May 27, 2022
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(CNN) — Stroll spherical Ascoli Piceno, and in some methods it could possibly be any Italian city. There are two massive 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’s been superbly preserved.

However wander spherical — particularly at night time — and also you’ll discover one main distinction: Ascoli seems to glow.

By day, the buildings and even the paving stones glimmer within the daylight. And at night time they glow within the moonlight, the towers, porticoes and streetlights reflecting completely within the flooring, making the town heart seem like a mirage.

That’s all right down to the truth that Ascoli’s native rock, from which all the historic heart is constructed, is travertine: a treasured stone, just like marble, that gleams bone white within the noon solar, flushes pink with the sundown, and glows beneath the night streetlights.

As we speak, travertine — and Italian travertine particularly — is dear. You’ll discover it utilized in loos and as flooring, slightly than getting used to make total homes.

However Ascoli’s travertine buildings and paving stones had been laid lengthy earlier than it turned an ultra-precious materials. Most of the grand buildings you see at the moment date again to the Roman interval.

A miniature historical Rome

The hills round Ascoli have wealthy travertine deposits.

Anca Emanuela Teaca/Alamy Inventory Photograph

Or slightly, they had been upcycled from Roman buildings — which is why you’ll 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 city initially belonged to the Piceni — an historical tribe whose territory stretched over a lot of the fashionable 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 had been nice warriors, says Palumbi, and the Romans, turning into extra highly effective, shortly sought to change into allies. However the Piceni’s request for Roman citizenship sparked a year-long struggle, culminating within the seize of Ascoli. As soon as 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 fashioned 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 in all Italy’s best Romanesque buildings.

Corinne/Adobe Inventory

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

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

It was, says Palumbi, a “miniature Rome.” There have been temples, a court docket, spa amenities and a capitol. One sq., Piazza San Tommaso, continues to be barely rounded at the moment as a result of it sits on the traditional amphitheater; simply exterior the town heart 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

The Roman theater is likely one of the few historical buildings that wasn’t recycled.

AGF Srl/Alamy Inventory Photograph

Roman Ascoli lasted effectively previous the times of the empire, however within the medieval interval, the residents determined to rebuild. As a substitute of utilizing new stones, as may occur now, they upcycled the Roman buildings, utilizing the travertine lower 1,000 years earlier to construct a contemporary metropolis. As we speak, the church buildings of San Venanzio and San Gregorio Magno sit on the location 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.

“The whole lot is recycled — we took aside the Roman monuments to assemble the medieval metropolis,” says Palumbi, who additionally owns a bar, Ozio, situated in a medieval constructing utilizing Roman stone that was revamped within the Renaissance.

“They had been making an attempt to avoid wasting time and power, so as a substitute of going to the mountains to extract the travertine, they took what was already there — the town was basically a quarry.” Look carefully on the many towers which made this a medieval Manhattan (Ascoli was typically referred to as ‘the town of 100 towers’), and also you’ll see loads of carved Roman slabs, she says.

As we speak, a Roman bridge (in travertine) is likely one of the fundamental routes into city.

zenzaetr/Adobe Inventory

The city 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 one metropolis on the planet made solely from travertine,” says Stefano Papetti, director of the five museums on the town in his position as Ascoli’s scientific guide of the city’s collections.

“It’s totally different from Italy’s different artwork cities — they’re primarily inbuilt brick after which ‘dressed’ with travertine or marble. However right here, whether or not it’s the Roman, medieval, Renaissance intervals or later, all of the buildings are made with stable blocks of travertine, extracted from the mountains round Ascoli.”

A Wes Anderson-style shapeshifter

Simone de Beauvoir and Ernest Hemingway have visited Caffe Meletti.

Francesco Russo/Alamy Inventory Photograph

As we speak, Ascoli Piceno is dwelling to the very best focus of Romanesque church buildings in an Italian metropolis heart. Its sixth-century baptistery is claimed to be among the finest examples of its form 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 Artwork Nouveau inside. Everybody from Ernest Hemingway to Simone de Beauvoir has tried its anis liqueur.

