Up until the early 1800s the village was called Roccacontrada and its urban layout conveys the idea of a fortified stronghold, solid and safe atop a mountain. In the Medieval era this fortress dominated a vast territory that included a great number of castles, many of which still exist to the present day, well cared for and retaining their ancient splendor, such as Nidastore, Palazzo, Avacelli, Piticchio, to name a few. From the heights of its position, the castled town looked down on the gentle hills which cascade all the way to the sea. At one time this village prided itself on a very active artistic and cultural life which counted literary academies, pictorial arts schools and men of letters. Signs of this erstwhile vitality can still be found today in the paintings of Luca Signorelli and Ercole Ramazzani and the polychrome ceramics by Giovanni della Robbia. The Archaeological Museum conserved the remarkable remains of the Conelle settlements; these are the remaining traces of ancient settlements that date back to over five thousand years ago and they include ceramics and pottery, funeral urns and some bronze objects from a later era.
Corinaldo, built on a hilltop 18 kilometers inland from the coastal town of Senigallia, still conserves its Medieval and Renaissance urban layout, a bright exemplar of military architecture with its circle of walls still intact and among the best preserved in the Marche. The present-day perimeter, expanded between 1480 and 1490, dates back to 1367. Within the walls, the historic center unfolds in a rare display of beautiful urban planning which has preserved a coherence of building materials and style of architecture. The important monuments to be admired are, for the most part, in Baroque and Neoclassic style and include the Diocesan Sanctuary of Saint Maria Goretti, the Churches of The Intercession and of Our Lady of Sorrows, and the exquisite noble palaces of the 16th to 18th centuries. The vast and significant artistic heritage of the town is housed primarily in the Claudio Ridolfi Raccolta d’Arte. Outside the walls, the visitor can see the collegiate Church of Saint Francis, the Church of Saint Anne, the Sanctuary of the Incancellata and the Paleochristian Basilica of Santa Maria in Portuno, located at Madonna del Piano, the site of archeological excavations and exhibits. In the Catholic world, Corinaldo is famous as the birthplace of Saint Maria Goretti, canonized on 24th June 1950. The town of Corinaldo has always been proud to operate in the tourist sector; the hospitality facilities are high quality and diversified, with an availability of over two hundred beds among a choice that ranges from hotels, to agritourism (country/farm house) and bed&breakfast accommodations, and including restaurants featuring local specialties, sports facilities, parks and campgrounds. The Tourist Office remains open year-round. An additional source of pride are the town’s two prestigious quality ratings awarded by the Touring Club Italia (orange banner) and by A.N.C.I. (most beautiful villages in Italy). Corinaldo also earned the Green Banner for Agriculture and, since 2008, has been included among the “Excellent European Destinations” for intangible goods and sustainable tourism. In December 2005 the “Carlo Goldoni” Theater reopened its doors to the public, now hosting a yearly program of theatrical and musical events at a professional level. Corinaldo has earned its renown in the region and in all of Italy for local festivals such as “La contesa del pozzo della polenta” where the participants are dressed in 16th century costumes, or “La festa delle streghe” (a Halloween-type of celebration), and events like the “M.Carafòli” national photography contest, “Corinaldo Jazz” and the Winter and Summer Youth Theater programs.
Say Cupramontana and you've said Verdicchio. This little town, built at 500 meters above sea level, on the right-hand side of the Esino river, dominates all of the territory known as that of the Castle-towns of Jesi. From this vantage point, the sweeping view along the horizon embraces all of the hilltop villages in the area.
The origins of Cupramontana are ancient, the original settlement dating to the Roman era. Over the long course of the Middle Ages, the village took on the name of Massaccio at one point, but later reverted back to its original name which has remained to the present day.
