The beguiling town of Ascoli Piceno is the southern Marche's major centre and, as its tourist brochure says, it is a place you can see in a day yet
never forget. Along with its breathtaking main square, it has other outstanding sights that manage to leave their mark on even the most blasÚ of tourists.
Although it is a fairly large town with a population of some 60,000 people, the historic centre can easily be seen on foot.
Start at the Piazza del Popolo, the traffic-free, travertine-paved main square. This beautifully proportioned
outdoor meeting place is one of the most elegant provincial squares in all Italy. To one side of the square stands the Palazzo del Popolo, a splendid 13thC building
guarded over by a monumental statue of Pope Paul III. Look inside to see the arcaded Renaissance courtyard.
Closing off one end of the piazza is the great gothic church of San Francesco, a sober but pleasing building both inside and out.
The other main square, Piazza Arringo, is almost as impressive as its big sister and is flanked by the Duomo,
or cathedral, and the town hall, or palazzo Comunale. Inside here you will find the Pinacoteca Civica, Ascoli's art gallery, a carpet-bag collection of minor works by
major artists and major works by minor artists. Best of all is the 13thC cope (piviale) of Pope Nicholas IV, a dazzling piece of embroidery work made in England.
Inside the Duomo look out for the colourful polyptch with the Madonna and Saints by Carlo Crivelli, considered one of his finest works.
Wander round the old quarter of the town that stretches from the banks of the Tronto river to the city's main
street, Corso Mazzini - best streets are via Soderini and via di SolestÓ.
La Quintana, Ascoli's jousting tournament, is one of the most authentic and exciting of these medieval shows in
the Marche and takes place in the main square on the first Sunday of August. The high point of the games is when riders from the city's six districts tilt with lances at a target.
The day also includes a striking procession with around 1,400 town's people dressed in 15thC costume and plenty of side-shows and open-air eating places. Maybe
not quite as famous as the Palio at Siena but certainly well worth seeing.