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Ancona Port – History

The port of Ancona lies at the heart of the city, embraced by the urban layout. This natural bay between two hills has offered safe haven for sailors since the Mycenaean Age. Indeed, finds from this period testify that trade with Greece was already established in the 13th century BCE. The Picentes later extended traffic to the Istrian and Dalmatian coasts; later still, in the 6th century BCE, the Dorians settled in the port and the surrounding area, founding the city and naming it Ankòn – meaning elbow in Greek – referring to the shape of the promontory that protects the gulf of Ancona.

The Romans subsequently completed the work begun by their Greek predecessors. In the 2nd century CE, Emperor Trajan commissioned major work in the port, and chose Ancona as a starting point for the Dacian Wars. In honour of the emperor, the Ancona senate built the monumental triumphal arch which can still be seen in all its glory today. In the 9th century, the Saracens besieged the city, which was almost completely destroyed, along with its port. Before rebuilding, the Anconans equipped their city with several square towers to protect the port.

Ancona reached the height of its splendour between the 13th and 14th centuries, becoming one of the most important ports in the Adriatic. Under the Papal States, Ancona’s fortunes fluctuated until the 18th century. Subsequently, Ancona and its port began a gradual decline in terms of traffic and importance.

The period of renewed splendour was short-lived, because Ancona, like many Italian cities, became a battleground during the Wars of Independence. The 20th century also opened with the two world wars, culminating in the aerial bombardments of the Second World War, which razed entire neighbourhoods to the ground and cause grave damage to the port structures, while miraculously sparing architectural treasures including the Arch of Trajan, Gianluigi Vanvitelli ‘s Lazzaretto and sections of the ancient defensive walls.

After the war, considerable effort went into restoring the quays and the docks. The naval shipyards were rebuilt and maritime traffic gradually recovered, helped by the city’s central position in the Adriatic.

Today the port is one of the busiest and most lively in the Mediterranean, playing a vital role in trade, particularly due to the motorways that run to the eastern shore of the Adriatic and Ionian seas, which have made Ancona a strategic hub for the EU single market.

Guiding the journey towards opening Ancona’s ancient port to the city is a desire to enhance the relationship between the city and its port and to bring a new function to areas of the port which are no longer needed for modern-day logistics. The mechanisation of port activity, the modern organisation of logistics and international security regulations all contributed to the distancing of the port from the city. This separation was accentuated and made physical with the installation of security fences in the early 2000s. The renewal of the port-city dialogue arose by seizing the opportunity offered by the reallocation of port traffic to areas more suitable for the secure handling of goods. Thanks to a shared project between the port authorities (first and foremost the Harbour Master’s office, the Customs Agency, the Financial Guard and the Border Force) and the municipal and regional governments, 2015 saw the redevelopment of the Clementino and Rizzo piers in just over six months, turning them into a new connection with the city. These areas are the location of most of the historical and monumental heritage of the port and the city, from Vanvitelli’s Arco Clementino and the Arch of Trajan to the medieval walls and the base of the ancient lighthouse. This is a picturesque area, which culminates in the north pier of the harbour, jutting out into the sea and topped by the splendid Red Lighthouse. Here the view is of the working port, the sea and the city; a crossroads and a place that represents renewal, a place that speaks to those who look to the future, symbolised by the Fountain of the Two Suns, starting from the legacy of the past.

So a redevelopment of the most ancient site began; the part most marked by the traces of history, with a new layout designed to guide the enjoyment of visitors to the area. Hence the idea of the urban tattoo was born: a map drawn on the asphalt which reinterprets commonplace street signs and invites visitors to follow a route that takes in the most significant historical sites in Ancona. Along the edge of the pier benches were placed, looking towards the water, offering views of the city’s seafront.