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Bill Thayer

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A Gazetteer of The Marche

A region of central Italy: 9694 square kilometers. 2003 population: 1,485,000. Capital: Ancona.

[image ALT: A two-story octagonal domed stone church in the neoclassical style, inside a prehistoric cave. It is the Chapel of Pope Leo XII at S. Maria in Frasassi in the Marche (central Italy).]

The neoclassical Chapel of Leo XII
in a prehistoric cave at S. Maria in Frasassi.

It has been written, and much commented on, that the Marche — literally, historical "marches" or border regions — are the only Italian region to be plural. The quip works, of course, because there is some truth to it: the Marche have not just one clear identity, but several.

The sharpest division any traveller will notice is between coast and mountain. The Adriatic shoreline, flat and somewhat dull except for the Conero massif, a small and very beautiful area where mountains dip into the sea just S of Ancona, is a succession of sandy beaches dotted with relatively large towns, and heavily frequented by vacationers, almost all Italian.

The region's backyard, though, is totally different: the mountainous forested beauty of the Appennines, horseback riding and Romanesque churches.

Between the two, fertile rolling farmland, and population centers strung along a series of parallel NE-flowing rivers.

Perversely, or holographically, the five provinces of the Marche do not follow these divisions, cutting across them instead, each thus having its coast, farmland, and mountains. The smallest, the province of Fermo, was mandated by the Italian Senate in 2004, and did not come into formal existence until 2009; and as it happens, I've never visited any part of it, just crossing it by train a couple of times. The others, though:


A tiny brick chapel with a tile roof and an open campanile, capable of holding maybe 10 people, sitting by itself in the middle of a field. It is on the outskirts of Cagli, in the Marche (central Italy).

The province of Pesaro e Urbino is the area of the Marche I know the best, since I crossed it on foot, following an ancient Roman road, the Via Flaminia, from the border of Umbria at Pontericcioli, thru Cantiano, Cagli, the famous Roman road tunnel at the Gola del Furlo and Fossombrone, to the Adriatic coast at Fano.

[ 3/27/08: 15 pages, 39 photos; plus those in my diary ]


[image ALT: The brick hulk of a large Gothic church, seen from the rear. It is a view of the cathedral of Fabriano in the Marche (central Italy).]

The most populous province is Ancona, the capital of which is the second-largest port on the Italian Adriatic. For three months I lived no more than five miles from the province, yet my acquaintance with it is limited to day trips to whatever towns I could reach on the important train line from Rome and Umbria: Ancona itself, Fabriano, Jesi, and Senigallia — plus a day's walk around Genga and Sassoferrato, that included the splendid church of S. Vittore alle Chiuse.

[ 8/13/03: 6 pages, 10 photos; plus those in my diary ]


[image ALT: A public park with in the foreground, under the shade of a tall fir tree, a small fountain decorated with cherubs, surrounded by geraniums. Across the street behind it, a stuccoed two-story building with a square tower the top story of which has four arched sides. It is a view of the square in front of the cathedral of S. Catervo in Tolentino in the Marche (central Italy).]

Macerata province has a reputation thruout Italy as the most livable part of the country, with fresh air and good water, not too many people yet not too few. The famous and characteristic green rolling hills of the province — beautiful walking country — are bringing me back on every trip now and I'm starting to know the central part of it: the capital city of Macerata, Treia, Pollenza, Urbisaglia, Tolentino (home to the saint and one of the finest frescoed rooms in the world), S. Severino; while I work on the more formal pages, do check my diary.

For my next trip, by the way, I've earmarked Camerino, Cingoli, Matélica, Potenza Picena, and Sarnano; and whatever bits can be found of the so‑called Via Prolaquensis, a Roman road thru Pioraco. If you know the province, feel free to suggest other ideas, of course.

[ 7/23/04: 12 pages, 14 photos; plus those in my diary ]


[image ALT: A striking square, about half of which is visible. It is paved with travertine marble; on the left side of the piazza, a 4‑story building with arches and a clock, and a taller tower behind it, and a smaller arcaded building towards the rear; on the back side of the square, a large church the lower parts of which are in the Gothic style, but crowned by a cupola with an attached pointed belfry. It is a view of the main square of Ascoli Piceno, in the Marche (central Italy).]

Of the province of Ascoli Piceno, all I know is the capital and two very small towns right nearby, but by my lights the travertine city of Ascoli is one of the great treasures of central Italy. I have no idea why more people don't visit: see for yourself and tell me I'm wrong!

Here, I'm hoping my next trip will take me to at least Offida and Ripatransone.

[ 5/14/01: 1 page, 1 photo; plus those in my diary ]


[image ALT: A fortress-like almost windowless stone church with an octagonal lantern, on a grassy knoll in a mountainous landscape. It is the Romanesque church, in the Byzantine style, of S. Vittore alle Chiuse near Genga (Ancona province, Italy).]

Finally, if you like churches, as I do, this is your link. I'm developing a topical approach to the Churches of the Marche; while it's mostly photos for now, little by little we'll start fleshing in the details.

[ 3/27/08: 36 churches, 16 pages, 50 photos ]


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Page updated: 16 Aug 13