The sands of Seniagallia (known as the “Velvet Beach”) stretch for 13 kilometres north and south of the old town and city centre. We stayed on the northern stretch, just about one kilometre from the centre, in one of many hotels facing on to the beach. Unlike in some countries, the beaches here are largely owned by local businesses – primarily the hotels, but also some that simply operate through charging admission to their patch of sand, hiring out deckchairs and other beach facilities, and selling refreshments. This gives the beach a somewhat man-made, regimented appearance that I find slightly off-putting, but I have to say they keep the beaches very clean (this one has been awarded the prestigious Blue Flag) and provide lots of facilities for those who want to spend their time there.
What I did enjoy was watching the scene from the balcony of my room in the Hotel Mare Blu, especially in the early morning when the sunlight over the sea was silver and sparkling. We did go down in the sands for a brief paddle in the Adriatic on the afternoon of our arrival here, but the sight of a rather large jellyfish soon drove us out of the water! In any case, in a cooler than usual mid May it was still too chilly for any but the hardiest to want to swim. And if I were ever to be here in warmer weather the memory of that jelly fish might drive me to choose the hotel pool over the sea!
If you enjoy watching the bustle of activity around a port, Senigallia has something for you. The port here is very much a working one, with a number of fishing boats based here. I saw them heading out to sea in the morning from my balcony, and when Ingrid and I explored the area later in the day most were back and moored, although a few were still coming into port. There were signs too that a fish market must take place right here where the catch is landed, although we were too late to see that for ourselves.
This small port is formed by the lower reaches of the Misa, the river that flows through the centre of town, which has ensured that there has been a port here for centuries. It was a major reason for the town’s prosperity during the 16th and 17th centuries in particular, when the port of Senigallia became the centre of the sea-trade of the Dukedom of Urbino, trading in cereals, wood, spices and other goods.
The river Misa flows through the centre of Senigallia, to the north of the oldest part of town, and on its southern bank is this impressive arcade, 126 arches in total, which were built in the mid 18th century by Cardinal Luigi Ercolani to accommodate the Fiera della Maddalena which took place every July here. The fair grew up because the port was a duty-free one, and at its height in the 16th and 17th centuries saw around 500 ships land their cargo here to trade at the fair each year. Even in the 18th century when the arcades were built it must have been an impressive sight.
The Portici Ercolani were one element in a plan of Pope Benedict XIV’s to improve the town’s layout and increase its capacity to cope with the pressure of the ever-growing fair. The first section, that nearest the sea (seen in my first photo), was built in 1746, but even with the mezzanine level above, was not enough to accommodate all who flooded into the city at fair-time, so seven years later another row were constructed nearby (photos two and three). The plan had been to build a similar arcade on the other river bank too, but this was never completed due to lack of funds, and because the fair began to reduce in volume (perhaps because the city had struggled to handle the the pressure). However even filling just one side the Portici Ercolani do look great, and must look even better during the fair, which is still held to this day.
This fair dedicated to Mary Magdalene has its origins in a local legend. Tradition has it that in 1200 the relics of Mary Magdalene were brought to this very spot, making it a place of pilgrimage. I read the following on a website, although I don’t know if there is any substance to it:
”In the palazzo Ercolani, who painted depictions of the Aeneid, there is a strange character, a sort of priest with a red cape and a sword with which to track land. It is said to be a magician but what he is really doing nobody knows. Maybe it has to do with the relics of Mary Magdalene marking the exact spot where they were or who knows ... maybe ... where they still are today.”
(translated by Google, so in imperfect English)
If I had read this before our visit I would have searched for this red-caped priest but sadly neither of us knew about him at the time. Something to look for if ever I return to Senigallia!
On the historic site of the town’s famous market is now this neoclassical structure, built in 1834 and designed by the architect Pietro Ghinelli. Its 24 Doric columns support an arcade that is almost a complete circle in shape. We were here in the early evening, when it was relatively quiet, but in the mornings it hosts a farmers’ market and at times in the summer there are concerts and other performances here. Under its arches there are some bars, ice-cream shops and cafés, and we noticed that tucked away in part of the structure is the town’s library.
