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An Italian Roadtrip8 October 2020

Ascoli Piceno, the Travertine Gem of an Italian Town

The Marche region's most imposing city is packed with a unique urban-fabric

Over the centuries, different creative expressions, born out of contradiction or mutual inspiration, have together created large urban centres and small picturesque villages. Ascoli Piceno is one such expression of Italian inspiration and creativity.

Located precisely in the center of Italy, Ascoli Piceno is the fourth largest city in the Marche Region, with a population of approximately 47,000 inhabitants. For those who already know the city and have already visited its streets, the sensations that linger in their memories are many and often shared, such as its architectural and artistic richness, the elegance of its shapes, and the essential quality of its colors.

Ascoli Piceno is an open-air lounge. The historic center of the city is built around two nodal points: the Renaissance Piazza del Popolo, considered one of the most beautiful squares in Italy, and the medieval Piazza Arringo, which takes its name from the Palazzo dell’Arengo, currently both the Town Hall of Ascoli Piceno and the Civic Art Gallery.

Two civil and religious centers characterized by the imposing presence of important monuments such as the Gothic Church of San Francesco, the Palazzo dei Capitani dei Popoli with its unmistakable crenelated tower, the Cathedral of Sant’Emidio, patron saint of the city, with its hidden crypt and the austere Baptistery of San Giovanni, built in a typically Romanesque style.

Although different architectural styles coexist in the city, its buildings, its streets and its numerous aristocratic bell towers (Ascoli Piceno is also known as the City of a Hundred Towers) are all incredibly in harmony with each other.

What has allowed the creation and preservation of this aesthetic balance over time has been the use of a single construction material: travertine. The refined protagonist of the urban center of Ascoli, Lapis Tiburtinus (Tivoli stone) is a limestone-type sedimentary rock extracted in large quantities in Lazio, from the quarries of Tivoli and the Valle del Tronto, located between Ascoli Piceno and Acquasanta Terme.

A noble and resistant material that was chosen by Augustus, in Roman times, for the construction of grand Italian monuments in Rome, such as the Trevi Fountain, the fountain in Piazza Navona and the Colosseum.

Its main qualities are the ease with which it can be worked and its durability over time, which is why it is often used for vertical coverings and for the creation of decorative elements, such as cornices and capitals, gems that have always made our sculptural and architectural creations so unique, recognised and admired all over the world.

After visiting Ascoli Piceno, Italian writer and journalist, Guido Piovene wrote in his “Journey to Italy” of 1957: “A travertine of a warm grey colour, uniform and without plaster … all decorated, crafted and stained … and on every door and window, you see fruit, foliage, female caryatids, flowers, animals, stars, or even just proverbs and carved sentences”.

A travertine of a warm grey color, uniform and without plaster … all decorated, crafted and stained … and on every door and window, you see fruit, foliage, female caryatids, flowers, animals, stars, or even just proverbs and carved sentences

Walking through the streets of Ascoli is a journey through pale shades of white and grey. You participate in a luminous and paradoxically delicate monumental show. Light plays a fundamental role because, reflecting on the light stone, it becomes itself the substance and interpreter of the city.

In Piazza del Popolo the bright travertine, that covers all the facades, is interrupted only by the old pink of Caffè Meletti, a piece of Italian history where people and culture have been meeting since 1907. Even the elegant Art Nouveau building blends in with the white tones of the square, along with its pavement, also of a polished smooth travertine.

On its facade, a retro script reminds us that this is the birthplace of the famous Anisetta Meletti, the anise-based liqueur that is still served today “with the fly”, that is, the coffee bean, at the end of a meal.

Under the frescoed arcades of the pink palace, Sartre, Hemingway, Guttuso, Mascagni and the Roman Trilussa also admired the charm of Piazza del Popolo, sipping their Anisetta after dinner. “How many fairy tales and sonnets Meletti has inspired me to write”.

A few steps from Piazza del Popolo, a majestic Travertino Palace houses the 4-star hotel, historical residence and spa Palazzo dei Mercanti.  Born as a place of worship, the Palazzo dei Mercanti was an important convent and the shape, the cloister, and the colonnade inside still indicate this.

Although its “intended use” has changed over the years, hosting merchants and master craftsmen, its structure has retained and preserved its sacred elements. The different types of rooms, designed to meet every need, are comfortable, elegant, and in line with the style of the imposing city of Ascoli, carefully furnished with hand-painted ceramics and furniture made by the master craftsmen of the area.

When it comes to food, the bistro inside Palazzo dei Mercanti — CIBO — promotes and enhances the local gourmet, and specialties include all — seafood, meat, and vegetarian dishes. The Seta Spa regenerates body, mind, and all five senses all in an intimate and relaxing environment. These and other experiences proposed by Palazzo dei Mercanti, such as guided tours and visits to the cellar, complete the stay.

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