Cities of Art

The writer Guido Piovene considers the Marches' landscape as the most typical of Italian countrysides,
defining it as "a sheltered and civilised land, or better still the most classical of our regions", 500 squares, more than 1,000 important monuments, approximately one hundred cities of art, 33 fortresses, 106 castles, 15 strongholds, 170 turrets, thousands of churches, 200 of which are in Romanesque style and more than 40 well preserved abbeys, 163 sanctuaries, 24 archaeological sites, 71 historically important theatres 42 of which are still in use.

The highest density of museums and painting galleries in Italy - 242 distributed in 246 boroughs. 315 libraries, some of great tradition, housing more than 4 million volumes and an important patrimony of manuscripts and sixteenth century editions. The many cities of art studding this landscape, are authentic treasure casks containing this region's widely spread cultural assets. As we move from the coast inland to the province of Pesaro-Urbino, we come across old towns where the atmosphere is saturated by reminiscences of the Renaissance splendour still alive in these places which were once the most important of Italian dominions: the Malatesta from Pennabili, the Montefeltro from San Leo and the Delle Rovere. Pesaro, the ancient Pisaurum in Roman era first inhabited by the Piceni, was the residence of the Della Rovere dominion up to 1631, when the entire ducat was devolved to the Papal States.

The Ducal Palace, the Costanza Fortress, together with the treasures contained in the museums, clearly evoke the aristocratic refinement of the dominion and its court, a refinement perfectly embodied in Urbino's Ducal Palace commissioned by Federico da Montefeltro. Federico managed to change the natural and urban aspects of a city, marking it with the indelible sign of the Ducal Palace, which opens itself with fairy-tale like circular turrets facing the road that goes from Urbino to Urbania. From 1912 the Ducal Palace has accommodated the "National Gallery of the Marches", sheltering such artists as Raffaello, Piero della Francesca, Tiziano, Paolo Uccello, etc. The palace is ideally linked to the other monuments commissioned by Federico which were planned and realised by Francesco di Giorgio Martini. The artist from Siena to work on the Ducal Palace of Urbania (the ancient Casteldurarite famous for its majolica). The artist also worked on the original project of the Barco Ducale, the Dukes' hunting residence. But he left the imprint of his genius on the Palace della Ragione now prernise of Urbania's city hall.

Francesco di Giorgio Martini studded the ducat with fairy-like defensive fortresses, treasure casks containing memories of historically important events. San Leo, the fortress where Cagliostro was imprisoned until his death ("the region's most magnificent war tool", according to Pietro Bembo) stands high on the top of the cliff (at an altitude of 639 meters), after which the entire Montefeltro region was named. Mondavio, the mighty fortress, enclosed within the ancient city walls, is now the premises of the Museum of Historical revivals and weapons. Cagil, where only the majestic ellipsoidal tower of the stronghold remains along with the secret passage now housing a Contemporary Sculpture Centre. Sassocorvaro the Ubaldinesque fortress where more than 10,000 masterpieces were sheltered and saved during the last World War and which presently accommodates the new museum dedicated to endangered masterpieces, called the "Ark of Arts".

Within a short distance from Martini's fortresses stands the imposing fortress of Gradara, commissioned by the Griffo and further rehandled by the Malatesta and the Sforza, rich of Renaissance frescoes and haunted by Dante's Paolo and Francesca love story. Here, we can still feel the flavours of a medieval atmosphere simply walking about the old town, or along the circular walls that are ornated by square embattled towers and turrets. The Malatesta Palace, another clear evidence of the importance of the Malatesta family in the Marches, who live here until 1463, is situated in the central Piazza XX Settembre in Fano.

This city maintains many signs of its roman origins, such as the magnificent Augustus Arch, gateway to the city from the famous and antique Flaminia Way. A special mention must also go to: Palazzo della Regione, the Malatesta Court, the Church of San Paterniano and the Basilica Cathedral.
Senigallia, in the province of Ancona, once was part of the Duchy of Urbino and this emerges clearly from the grand fortress due to the Della Rovere's family. Inside the fortress it is still possible to visit a roman watchtower. Other places to see are the Palazzetto Baviera, the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie and the Palazzo Mastai Ferretti, dedicated to Pope Pio IX who was born in this city.