The history of Cupramontana has always been closely connected to the production of Verdicchio wine, the town being a reference point for all of the wine growers in the region, and even, back in the mid-19th century, a leader in the use of the earliest techniques for making sparkling wine. Several years ago, the town sponsored the opening of an unusual museum, unique in its kind, the Museo Internazionale dell'etichetta (International Wine Label Museum). Divided into three sections, the museum conserves and documents some of the oldest labels in the territory, displays sketches and drawings for labels by artists who have worked in this field and also collects and displays thousands of labels of the most diverse wines from countries all over the world. The Museum often hosts special exhibits dedicated to the major wine producing nations of the world (France, Spain, Argentina, etc.), organizes exhibits on the production of individual regions of Italy and also sponsors events which aim to promote a re-appreciation of the old rural landscape, the production methods of the past and the importance of wine in our populations' culture. In 1928 the first Sagra dell'uva (Grape Festival) was held; it was designed to be an annual “festa” to celebrate the positive outcome of the agricultural policies of the time. To this day, this festival is celebrated as a major event, with the active participation of the entire town community. The euphoric merry-making includes traditional folklore, re-enactments of historical pageants in period costumes, music performances with singing and dancing, eating stalls built in traditional peasant style set up throughout the town, where citizens and visitors alike can taste local specialty dishes. For those who'd like to have a go at wine-making the old-fashioned way, there are barefoot grape crushing contests and finally, spectators can enjoy the parades with floats carrying actors in allegorical plays put on by the various village quarters. .
Nestled in the foothills of the Apennines, right in the heart of the Marche region, Fabriano today is a bustling industrious town of many business opportunities. In the past and over the course of the centuries, it was known for its paper mills, for its famous salame di Fabriano, for its historic center and its position as a natural crossroads between the surrounding valleys and nearby Umbria. The origins of the town date back to early Medieval times as bear witness the narrow intricacy of the streets and the carefully preserved monuments, as well as the fortified castle-towns dotting the territory.
As early as the 13th century, Fabriano was proud to boast its pre-eminence in Italy and in Europe for watermarked paper production, which continues to this day. Visitors to the Paper and Watermarks Museum (Museo della Carta e della Filigrana) are always amazed and fascinated by the hand-made papermaking process, by the inventions which brought innovation to the art of papermaking over time and by the modernity of the current production.
Fabriano was also a hub for extraordinary artistic experiences, a meeting point for the Marche, Tuscan and Umbrian schools. One certainly cannot forget the most illustrious name in the history of Fabriano's art and that is, Gentile da Fabriano. The artist was universally recognized as the principal exponent of the International Gothic style which developed in the first half of the 15th century and was characterized by rich draping, sumptuous costumes and gold reflexes. He was commissioned to work at the most important royal courts of Italy and his best-known masterpiece is, without a doubt, the Adoration of the Magi, housed at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.
Another feather in its cap, in the area of food specialties, is the famous salame di Fabriano. Seasoned with whole peppercorns and lard-studded, the slicing salami is labeled “storico” if it is made according to the strict dictates of tradition and a second type, very aromatic, soft and spreadable, called “ciauscolo”, is traditionally made in small mountain villages in the nearby Apennine range. The list would not be complete without the Verdicchio wine, excellent white wine of the Marche region. The Fabriano territory constitutes a link between the Castelli di Jesi and the Matelica production zones.
The crowning glory of the natural beauty of the landscape in this area are the Frasassi Caves, located in Genga, just a few kilometers from the town of Fabriano which still now, as in the past, represents a focal point, a crossroads for the hundreds of thousands of visitors who come to see the breathtaking spectacle that nature reserves for them in the bowels of the mountain.
Today, Genga is a tiny hamlet, surrounded by fortified walls with the castle in its center, looking down from a dominant position.
Within its territory lie the Frasassi Caves, the marvelous karstic complex that stand out among the most famous in all of Europe, attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.
The history of Genga began 25 centuries ago when the territory inhabited by the Picenes and the Umbrians was invaded by the Senonian Gauls. Their 100-year dominion ended with the advent of Roman rule and the founding of several colonies, most notably, Sentinum, Aesis, Sena Gallica, Suasa, Forum Sempronii.
In Medieval times, Genga became a fortified stronghold and it was at this time that the walls, castle, churches and abbeys were built upon the rocky outcropping. Standing witness to this period, the Abbey of San Vittore delle Chiuse, built along the Sentino river valley remains as stalwart evidence of Genga’s past.
