Ascoli Piceno - Piazza del Popolo - Church of San Francesco
Ascoli Piceno is the southernmost Province in The Marches. The area slopes down from the Apennines to the sea, passing through the Sibilline Mountains that rise up along the border with Umbria, and creating a formation of hills in the east towards the coastline. This sequence of hills, singing with the changing hues of the orchards and cultivated fields, gently descend from the Apennines to the sea, turning the landscape into a palette of colors.
The coast, narrow and sandy, lies between the mouths of the Chienti and Tronto Rivers, and is interspersed with charming seaside towns, for instance San Benedetto del Tronto with its long, sandy beach and wide promenades, all surrounded by verdant palm trees; Grottammare, with its fine, sandy beach; and Cupra Marittima, boasting a milder climate that supports the growth of tropical vegetation.
Mountains, hills, valleys, woods and beaches all lend to the area a great variety of landscapes that can be discovered throughout the year, in all their vivid beauty.
The characteristic buildings, streets and piazzas tell the story of centuries of history. From the facades of its Medieval buildings to its old maze of streets and trails, Ascoli Piceno is a town of art, culture and strong traditions.
It is also a cohesive and harmonious mix, due to the widespread use of travertine marble for everything from simple buildings to palaces, from the churches to the pavement of its piazzas.
Its two main centers reflect ancient and modern Ascoli: Piazza del Popolo and Piazza Arringo, respectively. The former was the location of the old forum, the residence of the Captains of the People, and a vibrant commercial center, whereas the latter was once the political heart of town, with its Cathedral and Bishop's Palace. Many of Ascoli's museums are concentrated in Piazza Arringo, also known as ‘Museum Square;’ they include the Pinacoteca Civica (the public art gallery), with its many masterpieces by Titian, Guido Reni and Giuseppe Pellizza da Volped; the Diocesan Museum and the State Archeological Museum. The old town is well-protected by the Tronto River and its offshoot, the Castellano River, while the modern town spans eastward, following the Tronto to the sea.
A tour of the churches here might begin with the Church of San Tommaso, and conclude at Santa Maria Intervineas, passing 14 Romanesque churches and the Baptistery (a common feature in Ascoli Piceno) along the way. Ascoli Piceno also possesses a long-established theatrical tradition, as can be seen from the many theatres built in the 19th Century, for example the Filarmonici, the Ventidio Basso, and the San Francesco di Paola Auditorium.
Geographically, the city occupies a strategic location near Sibillini National Park, the Gran Sasso-Laga National Park and the Sibilla Peak. Not far from the town lies Mt. Ascensione, a destination for pilgrimages during the Middle Ages that, nowadays, retains its sacred atmosphere. Indeed, every year in May, thousands of people ascend the mountain on Ascension Day to carry the Madonna da Polesio to the church at its top.
Moving on from Ascoli to San Benedetto del Tronto, one encounters towns such as Offida, with its 15th-Century fortress. Glimpses of the Middle Ages can be found in Ripatransone, also known as the belvedere del Piceno for its panoramic location. Among the coastal towns, worthy of note are the narrow streets of Grottammare, and the sandy beach at San Benedetto del Tronto.
Those who enjoy trekking within nature can hike along the wooded trails and slopes of the Sibilline Mountains, perhaps en route to the Sibilla Cave, named after the prophetess who reputedly lived there and wandered its villages, churches and historical landmarks. Nesting nearby is Lake Pilato where, according to legend, Pontius Pilate was dragged beneath its surface by buffaloes.
Bicycle holidays combine the beauty of nature with the pursuit of sport, in discovery of the territory and traditional cuisine along the way. Many routes, both on- and off-road, have been designed to explore this varied environment, ranging from mountains to sea, and featuring climbs and descents, woods and rocky areas - all amidst breathtaking views.
Acquasanta Terme is the ideal location for restoring both body and soul at a thermal spa used by the Romans, now with all the modern comforts.
The key element in the local cuisine is olive oil; it enhances both the authenticity and simplicity of every course. The fresh egg pastas are among the leading dishes, from simple tagliatelle to Campofilone maccheroncini and chitarrine.
The traditional eve of holiday menus includes spaghetti in tuna sauce, green olives and tomatoes. Alternatively, soups are made with cereals or legumes sourced from the nearby mountains (thinke wheat, lentils and beans).
The traditional second course is a mixed fry (fritto misto all’ascolana), featuring the renowned local olives, stuffed with meat, liver and tomatoes and then deep-fried. They can be served as an appetizer or as a snack.
The fritto can also include cream, zucchine, artichoke and lamb cutlets.
Olives are also used in the turkey all’ascolana, seasoned with aromatic herbs, juniper berries and liver.
Piceno wines have gained a reputation throughout Italy for their quality. The most popular are Rosso Piceno, Rosso Piceno Superiore and the Bianco Falerio dei Colli Ascolani.
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