The Marche region of Italy has a lot to offer in terms of small towns with medieval architecture and perfectly proportioned piazzas. Ascoli Piceno is no exception.
We had taken the train from Grottammare to Ascoli Piceno on a Friday morning as students made their way back from the university at Macerata to home for the weekend; some with pets in travel cages, all with a week's worth of laundry in their bags. The train stations were small, many unmanned and usually covered in graffiti as we trundled along the coast before turning inland.
From the train station the modern town leads uninspiringly past the Porta Maggiore, the town's mascot - the woodpecker - and a statue of Cecco but once you squeeze along the narrow cobbled streets and into one of the old town's squares you are transported. There are signs of modern life - cars zip along streets not much wider than themselves and helpful brown tourist plaques are stuck on walls - but the feeling is definitely of past times. First for us, and for any who wish to get information on the town was the Piazza Arringo, so named as the square held public assemblies after the founding of the free city-state. The tourist information office is through a driveway, which in turn leads to a pretty courtyard up the stairs from which is the Pinacoteca Civica.
The Pinacoteca is home to a number of art works from thirteenth century triptychs to nineteenth century secular pieces as well as sculptures. My favourite saint, Sebastian (who I adopted during my journey from Venice to Rome), was much in evidence and it was interesting to see how his depiction - particularly his hairstyle - changed through the ages. The sculpture of the Sleeping Shepherd in the Shepherd's Room was incredible. Not since I'd first met Bernini in the Piazza Navona had I been so struck by the detailing created in marble. The shepherd boy's belt looked as if it had just been tightened, the loose ends curving over his waist. The lacings and soles of the footwear were realistically tied around socks that gaped baggily at the knee. The boy's slightly open mouth seemed more than capable of gentle snoring as he slept. The softness of the boy contrasted with the harder elements of his clothing reflecting the harsh reality of shepherding work for such a young child - no wonder he slept.
|Piazza del Popolo|
The Ceramics Museum is a place to be enjoyed by those with a specific interest in said art. There are few exhibits and I was disappointed with the selection, but then my interest does not lie there. The most interesting display I found was that which consisted of modern work designed to celebrate the 150 years of Italy's unification. One piece in particular I thought summed up how the rest of the world sees Italy...
|Part of Ercolani's 'Welcome'|
|Altar, baldaccio and colourful artwork.|
I left Ascoli Piceno with a feeling of contentment. I had seen some wonderful art and a beautiful old town that had retained its Medieval and Renaissance architecture whilst not seeming like a living museum. As we neared the train station with the sun setting and the chill creeping upon us I had made my first successful and enjoyable foray into the Marche region of Italy.
|The woodpecker, symbol of Ascoli Piceno|
I visited Ascoli Piceno on 9th November, 2012.
Tourist information office: Piazza Arringo, 7 Tel: 0736 298204 Opening times: 09.00 to 18.30 Mon-Fri; 09.00 to 13.00 and 15.00 to 18.00 Sat & Sun
Winter Opening Hours for Pinacoteca, Museum of Ceramics and the Gallery of Contemporary Art: 10.00 to 15.00