Ascoli Piceno: The Italian town that glows at night & More News Here

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(CNN) — Walk spherical Ascoli Piceno, and in some methods it may very well be any Italian town. There are two huge squares the place locals watch the times go by, sit in cafes to people-watch, and do their nightly passeggiata stroll. There are centuries-old church buildings and even historical stays relationship again to the Roman interval.

As in loads of different Italian cities, the middle was constructed within the medieval interval. And, similar to others, it has been superbly preserved.

But wander spherical — particularly at night — and you may discover one main distinction: Ascoli seems to glow.

By day, the buildings and even the paving stones glimmer within the daylight. And at night they glow within the moonlight, the towers, porticoes and streetlights reflecting completely within the flooring, making the town middle appear to be a mirage.

That’s all right down to the very fact that Ascoli’s native rock, from which your complete historic middle is constructed, is travertine: a treasured stone, much like marble, that gleams bone white within the noon solar, flushes pink with the sundown, and glows below the night streetlights.

Today, travertine — and Italian travertine particularly — is pricey. You’ll discover it utilized in loos and as flooring, reasonably than getting used to make total homes.

But Ascoli’s travertine buildings and paving stones have been laid lengthy earlier than it grew to become an ultra-precious materials. Many of the grand buildings you see immediately date again to the Roman interval.

A miniature historical Rome

The hills around Ascoli have rich travertine deposits.

The hills round Ascoli have wealthy travertine deposits.

Anca Emanuela Teaca/Alamy Stock Photo

Or reasonably, they have been upcycled from Roman buildings — which is why you will discover church buildings balancing on the seen stays of Roman temples, and chunks of arches and capitols blended into medieval and renaissance palazzos.

The Romans weren’t the primary to settle right here, says Lella Palumbi, a tour information in Ascoli. The town initially belonged to the Piceni — an historical tribe whose territory stretched over a lot of the trendy Marche area, from Pesaro within the north to Chieti, in trendy Abruzzo. They based the town a century earlier than Rome was born.

The Piceni have been nice warriors, says Palumbi, and the Romans, turning into extra highly effective, shortly sought to develop into allies. But the Piceni’s request for Roman citizenship sparked a year-long battle, culminating within the seize of Ascoli. Once in, the Romans razed the town to the bottom and determined to rebuild it from scratch.

“That’s when the travertine Ascoli was born,” says Palumbi.

A sedimentary type of limestone, travertine is shaped when sizzling springs deposit calcium carbonate minerals. It’s notoriously porous — nearly elastic — because of exterior organisms like algae, moss, micro organism — and, usually, fossils.

The sixth-century baptistery is one of Italy's greatest Romanesque buildings.

The sixth-century baptistery is one in every of Italy’s best Romanesque buildings.

Corinne/Adobe Stock

The Romans had already used it for his or her most essential buildings and monuments in Rome, utilizing quarries in Tivoli close to the town — they even known as the stone “lapis tiburtinus,” or “stone from Tivoli,” which was later corrupted into “travertino.”

Having conquered Ascoli, the Romans seen there have been comparable quarries a couple of miles away, off the traditional Via Salaria. They used that stone to assemble a glittering new metropolis, to reveal their energy over even essentially the most battle-worn foes.

It was, says Palumbi, a “miniature Rome.” There have been temples, a courtroom, spa amenities and a capitol. One sq., Piazza San Tommaso, continues to be barely rounded immediately as a result of it sits on the traditional amphitheater; simply exterior the town middle are the stays of the Roman theater — one of many few historical buildings to outlive the medieval “recycling” of the town.

2,000 years of upcycling

Roman Ascoli lasted properly previous the times of the empire, however within the medieval interval, the residents determined to rebuild. Instead of utilizing new stones, as may occur now, they upcycled the Roman buildings, utilizing the travertine reduce 1,000 years earlier to construct a contemporary metropolis. Today, the church buildings of San Venanzio and San Gregorio Magno sit on the positioning of Roman temples, incorporating their stones into the constructing — the latter has even recycled the pagan foundations, its again wall, and has even constructed its façade round two authentic Corinthian columns.

