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Ancona is a city and a seaport in the Marche, a region of northeastern Italy, population 100,507 (2001). Ancona is situated on the Adriatic Sea and is the center of an eponymous province.

The city is located 133 miles northeast of Rome and 127 miles southeast of Bologna.

The name Ancona means "elbow" (from Greek *ankon 'elbow'), referring to the shape of its geographical position. We can find similar references to the shape of the human body in other cities with similar geo-morphological features, like Genova and Geneva (which names would originate from from the Proto-Indo-European *genu, meaning 'knee').

The town is finely situated on and between the slopes of the two extremities of the promontory of Monte Conero , Monte Astagno, occupied by the citadel, and Monte Guasco, on which the Duomo stands (300 feet). The latter, dedicated to St. Cyriacus (S. Ciriaco), is said to occupy the site of a temple of Venus, who is mentioned by Catullus and Juvenal as the tutelary deity of the place.


Ancona sights

Cathedral church of S. Ciriaco

The cathedral was consecrated in 1128 and completed in 1189. Some writers suppose that the original church was in the form of a Latin cross and belonged to the 8th century. An early restoration was completed in 1234. It is a fine Romanesque building in grey stone, built in the form of a Greek cross, with a dodecagonal dome over the center slightly altered by Margaritone d'Arezzo in 1270. The façade has a Gothic portal, ascribed to Giorgio da Corno (1228), which was intended to have a lateral arch on each side.

The interior, which has a crypt under each transept, in the main preserves its original character. It has ten columns which are attributed to the temple of Venus, and there are good screens of the 12th century, and other sculptures. The church was beautifully restored in the 1980s.

Other monuments

The marble Arch of Trajan, 61 feet high, erected in 114/115 CE as an entrance to the causeway atop the harbor wall in honor of the emperor who had made the harbor, is one of the finest Roman monuments in the Marche. Most of its original bronze enrichments have disappeared. It stands on a high podium approached by a wide flight of steps. The archway, only 10 ft wide, is flanked by pairs of fluted Corinthian columns on pedestals. An attic bears inscriptions. The format is that of the Arch of Titus in Rome, but made taller, so that the bronze figures surmounting it, of Trajan, his wife Plotina and sister Marciana, would figure as a landmark for ships approaching Rome's greatest Adriatic port.

The Lazzaretto (Laemocomium or "Mole Vanvitelliana"), planned by architect Luigi Vanvitelli in 1732. It is a pentagonal building covering more than 20,000 sq.m., built to protect the military defensive authorities from the risk of contagious diseases eventually reaching the town with the ships. Later it was used also as a military hospital or as barracks; it is currently used for cultural exhibits.

In the dilapidated episcopal palace Pope Pius II died in 1464. An interesting church is S. Maria della Piazza, with an elaborate arcaded façade (1210). The Palazzo del Comune, with its lofty arched substructures at the back, was the work of Margaritone d'Arezzo, but has been since twice restored.

There are also several fine late Gothic buildings, among them the churches of S. Francesco and S. Agostino, the Palazzo Benincasa, the Palazzo del Senato, and the Loggia dei Mercanti, all by Giorgio Orsini, usually called da Sebenico (who worked much at Sebenico, though he was not a native of it), and the prefecture, which has Renaissance additions. The portal of S. Maria della Misericordia is an ornate example of early Renaissance work.

The archaeological museum contains interesting pre-Roman (Picene ) objects from tombs in the district, and two Roman beds with fine decorations in ivory.


The ancient town was founded by refugees from Syracuse about 390 BC, who gave it its name: Ancona is a very slightly modified transliteration of the Greek Αγκων, meaning "elbow"; the harbor to the east of the town was originally protected only by the promontory on the north, shaped like an elbow. Greek merchants established a Tyrian purple factory here (Sil. Ital. viii. 438). In Roman times it kept its own coinage with the punning device of the bent arm holding a palm branch, and the head of Aphrodite on the reverse, and continued the use of the Greek language.

When it became a Roman colony is doubtful. It was occupied as a naval station in the Illyrian war of 178 BC (Liv. xli. i). Julius Caesar took possession of it immediately after crossing the Rubicon. Its harbour was of considerable importance in imperial times, as the nearest to Dalmatia, and was enlarged by Trajan, who constructed the north quay, his architect being Apollodorus of Damascus. At the beginning of it stands the marble triumphal arch with a single archway, and without bas-reliefs, erected in his honour in 115 by the senate and people.

After the fall of the Roman empire Ancona, was successively attacked by the Goths, Lombards and Saracens, but recovered its strength and importance. It was one of the cities of the Pentapolis under the exarchate of Ravenna, the other four being Fano, Pesaro, Senigallia and Rimini, and eventually became a semi-independent republic under the protection of the popes, until Gonzaga took possession of it for Pope Clement VII in 1532.

Pope Clement XII prolonged the quay, and an inferior imitation of Trajan's arch was set up; he also erected a lazzaretto at the south end of the harbour, Luigi Vanvitelli being the architect-in-chief. The southern quay was built in 1880, and the harbour was protected by forts on the heights.

From 1797 onwards, when the French took it, it frequently appears in history as an important fortress, until Christophe Léon Louis Juchault de Lamoricière capitulated here on September 29 1860, eleven days after his defeat at Castelfidardo .


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Last updated: 08-01-2005 13:11:46
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