Located in a mountainous area, the territory of Genga is blessed with numerous freshwater sources which, to this day, still provide water to the aqueducts supplying many of the nearby towns, as well as sulphur springs, known for their highly therapeutic qualities. It is an area also appreciated for unspoiled valleys, such as the Valle Scappuccia, nature trails and breathtaking scenery of such value as to warrant the building of a Regional Park.
The historic center of Genga consists of the Medieval hamlet, built according to the principles of the careful architectural layout of a castle with one main artery and many narrow side streets, quiet and collected, where the houses are built within the fortified walls. Visitors are nearly always amazed by the deep silence, the cozy atmosphere, the feeling that time has stood still.
Excellent hospitality facilities can be found in the area, both good restaurants and comfortable accommodations.
From Genga a variety of destinations are easily reachable, such as: Fabriano and its Paper and Watermark Museum, Matelica, known for its Verdicchio wine, Camerino, just a bit further and on the other side, Pergola with its Museum of the Gilded Bronzes and finally, going towards Umbria, the fine town of Gubbio.
The Frasassi Caves and Verdficchio Wine
In the very heart of the Marches, between the towns of Jesi and Matelica and within the territory of Genga, you’ll find one of the most fascinating underground passageways in all of Europe: the Frasassi Caves. In the immediate surrounds, only a few kilometers away, lie the vineyards which blanket the marvelous hills of this region, yielding one of the world’s best known white wines: Verdicchio. Putting these two excellencies together, finding a nexus which would enhance them both in the eyes of the tourist, highlighting the marvels of nature and its produce – this was the idea conceived a few years ago by Giancarlo Sagramola, Vice-president of the Province of Ancona. From his awareness of the immense value of both of these riches came the idea for a project which entailed placing a certain number of bottles of Verdicchio wine brought from different wineries into the Caves and there, at a constant temperature and humidity, in the dark and silence, the evolution of the wine would be observed periodically, over the course of several years. Thus, “Fresco di Grotta” came to be and so, at the beginning of the summer, a day was chosen for the event. Some of the bottles that had been deposited in the Caves last year, were brought up to the surface, whereas the others were left to remain a while longer in order to continue to study their on-going evolution over a period of at least five years. A commission was made up of professional tasters, enologists and journalists who gathered to analyze the evolution and degree of maturation of the wines by carrying out a comparative tasting with bottles of the same vintage that had been left in the wine cellars of the various wineries. The results after this first year were surprising for, on the one hand, the ambient conditions in the Caves were such that the evolution of the wine was slowed yet, on the other hand, there was an evident and rapid variation in color as the wine took on decidedly golden hues. In the upcoming years, the “Fresco di Grotta” event will be repeated as the bottles that were left in the Caves will be opened and tasted, whilst new bottles that have been added as additional wineries have joined in the wonderful project will, in turn, be sampled. In this way, this experimental project will grow, with a richer and more complex variety of wines to be analyzed by our enologists; they will have new elements to consider, thus gaining a deeper knowledge of the richness and complexity of the Verdicchio. The bottles that were opened in this year’s edition came from several wineries of which we mention Casalfarneto, Fazi Battaglia, Santa Barbara, Terre Cortesi Moncaro, Umani Ronchi, Vallerosa Bonci, Vignamato.
La Rocca, as the fortress is called, is a splendid monument. Anyone who visits it, admires it, walks around it, feels as though time has been rolled back five centuries and the atmosphere is almost surreal. Built in the late 1400s and designed by the great Renaissance architect Francesco di Giorgio Martini, it has remained essentially intact over the centuries. Now, as then, it looms as both a fortress and a war machine, ready to withstand, but also ready to attack. Seen from above, the structure follows a complex design made of sharp angles and slippery facades to be able to defend itself from the new arms and instruments of war. The interior spaces, too, are faithful to the original layout and can all be visited. In addition to the fortress, Mondavio has a perfectly preserved and well cared-for historic center where tourists feel as though they have landed in a picture postcard. Here, the visitor marvels at the position of the town, perched high on a hill, to look down on wide open vistas which encompass carefully cultivated fields and to breathe in the quiet laboriousness that seems to hearken from times of yore.
