Waterfalls and Canyons
In the northern part of the region is Monte Nerone, which is part of the Umbrian-Marche Apennine mountain chain. The area around this mountain is known for its waterfalls, caves, and an abundance of fossils of different animal species. Gola del Furlo, home of the golden eagle, is an enchanting canyon located between the Pietralata and Pagnuccio mountains. This canyon is criss-crossed by several hiking trails, and the clear, emerald waters of the Candigliano river that flow between its high, rock walls. In his twenty-first canto of Paradise, Dante Alighieri writes of Monte Catria, which borders the Umbria region. It is a jewel of nature, with its woodlands, rare shrubs, and caverns. It now boasts a ski resort that accommodates visitors of all ages.
Hermitages and Abbeys
Dante wrote of an impressive structure which stands at the base of this mountain – the Eremo di Fonte Avellana. It was founded in the tenth century by a small community or hermits, which included at least 76 people deemed as saints or blessed, as well as 54 bishops. It stands near other famous Benedictine monasteries in Umbria that are branches of it. One of these is Santa Maria di Sitria, which was founded in the ninth century in an area of natural beauty which is now the Parco Naturale di Monte Cucco. Another is the Abbazia di Sant’Emiliano in Congiuntoli, which was founded in the tenth century along the border of the Dukedom of Spoleto.
The mountains of the central Marche region are replete with canyons and ravines which vary greatly in size and depth. One must cross these in order to reach the most well-known summits. One series of such ravines is known as the Gole dell’Infernaccio, carved out by the Tenna river between Monte Priora and Monte Sibilla. It’s a favorite destination for hikers and tourists. Through the green forests of beech trees one can hear the constant symphony of the rivers, waterfalls, and streams, and view the awe-inspiring Lame Rosse, also known as the La Cappadocia delle Marche because of its rocky peaks. It can be found in the San Lorenzo al Lago area, in the Comune di Fiastra.
However, it’s in the municipality of Genga where one will find the pièce de résistance, guarded on all sides by these mountains. It’s called the Grotte di Frasassi, and was discovered in 1971 by the Gruppo Speleologico Marchigiano CAI di Ancona. This is a vast network of karst caves whose first large room is easily accessible by the public. It is full of enormous bands of calcareous stratification which were formed over 190 million years ago and which are home to an unusual underground ecosystem with 67 different types of living creatures.
The Lago di Gerosa (Comunanza) rests at the base of Monte Vettore and is fed by the Aso River. Its shores provide a venue for walking and mountain bike riding. Almost all of the lakes in the Marche region are man-made, yet they still provide striking views (Lago di Fiastra, Lago di San Ruffino, Amandola, Lago di Cingoli). On the other hand, Lago di Pilato (Montemonaco) is a glacial lake. It’s home to a quite unusual animal: the Chirocefalo del Marchesoni. This is a small crustacean from the last glacial period. On the slopes of these mountains, nestled in the rocks, one can also find cities known for their artistic treasures. These include Camerino and Arcevia, famous for a type of impregnable stone.
The wealth of archeological sites in the Marche region has shown that its favorable geographic conditions accommodated human settlements for millenia. In the Arcevia area, there is a noteworthy bronze age settlement at the Fossato of Conelle that dates back over 5,000 years. It’s not by chance that the symbol of the Marche region is a woodpecker. The “Piceni” people (Latin for “people of the woodpecker”) inhabited the entire area from the Foglia River to the Tronto River. An area called Pini di Sirolo has one of the most outstanding archaeological sites in Europe, based on its size and variety. It’s famous for the circular arrangement of its graves as well as its objects now being preserved at the Numana Museum. The cities of Matelica and Ascoli Piceno can also boast of their Piceni origins. There is no shortage of Celtic sites, either, such as those in Santa Paolina di Filottrano, Moscano di Fabriano, and Trivio di Serra San Quirico. The majority of the archeological finds from these areas are on display in the Museo Archeologico della Marche, in the regional capital of Ancona. The city’s name comes from the Greek word Ankón, or elbow, given because of the shape of its coastline at the time. It was originally founded in 387 AD as a colony of Syracuse, and today is one of Italy’s most important cities, just as it was during Roman times. In fact, this is where Trajan departed from on the campaign to conquer Dacia, a fact which is commemorated by the Emperor’s Arch that can still be seen at the port today.
Once the Romans had solidly established themselves in the Marche territory, they built two consular roads that allowed travel between Rome and both Rimini in Emilia-Romagna (Via Flaminia), and Ascoli Piceno (Via Salaria). Traces of the road’s construction are still visible in the region in several cities (Cantiani, Cagli, Acqualagna, Fermignano, Quintodecimo, Acquasanta, and Terme). That’s because there are still vestiges of the ancient Roman cities, necropoli, and villages along these roadways, which are still paralleled by today’s roads. Some reminders of Roman times include the homes of aristocrats, with their stunning mosaics, found in Fossombrone and Castelleone di Suasa; the bronze statues in Cartoceto di Pergola; the theaters in Falerone and Villa Potenza (Macerata); the amphitheater in Urbisaglia; the nymphaeum in Cupra Marittima; and the sanctuary in Treia.
