Le Marche: History and Cities

2012/03/31 - Written by Filippo Salvatore
Le Marche: History and Cities
Le Marche: History and Cities
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“Le Marche” region is part of Central Italy and offers a blend of northern atmosphere and southern charm. Sea, mountains and hilly rural landscapes dominate its geography and these three aspects have shaped the temperament of its population.

PanoramItalia has chosen to present another of the twenty administrative regions of Italy: “Le Marche”, a distillation of Italy. Author Guido Piovene, in his book Viaggio in Italia (1957), defined “Le Marche” as being Italy in one region: “if one had to decide which Italian landscape was the most typical, one would have to choose the Marche… Italy, with its range of landscapes, is a distillation of the world; the Marche is a distillation of Italy.” Giosué Carducci, Nobel Prize Winner and one of the great poets of 19th century Italy, described “Le Marche” in these terms: “This land blessed by God is full of beauty, variety, liberty, with protecting mountains slowly lowering towards the sea, an embracing sea, with greeting, rising hills and shining valleys.”

The infidelitas marchianorum

Giacomo Leopardi (1798-1837), born in Recanati in the Marche, and Dante Alighieri, the greatest of all Italian poets, had this to say in defining the temperament of the marchigiani: “They are the shrewdest and the most ingenious of all the Italians. As one sets foot in the Marche one notices a sharper, more animated character, a more penetrating gaze than their neighbors’ and more so than the Romans’, although they live in a great capital.” For centuries, this region has been under the temporal rule of the popes. Two key figures that shaped its political and administrative organization have been Pope Innocenzo VI (1352), who preferred to go back to Rome from Avignon, and Cardinal E. Albornoz, who managed to pacify a land wanted by many, too many warring lords. What the popes often stressed as the infidelitas marchianorum – a negative trait – is, on the contrary, considered to be their proud, indomitable temperament.

Marvels of Nature

180 kilometers of coastline, stunningly beautiful beaches, 26 cities facing the Adriatic Sea with elegant resorts, ideal places for a relaxing vacation, the port of Ancona and nine other harbors, 500 piazzas, over 1,000 important monuments, over 100 small and medium-sized towns, replete with great, impressive works of art, thousands of churches, 163 shrines, 34 archeological sites, 71 splendid theatre halls. “Le Marche” has the largest number of museums and art galleries in Italy, 315 libraries with 4,000,000 volumes; several protected areas and two National Parks: Monti Sibillini and Monti della Laga; four regional parks: Monte Conero, Sasso Simone and Simoncello, Monte San Bartolo, Gola della Rossa and Gola di Frasassi; three nature reserves and more than 100 floristic areas. Here are, in short, the cultural and gastronomic jewels of this still partially hidden treasure, particularly for North Americans.

“...As one sets foot in the Marche one notices a sharper, more animated character, a more penetrating gaze ...”

A small region steeped in history

Marche is a small region; this rectangular-shaped area corresponds to about 3% of the Italian peninsula. It only has two important ports: Ancona and San Benedetto del Tronto, and yet its fishing industry ranks fourth (after Sicily, Apulia and Emilia-Romagna) nationally. History, culture and the countryside have blended to create an extraordinary reality wrought by its inhabitants over the course of three millennia.

The population of Marche is close to 1.5 million, or about 2% of Italy’s 57 million. The region is divided into four administrative provinces: Ancona, the regional capital, Pesaro-Urbino, Macerata and Ascoli Piceno. Other important cities moving from North to South are: Fano, Loreto, Fossombrone, Fabriano, Jesi, Osimo, Recanati, Tolentino, Camerino, Fermo, Porto San Giorgio, Castelfidardo and San Benedetto del Tronto.

Pesaro-Urbino

Pesaro took its name from the river Pisarus. It was a Picene territory until it was Romanized. Goths, Byzantines, Longobards and Franks fought for its possession. It then became a city-state and later belonged to the Malatesta, Sforza, Borgia and Della Rovere dynasties. The famous musician Giacchino Rossini was born in Pesaro in 1792.