In front of the Rocca Roveresca is a large open square and facing the fortress across it, the 16th century Ducal Palace from which the square takes its name. The palace was designed for Duke Guidubaldo II by Girolamo and Bartolomeo Genga. There is a large fountain in the piazza, a little off-centre, which is known as the Fontane Delle Anatre (Fountain of the Ducks) and was constructed in 1599. You can see the little ducks perched on the rim! It is also sometimes referred to as the Fountain of the Lions because of the large stone ones on the perimeter.
This piazza is clearly the favourite early evening gathering place for locals as well as visitors to the town. There are a couple of bars for those who want to take an aperitivo, but most of those we saw were content to perch on the low stone wall in front of La Rocca, or to stroll around the square talking to friends and family in the classic Italian pursuit of la passeggiata, the evening promenade that takes place daily in almost every town, village, or big city in the country. An hour spent in this company would ensure that you feel almost Italian yourself!
There has been a fortification on this site since 300BC, though the impressive fortress that now stands there dates back to 1480. It takes its name from Giovanni della Rovere, ruler of Senigallia, who was responsible for its rebuilding at that time. He did so to provide a defence for the city against the Turks, but also to ensure safety for his own family – this was a home as well as a fortress.
You can go inside the fortress for just €2 (May 2013 price) and it is open every day from 8.30 – 19.30. We were offered a leaflet in English which helped us navigate what is a bit of a labyrinth; nevertheless I suspect we missed visiting some of the many rooms inside. The interior is relatively simple, with most of the walls whitewashed, although in places the stone work is exposed to show ancient graffiti, and in the small chapel there are some lovely pieces of carving and fresco (see photo four). Some rooms have display panels describing the history of the Rovere family and of the structure. Others are used for changing art exhibitions. When we visited there was an exhibition of photographs in several of the rooms, some of which I really liked. They seemed to be by photographers of different nationalities but I couldn’t find out anything about what had brought their works together here – what theme might unite the varied works into an exhibition. However I did read later that Senigallia prides itself on being “a town for photography” so it was perhaps not so surprising to find such an interesting display here.
One of most impressive structural features is the spiral staircase, which unusually for such a structure is not built around a central column for support but rather seems almost to float in the air (see photo three). You can’t actually climb this staircase, but a more modern one will take you up to the roof of the fortress where you can get some good views of the surrounding area, including all the activity in the nearby Piazza del Duca. You can also appreciate from here the overall structure of the fort, which is hard to see when inside or even from the exterior. It has a square plan with four large round towers, one in each corner, and is rather squat. It is also remarkably well-preserved, albeit with the loss of some character and I suspect historical features.
They told us that one of the caves was the biggest in Europe, and it could hold the Cathedral of Milan inside, and we would not argue with that. After touring many of these caves throughout Europe, we have yet to see any that come close to the Frasassi Caves. Read about the history and the discovery on their website, and if you get the chance, go and spend a couple of hours walking through an underground wonderland of rock and water.
After a scenic trip by train and bus, we arrived at the birth centre of the Renaissance. Take the lift from the car park up to the base of the Ducale Palazzo. Stop for a drink at the cafe overlooking the car park before walking up to the main square. Start by looking inside the Cathedral, but make sure that you pay for a ticket for the crypt. Inside the Cathedral it allows you a chance to see some of the religious artefacts gathered over the centuries. Now go outside and follow the signs to the crypt below the Cathedral. Here we saw an amazing sculpture of Christ crucified and lying at the feet of the Virgin. There was no information on the person who produce this wonderful piece, but that just added to it's appeal. You can feel the pain in the face of Christ, and heartache of a Mother's loss, we are not religious people but we were moved by this piece of marble art.
After the cathedral, we visited the Ducale palace, which was undergoing some external improvement work at the time. A walk around the rooms shows a collection of uninspired religious art, except for a couple of notable exceptions. You will notice these because they are covered by glass to protect them from damage. One Raphael piece entitled La Muta has the most real pair of hands that I had ever seen in a painting. I felt that I could reach out and touch that delicate skin and feel the warmth within the limb, wonderful.
The other "not to be missed" feature is the inlaid wooden doors scattered around the Palace. Not just the renowned Studiolo of Frederico de Montelfeltro, but wherever you see these masterpieces in timber. Finally, check out the view from the balcony, and join the throng taking panoramic photographs of the surrounding countryside.