Pergola is a small town built along one of the ancient Roman roads running parallel to the Via Flaminia, and lies within the territory of the Marche, in the province of Pesaro.
In recent decades the town became famous for the group of gilded bronze figures found in Cartoceto.
In 1946, two farmers working their field in the countryside surrounding the town found numerous bronze fragments which were immediately unearthed and preserved.
The reconstruction work was lengthy and the painstaking effort took nearly forty years to complete. Now, the four figures, reassembled from all of the 318 fragments originally found, can be admired in the Pergola Museum. The group is made up of two male figures on horseback and two female figures standing on the ground.
Much discussion has ensued circa the period to which they belong; some say that they are to be placed between 50 and 60 B.C., while others place them between 20 and 30 A.D. To date, there is no certainty as to their collocation in time, but it is generally agreed that this is the approximate time frame. Nor is there a consensus as to who the group of figures might represent, whether they are members of the Imperial family or of a noble Marche family living in one of the nearby villages of Suasa, Forum Sempronii, or Sentinum in that time period.
Aside from temporal or family attributions, what is more important is that this Pergola finding is the only equestrian group of gilded bronze figures remaining today from the Roman period. The fact that it was shattered and buried far from any inhabited settlement would lead us to suppose that the family it represents must have fallen into disgrace (in Ancient Rome the practice of damnatio memoriae was the norm when such things happened, to cancel any traces of people who were to be forgotten for all time).
After the figures were broken up with a sledgehammer, the single pieces were then buried in a field far from the village, in open countryside where, fortunately, the soil preserved these fragments for two thousand years so that, today, we can admire the reconstructed work on display in the Museum of Pergola.
Numerous scholars have enthusiastically studied this memorable equestrian group, both for its historical value and for the technical aspects of the metal fusion and external gilding procedure.
The metal alloy utilized for the fusion is copper with traces of lead, whereas the gilding was done at a later time, by applying heated gold leaf sheets directly onto the statues. It is also known with certainty that in the nearby town of Sentinum (known as Sassoferrato, today), there existed a Roman foundry, for this is the provenance of the remains of a gilded bronze horse that is part of the Walters Art Gallery collection in Baltimore (USA).
Serra de' Conti
Serra de' Conti is one of the fortified “castle towns” of the Verdicchio, located in the upper Misa River Valley. It was a small village, based on agricultural activity up until 1950. The town then experienced rapid change with the growth of small and medium size enterprises which continue to thrive and contribute to the local economy to this day. But we, who love to speak of food and wine, tourism and culture, wish to highlight another feature of this small town and that is, its attention to food culture and traditions. A few years ago, Slow Food Italia launched the idea of “presidia” to safeguard typical productions which were at risk of disappearing altogether. Serra de' Conti responded immediately with two products, the cicerchia (chickling pea) and the lonzino di fico (fig roll). Currently, there are approximately 180 products in Italy chosen to be “presided” over, i.e. protected, of which 5 are in the Marche and 2 of these are in our town of Serra de' Conti. Since this work was begun, it has continued, bringing about the rediscovery of other products, such as the vino di visciola (a sweet wine originating in the Middle Ages, flavored with wild cherries put in sugar and placed in the sun to ferment), the sapa (a sweet syrup obtained from boiled grape must, prepared the same way as they did in Ancient Rome), and the new entry, the fagiolo solfino (a variety of bean that is yellow, tiny, round, thin-skinned and melt-in-you-mouth taste) which had disappeared from our tables for several decades and has now been brought back
The joy of rediscovering these products comes from the deep bond that connects us to the land and to history. We are lucky to live in the countryside, surrounded by open, cultivated fields. Those who live in the country have a different sort of relationship with nature compared to those who live in large urban centers; being in daily contact with olive trees, fruit trees, grapevines and wheat fields provides a unique dimension to a person's everyday life. Living in these hills also means being able to maintain close ties to the products that are part of our everyday diet. Going out to the vegetable garden in the morning to pick nature's seasonal offerings for lunch or dinner is not at all the same as going to a supermarket and buying things off a shelf. This is why we like to celebrate food, remembering history, the importance of healthy eating habits, the value of conserving old products, and enjoying the chance to continue to eat traditional dishes and not lose the infinite variety of tastes. When is the next celebration-feast? The last week-end in November: it's the chickling pea festival - la festa della cicerchia!
