Ascoli Piceno (Latin: Asculum Picenum; Local dialect: Ašculë) is an Italian city and the administrative center of the Province of Ascoli Piceno. It lies in the Marche Region and its population is 50,079, making it the fourth largest town in the Region after Ancona, Pesaro and Fano. Its industrial area lies along the Tronto Valley. The town is a Bishop’s See.
According to the Italian National Statistics Institute Census (July 2010), its urban area has a population of 105,664. The Census takes into consideration the commuting flow from nearby villages (Acquasanta Terme, Appignano del Tronto, Arquata del Tronto, Castel di Lama, Castignano, Castorano, Colli del Tronto, Folignano, Maltignano, Montegallo, Offida, Palmiano, Roccafluvione, Spinetoli, Venarotta and Valle Castellana).
The historic center is almost entirely made of travertine and its outstanding monuments make it one of the most visited urban areas in central Italy. The stunning Renaissance Piazza del Popolo is the heart of the town and is considered one of the most beautiful squares in Italy.
Ascoli Piceno is also known as “The city of a hundred towers”, since in the Middle Ages the city was home to more than two hundred towers: today some fifty can still be seen.
Although evidence of human presence dates back to the Stone Age, the origins of the town are uncertain. What is sure is that the earliest Italic settlements in this area date from the Neolithic Age. According to an ancient tradition (Strabo, Pliny, Festo), the city was established long before the foundation of Rome by a group of Sabines. The legend has it that the group was guided to the area by a woodpecker (picus), a bird sacred to Mars, during one of their migrations (the so-called ver sacrum). Sabines later merged with local tribes to form the Picentes.
In Roman Age, due to its strategic position on the Via Salaria (an important Roman salt road, which still today connects the Latium region to the Adriatic coast), Asculum soon became one of the most important cities of central Italy.
In 299 BC, Asculum allied with Rome to fight against Etruscans, Gauls and Samnites and in 269 BC it became a Roman Civitas Foederata (literally Federated City).
In 91 BC, the Picentes rose up against Rome thus sparking the Social Wars. After a two-year siege, the Roman General Gneo Pompeo Strabone managed to conquer the city. The heads of the rebellion were slaughtered and many people were exiled. In 88 BC, Ascoli joined Tribù Fabia and in 80 BC, the city obtained the Roman citizenship. In 49 BC, Julius Caesar designated Ascoli the capital of the region and bestowed upon the city the appellative Picenum. In Augustan Age, Ascoli was made the capital city of the “Fifth Italic Region”, while in the III century it became an autonomous Roman Province (called Picenum Suburcarium).
In the Early Middle Ages, the city suffered from economic decline and was ravaged by the Goths and the Lombards of king Faroald I (578).
After the long Lombard siege, the city became part of the Duchy of Spoleto and remained under Lombard domination until Charlemagne’s invasion of Italy. The city eventually fell under the influence of the ecclesiastic authorities (the so-called Bishop-Counts), who saw their power and influence increase significantly.
In 1189, Ascoli managed to become a free republican municipality, but this political change did not lead to stability. Frederick II and his troops ravaged and destroyed the city, already torn apart by internal clashes among noble families, such as Guiderocchi and Saladini.
Ascoli was then conquered by the King of Naples, Ladislaus I, who appointed as Viceroy of Abruzzi and Prince of Ascoli Conte da Carrara, a famous condottiero and a member of the illustrious Carraresi family.
Upon his death, a grand burial ceremony took place at the Cathedral; on the same day, his sons, Ardizzone and Obizzo, inherited their father’s title.
Later, Ascoli saw the rise and fall of many ambitious leaders, who took advantage of internal tensions to establish oppressive regimes. In 1348, Galeotto Malatesta established a tyranny, which was overturned by a fierce popular revolt five years later; in mid-XV century, Francesco Sforza defeated the papal troops and imposed a dictatorship on Ascoli. In 1482, the city fell back under the control of the Church.
Ascoli joined the First Roman Republic and then the Kingdom of Italy (1860). In recognition of its staunch resistance against the occupying German forces in September 1943, Ascoli Piceno was awarded the Medaglia d’Oro al Valor Militare (literally, Gold Medal of Military Valour).
In 2009, Ascoli’s long-time rival, Fermo, became the capital city of the newly constituted Province of Fermo, which had been part of the Province of Ascoli since 1861.