Piazza del Popolo
How to get
By train: the nearest railway station is Arona.
The picturesque square of Piazza del Popolo in Arona extends pleasantly along the lake front where the ancient commercial port, subsequently filled in to permit the square’s enlargement, once stood.
This square is the ancient heart of Arona: during the Middle Ages, it was the civic and commercial centre of the city where, every Tuesday, the market was held under the arcades (only recently has it been moved to a different area): people came from far and wide around the lake and from the neighbouring villages to buy and sell or to barter their products.
Entering the square, it is not difficult to be carried back in time, especially in the evening when the soft light from the street-lamps accentuates the effect, to imagine the busy context of a place that was so crucially important to the life of the town and is still today a picturesque setting for important events like shows and art exhibitions.
On the left, we encounter the so-called Palazzo del Monte di Pietà the micro-credit or special pawn shop, (from the name of the Institution founded by Cardinal Borromeo), a 15th century three storey building with arcades, supported by granite columns with three plain central capitals and two lateral ones which are definitely medieval. On the ground floor (now used as a shop) and the first floor are valuable frescoes dating back to the fifteenth-sixteenth centuries. To the right of the square rises what was once the “Guards’ house”, completely transformed at the beginning of the twentieth century, but which still preserves its late medieval arcade.
With your back towards the lake, the house opposite you was the birthplace (in about 1457) of Pietro Martire d’Anghiera , the historian of Christopher Columbus and an important protagonist of the adventurous explorations of the great navigator from Genoa. Next to it is a building which, on its ground floor, once housed the salt deposit and tax office: from here, the “Postaro” managed the collection and retail distribution of salt, ensuring that all citizens had a sufficient supply.
Then comes the church of Santa Maria of Loreto (also called Santa Marta because it hosted the Confraternity of the same name in about the middle of the 18th century). The church was commissioned by the Borromeo family at the end of the 16th century, with the intention of placing inside it a faithful reproduction of the Holy House of Loreto (which, tradition has it, was the Virgin Mary’s house in Nazareth.).
Continuing our visit of the square, we come to the Palazzo di Giustizia or Palace of Justice (dating from the end of the 14th century), the ancient residence of the “podestà” or authority of the town, a fine building in Lombardy-Gothic style with arcades adorned with terracotta medallions featuring busts of the Visconti family members who governed Arona from the beginning of the 1300s until the feudal investiture of Vitaliano Borromeo in 1439.