Serra San Quirico
The traveler coming upon Serra San Quirico finds a small town nestled up against the mountain, there where the Vallesina river valley ends and the Apennines begin, just a few kilometers from the Frasassi Caves.
The layout of the village is Medieval, although it has been added to, over the course of time and the buildings, fountains, cloisters and balconies we see today are all perfectly preserved. From the town entrance one can walk along the copertelle, a Medieval covered walkway built right on top of the walls and serving a defensive purpose in the event of enemy attacks.
The small central square is the pulsating heart of the town, with its 13th-century municipal tower, 16th-century fountain, 15th-century Town Hall, the loggia opening out onto a view of the valley below. From there, the steps lead up to the Church of Santa Lucia, a Baroque jewel, resplendent in ornate gold leaf and stuccoes with masterpiece works of art and a valuable organ built in 1675.
The Conero in all its splendor
The rocky terrain is tapestried with the trees so typical of Mediterranean vegetation, carefully conserved within the protected area of the Park; here you'll find arbutus trees and Spanish broom, Holm-oaks and cluster pines. On the sea- facing side, that part of the coast offers small beaches and semi-hidden inlets so loved by tourists and natives alike, whereas the inland-facing flanks gracefully descend towards the vineyards of Montepulciano grapes which yield the excellent Rosso Conero wine.
At one time this area was also an important military outpost and strategic point where, from lookout towers such as the one whose remains still stand, the people had set up an early warning system for the arrival of invaders and pirates. In the early 1800s, during the time of Napoleonic rule, a fortress was built as a protective measure; today, the structure has been converted to a hospitality facility.
The sea, too, generously offers its fruits, one of which the Mosciolo di Portonovo (the Portonovo mussel) is especially well-known. This mollusc, typical of this corner of the sea, is protected by strict regulations which limit harvesting to the period between May and October. The fishermen go out early in the morning to return, five or six hours later, with the fresh shellfish. The waters here are still uncontaminated and the delectable morsels can be eaten and enjoyed fresh from the sea.
Built on the foothills of Monte Catria, in the central part of the Apennines traversing the Marche where the splendid natural landscape revels in the lush green of the surrounding forests, the Monastery was founded some time around the year one thousand and was a major cultural center for centuries. It counts among its Priors renowned figures such as Pier Damiano and Guido d'Arezzo and can boast of illustrious visitors like Dante Alighieri who were known to have passed through its doors.
Over the course of the ages, Fonte Avellana acquired great riches as it became a major economic power that dominated the entire territory. The monastery is, still to this day, an active and working community of monks which continues to be visited by scores of travelers.
From an architectural point of view, the buildings have kept intact their impressive beauty composed of measured symmetries and well delineated spaces. The Church was built in Romanesque style, with a raised altar and crypt below. Every visitor should make a point of seeing the Scriptorium where, during Medieval times, the monks who worked as scribes would write and copy manuscripts and volumes at a time when the printing press had not yet been invented. They thus contributed to the preservation of many precious works of the ancient Greek and Roman Classics. While on the tour, many will note that the lighting is remarkable as the interior is naturally illuminated thanks to the careful positioning of windows which follow the sun's course. Next to this room is the Parlatorio, originally used as a drying room for the sheets of parchment and where the valuable volumes were bound. Later, it became the refectory and meeting place, hence the name (‘speaking room'). A large 16th century table, made of walnut and chestnut wood and finely inlaid, still bears witness to times past. The Cloister, where absolute silence reigns, presents a series of arches in both Romanesque and Gothic styles; there are also many references to the Arab influence, as well, in testimony of the monastery having been built or re-built in different eras.