“Everything is recycled — we took apart the Roman monuments to construct the medieval city,” says Palumbi, who additionally owns a bar, Ozio, situated in a medieval constructing utilizing Roman stone that was revamped within the Renaissance.

“They were trying to save time and energy, so instead of going to the mountains to extract the travertine, they took what was already there — the city was essentially a quarry.” Look carefully at the various towers which made this a medieval Manhattan (Ascoli was generally known as ‘the town of 100 towers’), and you may see loads of carved Roman slabs, she says.

Today, a Roman bridge (in travertine) is one of the main routes into town.

Today, a Roman bridge (in travertine) is likely one of the essential routes into town.

zenzaetr/Adobe Stock

The town noticed extra restyling within the Renaissance interval — nonetheless completely utilizing travertine — making Ascoli Piceno a gumbo of architectural heritage that has by no means modified.

“Ascoli is the only city in the world made entirely from travertine,” says Stefano Papetti, director of the 5 museums in town in his position as Ascoli’s scientific marketing consultant of the town’s collections.

“It’s different from Italy’s other art cities — they’re mainly built in brick and then ‘dressed’ with travertine or marble. But here, whether it’s the Roman, medieval, Renaissance periods or later, all the buildings are made with solid blocks of travertine, extracted from the mountains around Ascoli.”

A Wes Anderson-style shapeshifter

Simone de Beauvoir and Ernest Hemingway have visited Caffe Meletti.

Simone de Beauvoir and Ernest Hemingway have visited Caffe Meletti.

Francesco Russo/Alamy Stock Photo

Today, Ascoli Piceno is dwelling to the best focus of Romanesque church buildings in an Italian metropolis middle. Its sixth-century baptistery is alleged to be among the finest examples of its type within the nation.

Ascoli’s Pinacoteca Civica artwork gallery has works by Titian, Guido Reni and Carlo Crivelli — a Fifteenth-century Venetian painter who labored within the Marche area and died within the metropolis.
And its most well-known bar, Caffe Meletti, is straight out of a Wes Anderson movie with its child pink façade, mint inexperienced tables and lavish Art Nouveau inside. Everyone from Ernest Hemingway to Simone de Beauvoir has tried its anis liqueur.

The town is even well-known for its meals. “Olive ascolane” — outsized, juicy olives filled with meat and deepfried — are eaten throughout Italy.

The local art gallery has three works by Renaissance master Carlo Crivelli.

The native artwork gallery has three works by Renaissance grasp Carlo Crivelli.

Archivio Iconografico Comune di Ascoli Piceno

Yet few issues can compete with Ascoli Piceno’s travertine buildings.

Piazza Arringo, the cathedral sq., is surrounded by stately Renaissance buildings — together with the Twelfth-century metropolis corridor, the place the artwork gallery is housed. Old gents sit on the travertine benches exterior, watching water spurt from the mouths of two bronze seahorses within the fountain reverse. The fountain itself, in fact, is travertine.

To get into town, you stroll or drive over a Roman bridge, constructed of travertine.

Meanwhile, Piazza del Popolo, the opposite essential sq., is surrounded by Renaissance buildings — the world was overhauled within the early 1500s.

Travertine porticoes cover the medieval retailers that have been thought-about not harmonious sufficient for the Renaissance. One aspect of the sq. is taken up fully by the church of San Francesco, mentioned to be one of many best Gothic buildings in Italy. On one other lies the Palazzo dei Capitani, full with tower — a castle-like constructing, now utilized by the native authorities, which holds common exhibitions and permits entry to the Roman market within the basement.

Paved fully in travertine, that is the sq. which glows at night, when artfully positioned avenue lights make it appear to be the porticoes are melting into the bottom, the palazzos are hovering, and the entire place seems to be a shimmering mirage.

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“It’s gorgeous at night with the illumination,” says Papetti — who provides that, the truth is, Ascoli shapeshifts every single day.

