Senigallia: square and the city

Here ends Gaul: the tribe of the Senones marked its final frontier. This is where linguistic scholars draw the line between the Italo-gallic tongues and those of the peninsular proper, further south. It’s the same line that today divides those who talk about “il” gnocco fritto and those who call it “lo” gnocco fritto.

There are at least three reasons to hop in the car or board the train and roll towards Senigallia. Two of them are famous establishments, two gems of Italian, never mind Senigallian cuisine: Uliassi and Madonnina del Pescatore. Establishments that treat food as an art form; establishments that, over the decades, have conquered untold heights of creativity, not to mention taste. The third reason is the Foro Annonario.

It was back in the 1700s that the people of Senigallia began to feel the need for a hub of commerce, specifically a fish market. The project was entrusted to the architect Pietro Ghinelli, who sadly did not live to see it completed; he died in 1834. A year later, in 1835, the forum was ready, banking onto the river on one side and flanked by colonnades on the other.

The Foro Annonario arose from a marriage of piazza and pillars at the heart of the city: an elegant, colonnaded oval that enclosed the square and the fishmongers, completely of a piece yet also unique. Simultaneously soft and strict in form, the solid structure curves around in two symmetrical arms, which provoke much discussion and speculation among students and connoisseurs of architecture.

The average tourist, however, probably responds more to the sense of familiarity and inclusivity that the bricks somehow exude. Ambling across the oval, you really feel an intense community spirit, not least because the forum now functions less as a fishmarket and more as a cultural centre, a place where people meet up. It has symbolic as well as practical value, with the morning vegetable market forming a tangible link with the surrounding countryside. The stalls have become a semi-permanent fixture, while a library has moved into the old barracks, which still has a garrison for part of the year.

The best way to experience the forum is to lose yourself in it, wandering around the diagonals and enjoying the slightly dizzying perspectives. As you do so, you will hear the unmistakable echoes of history, even recent history. Indeed, the walls still bear the scars of bombardments from both sides, as always happens when a place changes hands by force. First the Allies, then the retreating Germans shelled it: the town was at the heart of the conflict, and the town centre especially. Place and people were damaged and destroyed.

Today, the Foro is a monument to the perseverance and the tenacity of Senigallia’s people, who every day turn what could be a mere picture-postcard image into the living, beating heart of their city.