8 Top Tourist Attractions in Ancona & Easy Day Trips

Set picturesquely above the Adriatic Sea, Ancona has only recently been discovered by tourists. Most of them arrive by ferry from Croatia or Greece, or by cruise ship on a shore excursion heading for Loreto or other nearby attractions. But there are several interesting things to see in Ancona, and repeat cruise passengers have begun to discover the pleasures of its spacious squares, churches, and historic sights, not to mention the white sand beaches that surround it. Ancona is capital of the Marches region and has been an important trade center since Roman times, when the Emperors Caesar and Trajan fortified and developed it into a naval base.

1 Harbor and Piazza della Repubblica

Harbor and Piazza della Repubblica
Harbor and Piazza della Repubblica Enrico Matteucci / photo modified

The hub of Ancona's traffic - both land and sea -- is Piazza della Repubblica. On its west side is the harbor, a large oval basin that has been in use since Roman times. At the north end of the breakwater is the Roman triumphal arch, Arco di Traiano, with an inscription recording that it was erected in AD 115 in honor of the Emperor Trajan and his wife and sister. This area was the Roman Lungomare Vanvitelli and a large archaeological dig has uncovered the remains of the port structure and stretches of the wall built in the second century BC to protect the port. You can tour the area on raised walkways. The Arco Clementino to the west is from the 18th century.

2 Cattedrale di San Ciriaco

Cattedrale di San Ciriaco
Cattedrale di San Ciriaco

A flight of steps or a winding panoramic road leads to the top of Monte Guasco, where Ancona's cathedral was built on the site of a temple dedicated to Venus Euplea, the goddess who protected sailors. You can see bases of that temple's columns through glass panels in the floor, as well as remains of an earlier paleo-Christian church from the sixth century in the crypt. The domed cruciform church in Byzantine-Romanesque style is from the 12th century, and the façade has a Gothic doorway, which is decorated with reliefs. From the top are spectacular views over the city and Adriatic coast.

Address: Piazzale del Duomo, Ancona

3 National Archeological Museum

The 16th-century Palazzo Ferretti houses one of the most prestigious archaeological museums in Italy, filled with the finds that emerged from excavations throughout the Marche region. It is especially strong in prehistoric and Roman artifacts from tombs, but it covers everything from the Paleolithic era to the Early Middle Ages. The 23 rooms devoted to primitive history give a good sense of these people's daily lives, including everything from tools and weapons to cooking pots and early jewelry. Palazzo Ferretti itself is worth seeing, and is an especially good example of 16th-century (and later) architecture with frescoes by Pellegrino Tibaldi.

Address: Palazzo Ferretti, Via Ferretti 6, Ancona

4 Piazza del Plebiscito

Piazza del Plebiscito
Piazza del Plebiscito

This long piazza is Ancona's favorite spot to relax or meet friends in a café, a gracious outdoor space overlooked by statues and historic public buildings. High at one end is the church of San Domenico, designed by Marchionni and built in the late 1700s. Inside, you'll find a painting of the Crucifixion by Titan. Bordering the square are the Palazzo Mengoni Ferretti, the Civic Tower, and the 15th-century Palazzo del Governo. To the west of the Palazzo del Governo is the Loggia dei Mercanti, a late Gothic building with a facade by Giorgio Orsini, and adjoining it, the beautiful 15th-century Palazzo Benincasa. At one end is a statue of Pope Clement XII, and in front of it are two fountains; one from the 19th century and the other dating from the 15th century, its top layer decorated by effigies.

5 Roman Amphitheater

Built into the slope of Monte Guasco, on top of which stands the cathedral, are the ruins of Ancona's large Roman amphitheater, which was built during the reign of Emperor Augustus. Attached to the amphitheater is a building believed to have been a gladiator school, decorated in mosaics also from the Augustan Age. An annex has thermal baths with excellent mosaics. If you look carefully, you'll see neighboring buildings that follow the original shape of the theater complex.

Address: Piazza Anfiteatro, Ancona

6 Santa Maria della Piazza

Santa Maria della Piazza
Santa Maria della Piazza Andrea Sartorati / photo modified

Inside the early 13th-century church of Santa Maria della Piazza, you can see the remains of the floor of a 6th-century church, one of the two on whose foundations the present church was built. The portal is intricately carved, and the lower part of its highly decorated façade is faced in Dalmatian marble and elegantly decorated with small arches. The upper portion of the façade was never finished. The interior is simple, in the form of a Latin cross, with a nave, two aisles, and a raised altar. The entire church is an excellent example of Romanesque architecture and, with the cathedral, one of Ancona's two most significant churches.

Address: Piazza Santa Maria, Ancona

7 Passetto and War Memorial

Passetto and War Memorial
Passetto and War Memorial

Atop the high hill above the sea and Passetto Beach is the white marble Passetto Monument, a World War I memorial built in 1930 and heavily influenced by fascist-era style and decorative motifs. It stands at the top of a long double staircase that descends in matching curves to the beach below. An interesting feature of the beach (in the summer you can use the modern elevator instead of the stairs) is the old fishing port with caves carved into the rock cliff in the early 1900s, originally used by fishermen to store boats and tackle. The views from the top, in front of the monument, can extend to the Croatian coast on a clear day.

Address: Via Vittoria, Ancona

8 Museo Diocesano

The diocesan museum is in the former Bishop's Palace, to the left of the cathedral and contains not only the cathedral's treasury, but works of art from other churches, some of which were destroyed or irreparably damaged during World War II, when Ancona's port was heavily bombed. Among these is a reconstruction of the portal of the Romanesque church of San Pietro. Also notable are the early Christian sarcophagus with carved decoration belonging to Flavius Gorgonius, a praetorian prefect in the fourth century, and the sarcophagus of San Dasio, a sixth-century martyr.

Address: Piazza Duomo 9, Ancona

Where to Stay in Ancona for Sightseeing

We recommend these charming hotels in Ancona near the city and the sea:

  • Hotel Fortino Napoleonico: luxury 4-star resort, waterfront, old-world style, wonderful staff, 11 kilometers from town.
  • SeePort Hotel: affordable boutique hotel, sea views, stylish decor, roof terrace, free parking.
  • NH Ancona: mid-range pricing, port views, friendly staff, great breakfast.
  • B&B Arts and Music: budget bed-and-breakfast, central location, friendly host, clean rooms.

Day Trips from Ancona

Santuario della Santa Casa in Loreto

Santuario della Santa Casa in Loreto
Santuario della Santa Casa in Loreto

The little town of Loreto lies on a hill near the Adriatic Sea, about 20 kilometers south of Ancona. Since the 14th century it has been Italy's second most important place of pilgrimage after Rome. According to legend, in 1291, the Virgin's house in Nazareth, the Santa Casa, was transported by angels to a succession of sites, and finally, in 1295, to its present site in Loreto. The Santuario della Santa Casa, a Gothic hall-church with a fortress-like exterior, was begun in 1468 and completed with the raising of the dome in 1500. The late Renaissance façade was added in 1583-87. The three bronze doors are decorated with figures and bas reliefs. The interior of the church has a beautiful baptismal font from 1607, and the two sacristies have 15th-century frescoes by Melozzo da Forli and Luca Signorelli. Under the dome in the center is the Santa Casa, a simple brick building surrounded by a high marble screen designed by Bramante in the 16th century. On the walls are scenes of the life of the Madonna and of the transportation of the Santa Casa to Loreto. In the same piazza, opposite the sanctuary, is the Palazzo Apostolico, with paintings, tapestries from designs by Raphael, and majolica from Urbino.

Address: Piazza della Madonna, Loreto

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