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

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

Archivio Iconografico Comune di Ascoli Piceno

But 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. Outdated 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 city, you stroll or drive over a Roman bridge, constructed of travertine.

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

Travertine porticoes cover the medieval retailers that had been thought-about not harmonious sufficient for the Renaissance. One facet of the sq. is taken up solely by the church of San Francesco, stated 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 solely in travertine, that is the sq. which glows at night time, when artfully positioned road lights make it seem like the porticoes are melting into the bottom, the palazzos are hovering, and the entire place seems to be a shimmering mirage.

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

“Travertine has this high quality of adjusting coloration relying on the solar and climate,” he says. “It may be very heat — for example, it could flush pink within the solar. In unhealthy climate it goes gray.”

The rock that saved the town

Travertine is gentle when first lower, earlier than it hardens to thick stone.

DeAgostini/Getty Photographs

Travertine has one other explicit high quality that lends to Ascoli’s magnificence. When first extracted, it’s comparatively gentle, 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 way of a chemical means of oxidization, it hardens into rock so resistant that the buildings of Ascoli have weathered a number of earthquakes over the centuries.

In fact, Amatrice was nearer to the epicenter each instances — it was additionally destroyed in 1703. The terrain can be totally different — Ascoli’s is extra secure than different close by areas. However, says Papetti, “the stone helps make the buildings extra secure.”

Palumbi agrees: “The Romans had been conscious of earthquakes, and constructed Ascoli to withstand them. They’d higher engineers than at the moment.

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

Though the 2016 quake did trigger injury — a number of church buildings are closed for structural repairs, and post-quake surveys revealed that different buildings wanted anti-seismic work — nothing was destroyed, because it was in different cities within the area.

Ascoli’s ‘every little thing’

Giuliano Giuliani makes travertine as pliable as paper.

Ignacio Coccia/Giuliano Giuliani

For hundreds of years, Ascoli’s travertine quarries — present in three areas across the metropolis — have been a vital a part of the city’s economic system.

Builders within the medieval and Renaissance intervals used the Roman quarries on the Through Salaria. However within the twentieth century, quarries opened up within the hills across the metropolis — significantly on Colle San Marco, rearing up behind city on the border with Abruzzo. Round 15 quarries sprung up within the postwar interval.

Giuliano Giuliani’s father opened one in 1952. His household was so wrapped up of 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 within the late Eighties together with others within the space — partly right down to financial disaster, partly due to environmental legal guidelines. However Giuliani has saved it.

As we speak, he’s a sculptor. And naturally, he sculpts in travertine — largely blocks from his father’s quarry that had been lower earlier than its closure. Generally, he buys the stone from the quarries that also exist in Acquasanta, west of Ascoli. And he describes working with travertine as “a religious expertise.”

“For me, it’s essentially the most stunning rock of all, as a result of it’s 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 1000’s of years.

“Simply as a tree has circles of its years, in travertine you possibly can learn the centuries, the climate patterns and floods.”

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

Buffy1982/Adobe Inventory

Papetti, who’s a fan, says that Giuliani could make the stone “gentle as a sheet of paper.” That’s all right down to the stone’s “elasticity,” says the artist. “After I determined I wanted to be an artist, I selected the stone I grew up with — partly as a result of it impressed me, but in addition for technical causes, as a result of it permits me to make very mild sculptures,” he says.

His works — skinny and translucent, with that just about unimaginable papery high quality that Papetti mentions — have been proven on the Venice Biennale, Milan’s Design Week, and Italy’s 2015 Expo. His shoppers vary from Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters to the Vatican, and but the unassuming Giuliani’s heroes are, he says, the “unbelievable” males who used to detach the big blocks of stone from the mountain.

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

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

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