Ancona, Capital of the Marches Region, lies on the promontory of Monte Conero directly facing the sea. Founded by the Greeks, the city experienced remarkable development when the Emperor Hadrian extended the then-small port, long of great strategic importance for the traffic across the Adriatic.
Split into two parts - the historic center on Monte Guasco and the modern part on the coast - Ancona is a fascinating city.
Among its principal monuments are the Cathedral of San Ciriaco, with its white and rose marble façade. The Cathedral dominates the city from the heights of Guasco Hill, where the city’s Acropolis was built (and the remains of which are evident today). Be sure to see the National Archaeological Museum of The Marches, preserving relics from the Iron Age and from the civilizations that peopled the Adriatic coast; as well as the 11th-Century Church of Santa Maria della Piazza, originally in the Romanesque; Trajan's Arch, built in the year 115 by Apollodoro da Damasco; and the Mole Vanvitelliana, a military construction designed by Luigi Vanvitelli in the 18th Century. The Roman Amphitheatre (1st Century A.D.) is a splendid Roman remnant, with thermal baths in its annex; the baths feature breathtaking mosaics with various epigraphs.
Much of the Province of Ancona composes part of the Conero Regional Park, characterized by sprawling evergreen woods and Mediterranean maquis, by cliffs jutting out high above the sea, beaches accessible on via water, and a countryside still pristine but rich in the local fruits of the land - including lavendar, honey, olive oil and citrus. Certain spots within the Park should be mentioned, particularly Portonovo, evocative and highly-frequented attraction, for its forests in the vicinity of the beaches, and for its ancient monuments.
The history of Ancona and its Province is strongly tied to the sea. It is thought that the city was founded in the 4th Century B.C. by the Greeks of Syracuse; they took advantage of the area's elbow-shaped topology, well-suited to use as a harbor. It is not by chance that the name derives from the word ankon, which in Greek means 'elbow'. The port area immediately became a key center for trade with the East. The city is composed of two districts: the old town, perched on the Guasco Hill, and the modern city. Any tour should start from the top, at San Ciriaco Cathedral. Down towards the harbor stands Trajan's Triumphal Arch and the remains of the Roman Amphitheatre.
The Mole Vanvitelliana is a prime touristic draw, along with the nearby Church of Sant'Agostino. For those who love art, the Piazza del Plebiscito, the Church of San Domenico hosts Titian’s Crucifixion and Guercino’s Annunciation. Just as noteworthy are the Palazzo degli Anziani with its Baroque façade, now home to the university; and Palazzo Ferretti, dating to the 16th Century, now housing The Marches's Archeological Museum.
The Pinacoteca Comunale “Francesco Podesti” and its Modern Art Gallery host Titian’s Madonna and Child with Saints, Carlo Crivelli’s Madonna and Child, as well as works by Lorenzo Lotto, Sebastiano del Piombo and Corrado Cagli.
North of Ancona, Chiaravalle is renowned for its Abbey, located in the large square in the center of town. Further inland, then, is Jesi, founded by the Umbrians, and of great historical interest for the passage of Etruscans, Gauls and Romans through time. Moving northward, Senigallia’s Rocca Roveresca testament to the town's Roman foundations, is quite the must-see. In a panoramic location overlooking the Cesano and Nevola Valleys stands Corinaldo, birthplace of St. Maria Goretti and a famous destination for pilgrims; the two beautiful villages of Ostra and Ostra Vetere lie nearby.
Close to the border with the Region of Umbria and tucked into the mountains is Fabriano, renowned for its art and paper artisanship since the 13th Century. Returning to the coast, Osimo, 18 km (11.2 mi) south of Ancona, stands in the hills between the Aspio and Musone Valleys and boasts ruins from the Classical period. Finally, just past Castelfidardo is Loreto, the home of Italy’s largest shrine to the Virgin Mary; it is a typical example of an urban center that is built around the Sanctuary of Loreto and its Basilica. The Santa Casa, or Holy House, is a treasure chest of works of incredible beauty, as is the Painting Gallery and Museum, and the Apostolic Palace.
Ancona Province offers many opportunities to take on outdoor activities within its beautiful scenery, particularly cycling and horseback riding. It possesses a mountaineering school that will please rock climbers, while lovers of winter sports can enjoy Nordic and alpine skiing in the winter months.