“Travertine has this quality of changing color depending on the sun and weather,” he says. “It can be very warm — for instance, it can flush pink in the sun. In bad weather it goes grey.”

The rock that saved the town

Travertine is soft when first cut, before it hardens to thick stone.

Travertine is tender when first reduce, earlier than it hardens to thick stone.

DeAgostini/Getty Images

Travertine has one other specific high quality that lends to Ascoli’s magnificence. When first extracted, it is comparatively tender, permitting it to be sculpted — one of many causes Ascoli’s buildings have ornate carved portals and facades — many Renaissance homes even have mottoes carved over the doorways.

Then, by a chemical technique of oxidization, it hardens into rock so resistant that the buildings of Ascoli have weathered a number of earthquakes over the centuries.

Of course, Amatrice was nearer to the epicenter each occasions — it was additionally destroyed in 1703. The terrain can be completely different — Ascoli’s is extra steady than different close by areas. But, says Papetti, “the stone helps make the buildings more stable.”

Palumbi agrees: “The Romans were aware of earthquakes, and built Ascoli to resist them. They had better engineers than today.

“We might nonetheless fortunately reside in Roman homes if we hadn’t pulled them down.”

Although the 2016 quake did cause damage — several churches are closed for structural repairs, and post-quake surveys revealed that other buildings needed anti-seismic work — nothing was destroyed, as it was in other towns in the region.

Ascoli’s ‘everything’

Giuliano Giuliani makes travertine as pliable as paper.

Giuliano Giuliani makes travertine as pliable as paper.

Ignacio Coccia/Giuliano Giuliani

For centuries, Ascoli’s travertine quarries — found in three areas around the city — have been a crucial part of the town’s economy.

Builders in the medieval and Renaissance periods used the Roman quarries on the Via Salaria. But in the 20th century, quarries opened up in the hills around the city — particularly on Colle San Marco, rearing up behind town on the border with Abruzzo. Around 15 quarries sprung up in the postwar period.

Giuliano Giuliani’s father opened one in 1952. His family was so wrapped up in their quarry that he likes to say he was born in it.

“I performed on the stones rising up,” he says. “I reside in a travertine home and stroll throughout travertine every single day.”

The quarry closed in the late 1980s along with others in the area — partly down to economic crisis, partly because of environmental laws. But Giuliani has kept it.

Today, he’s a sculptor. And of course, he sculpts in travertine — mostly blocks from his father’s quarry that had been cut before its closure. Sometimes, he buys the stone from the quarries that still exist in Acquasanta, west of Ascoli. And he describes working with travertine as “a non secular expertise.”

“For me, it is essentially the most lovely rock of all, as a result of it is a stratification, a historical past of its personal, a blackboard of time, from the springs that deposited the rock, to animals who handed over and left fossils. It’s a stage, telling the story of hundreds of years.

“Just as a tree has circles of its years, in travertine you can read the centuries, the weather patterns and floods.”

At night, Piazza del Popolo shimmers in the street lights.

At night, Piazza del Popolo shimmers on the street lights.

Buffy1982/Adobe Stock

Papetti, who’s a fan, says that Giuliani could make the stone “soft as a sheet of paper.” That’s all right down to the stone’s “elasticity,” says the artist. “When I decided I needed to be an artist, I chose the stone I grew up with — partly because it inspired me, but also for technical reasons, because it allows me to make very light sculptures,” he says.

His works — skinny and translucent, with that nearly not possible papery high quality that Papetti mentions — have been proven at the Venice Biennale, Milan’s Design Week, and Italy’s 2015 Expo. His purchasers vary from Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters to the Vatican, and but the unassuming Giuliani’s heroes are, he says, the “incredible” males who used to detach the large blocks of stone from the mountain.

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The quarry, swaddled by chestnut bushes and oaks standing 2,300 toes above the town, is his studio. He even has plans to open a “school of travertine” the place individuals from all around the globe can study to work the stone.

What would Ascoli Piceno be with out its travertine? “Nothing,” he says. “Travertine means everything.”

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