About 30 kilometers inland on a hill is Urbino, traditionally the cultural capital of the Marche. The cathedral and especially the ducal palace are important architectural monuments. Humanists and artists of the highest caliber, like Leon Battista Alberti, Piero Della Francesca and Paolo Uccello, among others, were attracted to The Montefeltro Dynasty in Urbino, and especially Duke Frederick II (his portrait by Piero della Francesca is in the Uffizi Museum in Florence). Duke Frederick’s library was the richest of Europe and under his patronage Laurana built the Ducal Palace, one of the masterpieces of the Renaissance. Urbino’s University was founded in 1505. In 1626, the Duchy became part of the Papal States; it was robbed of many of its treasures and swiftly decayed. After the unification of Italy, Urbino rose again and is today an important cultural centre.

 

For centuries, the history of these towns was shaped by local lords often only nominally under papal rule and by warrior bishops and popes who built castles and fortresses.

Ancona

Ancona’s origin goes back to the ancient Greeks who were attracted by the beauty of the gulf at the foot of Mount Conero. It became a Roman municipium in 133 B.C. It was destroyed by the Sarazins in 839. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, it was rebuilt and became a free maritime city-state. Between 1532 and 1860, the city became part of the Papal States, and then joined the Kingdom of Italy. Ancona’s most important monuments are the Roman amphitheatre, Emperor Trajan’s arch and the magnificent Romanesque cathedral (XI-XIII c.) dedicated to the patron saint San Ciriaco.

Macerata

The city is located about 20 kilometers from the seashore on rolling hills. The name of the city probably derives from maceriae, or ruins, and is a reminder of the destruction of the old Helvia Ricina. In 1138, Macerata became a free city-state. The Varano and then the Sforza families ruled over it. The city then became part of the Papal States and grew from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries. The Loggia dei Mercanti, built in the sixteenth century, is still in the heart of Macerata in the Central Square, and Santa Maria delle Vergini is its most important church. A magnificent panorama can be admired from the walls that still surround its avenues. Today, Macerata is a prosperous, classy little city, proud of its neo-classical Sferisterio where important cultural events take place.

Ascoli Piceno

Along the rolling hills and the valley of the Tronto River, 25 kilometers away from the Adriatic Sea, stands Ascoli Piceno, an austere, noble town dominated by its medieval historical centre. Entering Ascoli, one goes back in time. This is especially true on the first Sunday of August when the Torneo Cavallesco della Quintana is fought. Over 1,000 costumed participants “fight” a heavy, revolving effigy of a sarazin. Built by the Picenes, Ascoli became a Roman municipium in 286 B.C. The Via Salaria crossed it and the Porta Genina, one of the gates, is still standing intact. The baptistery, the Palazzetto Longobardo, Palazzo del Comune, Palazzo dell’Arringo and the church of Saints Vincenzo and Anastasio are the main medieval monuments. Several magnificent baroque palaces such as the Palazzo Panichi, were built in the seventeenth century. Ascoli played an importanteconomic role during Roman times and in the late Middle Ages, and today is experiencing a remarkable industrial growth. A keen historical and ecological awareness is preserving both Ascoli’s architectural past and the integrity of its surrounding territory (the natural park of the Monti Della Lega bordering on Abruzzo and Lazio).

Entering Ascoli, one goes back in time. This is especially true on the first Sunday of August when the Torneo Cavallesco della Quintana is fought.

Pesaro

Nowadays, usually during the summer months, many historical pageants and spectacular jousts are staged in the old town centers, to commemorate religious festivities during the carnival season.

Often the pageants are associated with the history of the noble families that used to rule the area. In Urbino, the Festa del Duca takes place on the third Sunday of August; this is a pageant with 15th century costumes, parades and jousts. Other similar celebrations are the Trionfo del Carnevale at Frossombone; the Caccia al Cinghiale (boar hunt) at Mondavio; the Seduzione del Castello at Gradara, where Francesca di Rimini and her brother-in-law Paolo (as Dante narrates it in his Inferno), are said to have fallen in love and killed by Francesca’s jealous husband; and the Torneo Cavalleresco della Quintana at Ascoli Piceno. This is not, of course, an exhaustive list because practically every town of Marche celebrates a form of paganism, historical pageantry or religious event, like the Translation of the Holy House at the shrine of Loreto.

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