Ancona, chief town of the Marches' region, was founded by the Siracusans in the fourth century BC. A Focal point of commercial, tourist and military activities, it has grown around its port, second only to Venice on the Adriatic See. Here we can admire one of the most magnificent Romanesque monuments of Central ltaly, the Cathedral of San Ciriaco and other valuable constructions such as the Loggia dei Mercanti, the Church of S. Agostino and the public painting gallery, all testimonials to the historical and cultural importance of the city especially during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

Only a few kilometers away from Ancona, you can find Loreto, the most important Marian sanctuary of Italy, visited by millions of pilgrims from all over the word. The town is linked to the Holy House of Nazareth. The legend narrates that it was brought here by angels to save it from the Maomettan Invasion of Palestine in 1294. Some of the most important artists of the 4th and 5th centuries worked in the sanctuary: Melozzo da Forli, Luca Signorelli, Bramante, Sansovino and Lorenzo Lotto.

Nearby is Recanati, the "town" which lives in the shadow of one of the most important Italian poets, Giacomo Leopardi, and which invites the visitor to promenade the places dear to the artist, visit the square and the monument both dedicated to him, see the memories preserved in the Municipal Palace (along with the painting gallery and the Beniamino Gigli Museum) and the Leopardi's section of the Benedettucci Library, see the belfry of the Church of Sant'Agostino, namely the famous tower of the lonely sparrow, silent square of the "Sabato del Villaggio" (Saturday in the village), where Palazzo Leopardi's native home stands, adjacent the National Centre of Studies on Lepoardi. Other places well worth a visit are Osimo, Auximun for the Romans, rich of old vestiges such as the thirteen roman statues dating back to the imperial age, now housed in the Municipal Palace, the Dome and the Sanctuary dedicated to San Giuseppe da Copertino, visited by many pilgrims.

Offagna, dominated by its square Fortress, featuring some towers and an impressive dungeon; Corinaldo, proud of its city walls which are among the most spectacular of the region and which can also boast an historic town centre of great environmental value. It is possible to admire its full development of more than 912 meters, following the circumvolution and walking along the old beat.

Not to be missed is the 18th century sanctuary of S. Maria Gorefti and the church of the Addolorata containing the young martyr's crypt. Sassoferrato was originally the roman "Sentinum". Traces of this past era are embodied in ruins of old buildings, paved roads and ancient walls. lt has two cores, the modern town and perched high on the hill, the Castle, dominated by the remains of the Fortress, built in 1368. There are many places of interest, such as the Church of St. Francesoco, Montanari Palace, Priori's Palace, the fifteenth century Oliva's Palace, which houses the public library with over 10,000 volumes, ancient incunabulum, manuscripts, and sixteenth century editions.

Dominated by Jesi the Esino valley opens itself in the hinterland of Ancona. Jesi, Aesis for the Romans, gave birth to Federico II di Svevia and to the musician G. Battista Pergolesi, the city has a valuable painting gallery which houses the masterpiece by Lorenzo Lotto, the Pala di S. Lucia. Ancient walls, intact for most of their length, circle the city. lt was here that Francesco di Giorgio Martini built Signoria's Palace. Following the valley upwards we reach Fabriano, already famous in the thirteenth century for the processing of paper. A link centre for the relationship between Marches and Umbria, Fabriano maintains its medieval aspect, shaped around Podesta Square also documented in the many thirteenth and fourteenth century paintings exhibited in the public painting Gallery. From this city, which gave birth to the finest and best known representative of the International Gothic Styles Gentile da Fabriano, the town of Camerino is within easy reach. Situated in the province of Macerata, Camerino enjoyed a rich period of economic and artistic development under the Da Varano rule in the fifteenth century, a period distinguished by the birth of the pictorial school considered by the historian Federico Zeri as one of the most important schools of Italian Renaissance. Premise of one of the oldest and most renowned European universities, housed in the Ducal Palace, Camerino has preserved its medieval and defensive look and has more than once been mentioned in the works of Ugo Betti one of the finest playwriters, born in Camerino, second only to Luigi Pirandello.

From Camerino the next stop is Tolentino. Here stands one of the most famous sanctuaries in Central ltaly, the Basilica of S. Nicolas, whose chapel, frescoed by Pietro da Rimini, represents the finest example of the school of Giotto and Rimini. Other places of interest are: the Vaccaj theatre, inaugurated in the late eighteenth century and the International Museum of Caricature. In the area between the towns of Tolentino and Urbisaglia is located one of the most important abbeys of the Marches, the cistercian Santa Maria di Chiaravalle di Fiastra built in 1142 from the stones of the ancient roman city of Urbs Salvia and the Castle della Rancia. San Severino Marche, lies near the roman Septempeda, the ruins of which can be still be found in the archaeological area. During the fourteenth and fifteenth century, owing to the dominion of the Smeducci and to the works of the Salimbeni brothers, who also worked in Urbino, the city became a European Centre of the International Gothic Style.