Not to be missed are the three Frasassi Caves for potholing trails (with the help of specialized guides).
The unique landscapes and the presence of several parks offer plenty of routes for trekking and mountain bikers. And the coast between Senigallia and Ancona provides many an opportunity for diving, sailing, fishing and parachuting.
Among traditional events in Ancona, the following are highly recommended: the Festa del Mare or Sea Festival, held on the first Sunday of September and consisting of a procession of hundreds of boats through the harbor to honor those who lost their lives at sea; the Arch Fair and, a few days after the Festa del Mare, the spectacular Conero Regatta.
Of the many historical re-enactments, make an attempt to see the Contesa del Pozzo della Polenta, held in Corinaldo; it commemorates the people's victory in a decisive battle in 1517, with the Palio, several races between the town’s various districts.
The Province of Ancona is a territory wealthy in varied natural, environmental, cultural, artistic and culinary resources, all blending together in a unique tapestry. These are expressed not only in the values of its traditions and culture, but also in the high quality of its produce.
The taste, fragrance and authenticity of the latter prompts much interest on the part of the curious tourist, the discriminating consumer and the well-educated alike. Many products are worthy of note in the local cuisine, and its foodstuffs benefit from the mild climate Ancona enjoys, as well as from the ancient knowledge of the farmers. Fishing is one of the activities that flourish along the coast, taking full advantage of the generosity of the Adriatic. Ancona is a leading port for the fishing fleet: sole can be found in abundance, along with sea bass, sea bream, turbot and monkfish for delicious grills and bakes. Then, not to be left out are the paranza fish for frying and soups; blue fish for the grill; and clams and mussels, shellfish and mollusks of every kind.
Over the centuries, the hills have been the ideal location for specific vines that have created prestigious wines: e.g. Verdicchio, Rosso Conero and the Lacrima di Morro d’Alba.
The production of high quality Extra-Virgin Olive Oil is the result of various factors: the varietal base, the soil and climate, the ancient agronomic techniques and, not least, the traditional skill that is a mix of avant-garde production and "mom and pop" enterprises that still carry on their traditional crushing techniques.
Beekeeping has long been widespread, passed from generation to generation with skill and enthusiasm. Honey is sweet, faintly aromatic and transparent, highly sought after even to blend with lesser varieties. Sausage production is supremely important, notably the Salame of Fabriano, which is larded and currently in the process of obtaining the prestigious P.D.O. (Denomination of Protected Origin) label.
In creating a menu, a line is usually drawn between sea and land dishes, yet that does not exclude some crossover dishes that comprise both chicken and fish with olives, tuna and anchovies.
The Province's marine culinary culture is crowned by brodetti or stews. According to ancient custom, the points of departure are 13 varieties of mollusks, shellfish and Mediterranean fish types, while the characteristic ingredient is tomato sauce flavored with vinegar. Another seafood specialty that cannot be left out is the stoccafisso (stockfish) all’anconitana, with potatoes, olives and anchovies, tomatoes and aromatic herbs. (It is such a prized dish that the recipe is even codified and protected under the tutelage of a consortium or academy.)
The cuisine of the land features the regional speciality, the vincisgrassi, a lasagne dish stuffed with white sauce a beef sausage ragù with prosciutto, giblets and porcini mushrooms, followed by other pasta dishes topped by meat sauces embellished with white or black truffles of the highest quality. White meat is popular for first courses: chicken and rabbit, roasted or in stews.
That doesn’t detract from the central role of the beef chop, the very aromatic roast porchetta, grilled lamb, game birds or the specialty snails in Arcevia and Fabriano. In a land of cereal crops, goods fresh from the oven are major: bread and foccacia, including the crescia, flavored with oil, salt, rosemary and onion.
For dessert, aniseed doughnuts are typical, as are a myriad of short pastry desserts. The aromas of the regional confectionery include that of the long-standing fig loin, a type of pastry in the form of salami with dried figs and fruit peel; and bostrengo, a traditional cake with cereals and dried fruit. Finally, there are traditional aniseed or coffee-based liqueurs in the territory between Ancona and Fabriano.