The attentive visitor won't miss the opportunity to visit the Botanical Garden where time appears to have come to a standstill, where the woods remain intact, where each and every plant can live out its long existence respected by all. Here, stand the chestnut, beech, maple, ash, linden and hornbeam among whose roots the monks found the plants and particular kinds of medicinal herbs they used to furnish their apothecary; their remedies were based essentially on those substances that could be found in the woods. The visitor taking a leisurely stroll inside the Garden will first become profoundly aware of the life of the trees and then will almost identify with the rich vegetation surrounding him. Natural environment, history, art and culture have made Fonte Avellana one of the most famous monasteries in all of Italy.
Born in Venice in 1480 Lorenzo Lotto, a restless and innovative artist, came to the Marche at a very young age and lived most of his life here, except for brief periods spent
in Rome and in Bergamo. Over the course of 50 years’ worth of activity, he left many masterpieces in a number of Marche cities. The most significant works are conserved in Jesi (Civic Art Gallery) and in Recanati (Pinacoteca).
Other works by Lorenzo Lotto can be admired in Ancona, in Cingoli, in Loreto (Museum of the Holy House), in Mogliano and in Monte San Giusto.
A refined painter, the artist expresses his existential doubts and uncertainties on his canvas, while remaining closely connected to the ordinary and daily; to him, sacred sentiment is always present in the everyday life of men on Earth.
San Vittore alle chiuse
Dating back to the 11th century, this Abbey is a thousand years old. With ties to the Benedictine monastery, it was built in perfect Romanesque style with a Byzantine influence.
Twin towers stand guard by the entrance. The square tower, at one time serving a defensive function, loomed high and dominant over the Abbey and the adjacent monastery.
Laid out in a Greek cross plan, the interior is brightly luminous, thanks to the white calcareous stone used as building material.
Located near the Frasassi Caves, in an area of considerable interest for nature-lovers and speleologists, the structure is among the best examples of Romanesque architecture in the entire territory of the Marche.
Historic Theatres in the Marche
In 1868 there were as many as 113 theaters in the Marche region; most of these were built in the 1700s and early 1800s.
Today, remodeled and restored, they are true architectural gems which remain as a testimony to the heights of civilization and degree of urban autonomy enjoyed by townships in the Marche of the Past.
Pesaro, Urbino, Fano, Jesi, Fabriano, Ancona, Macerata, Matelica, Fermo, Ascoli Piceno all have a historic theater, just as do so many minor towns; together, they represent a great cultural wealth in the tradition of the Arts. It is from this fervid activity that the Marche region was blessed with Giovan Battista Pergolesi (born in Jesi), Gaspare Spontini (born in Maiolati), Giocchino Rossini (born in Pesaro).
Nowadays, some of these historic theaters continue to run interesting playbills for theater seasons that attract prestigious names in the in the Arts.
Museum of Monastic Arts
An unusual Museum, unique in its genre, that takes the visitor on a journey through the silence of the cloistered life through a series of material objects, the tools and commonly used utensils for the chores of daily life. It is located in the town of Serra de’ Conti and can be visited by following a theatrical pathway with an audio guide that makes the observer feel as though he were immersed in an atmosphere dating back to times of yore, starting from the early 1600s.
The art of embroidery and weaving, the way of life of those who chose the silence of the Monastery of Saint Mary Magdalene, the accoutrements of the internal pharmacy whose art was based on the use of herbs, as well as a large quantity of kitchen tools all help to recreate a fascinating environment and serve to provide the museum visitor with a glimpse of daily monastic life and a taste of the slow passage of time.
The terracotta vases, the ceramic plates, the copper pots, the multitude of variously shaped pasta-cutters, the wooden moulds for desserts, the soup tureens… it would all seem to be an invitation to reproduce the recipes of the past centuries so as to experience once again the warm aromas of that simple cuisine based on flour, eggs, olive oil, cheese, wine, spices.
Going through this Museum is like taking a leap into the past as you find yourself in the midst of cheese graters, pepper mills, sifters, ceramic dishes and beverage mugs. Even more impressive is the feeling of being enveloped in the silence of a space that is both restricted and open, into a rural environment that, today, as in centuries past, still offers us its precious fruits. Thus, we rediscover the ancestral roots of our culture which the Museum endeavors to jealously preserve.