Not to be missed is also Matelica, an interesting city from an artistic point of view with its sixteenth century 'exagonal Fountain", the many churches, monumental buildings, and the art collections of the Piersanti Museum, with its magnificent collection of fifteenth and sixteenth century tapestries and the drawings of the sixteenth and seventeenth century. Macerata, in the roman centre of Helvia Ricina, was built on a hill to avoid the incursions of the barbarians, is rich of Renaissance, Baroque and seventeenth century artworks. Among its most representative monuments, is the Sphaeristerium arena by Ireno Aleandri, a fine example of architecture in neo-classical style among the most significant in ltaly, where every year, in summer, an important lyrical season is held. The Basilica of the Madonna della Misericordia, Piazza della Libertà with its Loggia dei Mercanti and Torre dell'Orologio, the many museums, the important modern art gallery of Palazzo Ricci, the Library with its 350,000 volumes and an old university all contribute in making Macerata a cultural reference point. Sarnano too is worth a visit. lt is famous for the red tiles of its houses roofs, for its steep and narrow alleys, which sometimes become steps leading up the silent square, the public painting gallery which exhibits important works, the Spas and the ski slopes.

Among other interesting places to visit is the historical town centre of Civitanova Alta, still circled by the old castle walls dating back to the fifteenth century, with towers, bastions and two main doors, the Ducal Palace of the Cesarini, Annibal Caro's house and the public Modern Art Gallery "M. Moretti". Also Monte San Giusto, where in the Church of S. Maria in Telusiano we can admire the Crucifixion", a masterpiece by Lorenzo Lotto, the only painting still conserved in its place of origin. Bonafede Palace, with its frescoes by Asperlini, houses the "Maggiori" a collection of antique drawings.
In the province of Ascoli Piceno there is Fermo, one of the Marches most lively centres in roman and medieval eras. lt features monumental roman cisterns, a magnificent Piazza del Popolo, the sixteenth century Priori's Palace which now houses in its inner rooms the public art gallery that boasts important paintings both of Venetian and Marchesan schools, and a precious painting by Rubens Palazzo degli Study with its rich library containing more than 400,000 volumes, manuscripts and XVIth century editions and a number of museums dedicated to the environment or to archaeology. All of these testity up to nowadays the extraordinary historical and cultural.

Moving south we find Ripratransone, a small jewel with a suggestive historical town centre which holds Italy's smallest alley (only 43 cm. wide), and is also rich in archaeological findings and of Monuments such as the Cathedral and Podestà's Palace. A few kilometres away stands Offida, with its intact walls, its fortress and the imposing Abbey of S. Maria della Rocca, one of the Marches' most significant monuments in Romanesque-gothic style. The chief town of the province, Ascoli Piceno, with its roman monuments (the ruins of the Theatre and of Augustus' Bridge) and its fine medieval buildings (the Church of S. Francesco, the Dome and the Battistero), testifies of an extraordinary past touched by the warm colour of the travertine and by the Salaria Way, some traces of which often remain agglomerated in medieval buildings . From the famous Piazza del Popolo, where every year one of the most extraordinary historical performances in ltaly takes place, the famous Quintana, many suggestive itineraries start among medieval alleys and Renaissance palaces, often touched as in the case of the Dome's facade by the hands of Cola dell'Amatrice. 

Other towns deserve a visit, such as Acquaviva Picena, dominated by the imposing fortress, with the ruins of the castle's walls, old houses and turrets. Montefortino which still maintains the atmosphere of a bygone era, with the narrow alleys and the houses in stone with red tiles. The art Gallery, with its precious patrimony of valuable paintings from the collection of the painter Fortunato Duranti. Amandola, has a beautiful historical town centre, the Sanctuary of the Beato Antonio and the Municipal palace which houses the Town Archives (containing more than 1,000 parchments of the eleventh century and other medieval documents) and the Notorial Archive with valuable manuscripts.

Close to Amandola is one of the most interesting Abbeys of the Marches, Abbazia dei Santi Ruffino e Vitale. In Falerone it is still possible to visit the ruins of the ancient roman city of Faleria, with its recently restored theatre.

Other places to visit are: Sant'Elpidio a Mare, which is almost entirely enclosed within its medieval walls with "Torre Gerosolimitana" the fourteenth century tower built by the Knights of Malta, the Collegiata (which houses painting by Nicola Monti, Palma it Giovane, Pomarancio ect.) and the Municipal palace with its two precious masterpieces:

a fourteenth century panet polytych by Carlo Crivelli and a tryptych by Garofalo. Located in a panoramic position, Arquata del Tronto was an important "statio" in the roman era on the Salaria Way. The town owes its name to the imposing twelveth century fortress ("arx"), standing high on the hill, rebuilt, according to the tradition, by Giovanna it of Naples and recently restored.