Piazza del Popolo, Ascoli Piceno, Province of Ascoli Piceno, Marche, Italy

Piazza del Popolo, Ascoli Piceno
This large square is a masterpiece of Renaissance art, with the palazzo dei Capitani, the Loggia dei Mercanti to the north, the church of San Francesco, the Palace with the ancient Caffè Meletti, and a colonnade all around.
The square embodied in its architecture and function the ideal of harmony including symbolically the three powers of the town, the political, religious and commercial.

Piazza del Popolo

The Piazza is still today the center of the social life of the town, with tourists in the mornings, meeting place of youths and students after school, and in the evening the typical Italian meeting rite of the "struscio", walking up and down and strolling around.

A real jewel in the heart of a city, it is surrounded by monuments and a covered colonnade; rising on the site of the ancient Roman Forum, which was placed at the crossroads of the two main Roman streets, the cardus (Via del Trivio) and decumanus (Corso Mazzini), it has been since time immemorial the heart of the political and social life and events of Ascoli. The colonnades were added to the square in 1507, demolishing the pre-existent houses, and the owners then reconstructed their apartments over the colonnades, on one floor and with the typical Renaissance lunette window. The project was ordered by the Pope's governor de' Ranieri, on a design by Lombard architect Pietro da Carona.

Palazzo del Capitano

The Palazzo dei Capitani del Popolo

The Palace was the seat of the authorities that in turn ruled the town. As can be seen today, it was built in the 13th century, and substantially renovated in 1520 by architect Cola dell'Amatrice, who also authored the facade of the Renaissance basilica of St. Benardine of Siena, in L'Aquila, Abruzzo. Actually, however, as the recent restoration works have shown, under the present palace there were Roman and early medieval constructions. The front facade, in travertine stone has an inscription to the right of the main entrance, with a date, 1393, and the name of the first captain, Giacomo de Fortiguerra from Pistoia.

In December 1535 a group of rioters took refuge in the palace, and the Pope's commissioner ordered the palace to be set on fire, destroying an invaluable archive of documents. Soon after a renovation of the facade added the wonderfully sculpted portal, a monument to Paul III who had suppressed the revolt and brought back peace to Ascoli, and a huge stone clock. The portal leads into the Renaissance courtyard, surrounded by arcades and lodges, a design of architect Camillo Merli.

A visit to the palace offers an insight into the different layers of the construction, from the republican era of Rome, to the empire, to the medieval period and finally the Renaissance project.

The Church of San Francesco

The church was begun in 1238, and according to the tradition commemorated a visit by St. Francis to Ascoli in 1215. The construction went on for over 2 hundred years and consecration was in 1371; the original project was by Antonio Vipera, though the tower overlooking the Piazza del Popolo was added only in 1461; in 1521 Lombard Giovanni "Bozo" started the vaults of the naves, which were previously covered by a simple roof, and the dome was built in the late 16th century by Domenico Barotto and Defendente Lupo.

The facade is in the Romanesque style, with 3 magnificent Gothic portals, decorated with statues and flower motifs. Over the portal is a monument to Julius II, the pope who freed Ascoli from the Guiderocchi tyranny. The inside is divided into 3 naves by five octagonal pillars on each side, that lead to the 3 apses of the majestic presbyterium. In the left nave is the mysterious wooden crucifix which was once in the Palazzo dei Capitani, and was miracuously spared in the 1535 fire, and which twice is recorded to have spilled blood.

The Sacristy preserves works of great artistic value: furniture of the 18th century, paintings of artists who stayed in Ascoli during their lives, a Reliquary of the 14th century in wrought copper, donated to the Church by Pope Nicholas IV.

Palazzo del Capitano

The Loggia dei Mercanti

The Loggia dei Mercanti was built in the 16th century care of the local Wool Guild (Corporazione della Lana) on a project of uncertain author, possibly of the Bramante school. In a part of the wall attached to the Church of San Francesco, near a side portal is a travertine stone 3 October 1568 dated recording all the measures prescribed for stones, bricks and tiles used in Ascoli that were to be used on future renovations (in the picture: the measure stone).