Medieval Abbeys and Fortresses
In the 8th century came the Francs and, later, a land grant by Charlamagne. At this time, the Church began to rule over the Marche region, and the monastic influence began to reshape the area’s agrarian landscape, leaving an impressive array of abbeys, most of which are still intact and open to visitors. Examples include the animal fables at Sant’Elena all’Esinante (Serra San Quirico), the Roman doorway at Santa Croce Sassoferrato, the crypts of Sant’Urbano (Apiro), the rose window at Santa Maria in Castagnola di Chiaravalle, and so many more. You’ll simply have to come to the Marche region yourself and see these rich historical sites.
At the end of the millennium, papal rule found it had to face the Swabian monarchy. Federico II, born right in Jesi in 1194, was a proponent of the monarchy. Certain important families in the region began to weave their interests directly into those of the papacy, including the Malatestas in Pesaro and Fano, the Montefeltros in Urbino, the Varanos in Camerino, and the Chiavellis in Fabriano. Other dynasties that were involved were the Smeducci family in San Severino and the Brancaleones in Piobbico. Did these families of nobility leave anything behind? Today there are several fortresses and castles, such as the Fortresses of Gradara and Mondavio; the Castles of Fiuminata and Acquaviva Picena; the distinguished palaces such as Castello di Monterado, Trecastelli, or the Ducal Palace in Urbania; and the hillside villages of Offagna, Staffolo, Sassocorvaro, Mombaroccio, Ussita, Visso, Montegall, Montefiore dell’Aso, Altidona, Monteleone di Fermo – only to name a few. All of these were strategically positioned along the region’s hillsides and mountains.
During the Renaissance, the courts of the aristocratic families attracted some of the most famous Italian painters. Pietro di Cristoforo Vannucci, better known as the Perugino, was a regular at Verrocchio’s workshop, along with Botticelli and Leonardo da Vinci, and was active as a painter in Fano and Senigallia. He was also Rafaello’s teacher, who was born right in Urbino in 1483. He was the son of Giovanni de’ Santi, who was also an artist. The Galleria Nazionale delle Marche houses one of Rafaello’s pieces in its collection – Il Ritratto di Gentildonna detta la Muta. Another important painter from the Marche region was Gentile da Fabriano, born in the city center of Fabriano in 1370. The city sits astride the Umbrian-Marche Apennines and was once a major center for paper production. It is home to the Museum of Paper and Watermarks and is a UNESCO “Creative City,” in the categories of Craftsmanship, Art, and Popular Traditions. One can also observe the works of Lorenzo Lotto, a painter from Veneto. There are also entire cities to discover, including Jesi, Ancona, and in particular, Loreto, known for the Reliqua della Santa Casa de Nazareth and a magnificent basilica built in 1468.
While traveling through the Marche region, don’t miss out on the chance to sample their exceptional wines and delicious regional foods. Beginning in the north, one can stop in Vallesina to enjoy a glass of Verdicchio dei Castelli of Jesi or of Matelica, wines whose origins are required to be certified and verified. The DOCG verification system of Offida regulates wines such as Passerina and Pecorino, both white wines. However, the Marche region also produces superb red wines, such as Lacrima di Morro D’alba, Rosso Piceno or Rosso Conero. Vernaccia di Serrapetrona, another DOCG certified product, is a sparkling, sweet wine from the Macerata province. There are over 200 types of grapevines registered in the Marche region, the most notable being the Sangiovese, Montepulciano, and Trebbiano varieties. This means that, besides the wines with a DOCG certification, one can sample wonderful, authentic regional wines in all the many wineries, farms, and agritourism sites throughout the region. There’s no shortage of traditional liquors in the region, either. Examples include Visciola di Pergola, Vino Cotto di Loro Piceno, and Anisetta di Ascoli Piceno (prepared with anise from Castignano).
Slow Food and Traditional Recipes
The Slow Food designation is also given to the area’s legumes, which include the Serra de Conti cicerchia, the Fratterosa (Fiuminata) favetta, and the Laverino fagiolo.
Meats, Cheese and Vegetables
The meat from animals raised in the Marche region is famous throughout Italy, especially the swine used to make salame di Fabriano and porchetta, and the Marche cattle. The milk from the region’s cows is used in the production of exquisite cheeses, such as casciotta di Urbino and pecorino dei Sibillini. Even those who prefer a vegan or vegetarian diet can satisfy their taste buds. It’s not just because of the beans – the area also produces terrific vegetables, such as the artichokes from Montelupone and Jesi, the onions from Suasa and Pedaso, red apples from Sibillini, and amarena cherries from Cantiano.