:
visititaly.com has excellent information about the history of the city and some of her most famous buildings
visitancona.com also has great information about things to see and do in the Ancona region.