Where the name of Italy was born Part 1: From Pesaro to Roccaraso

The Marches and the Abruzzi are a part of Italy not very well known to the international tourist. It is not just a question of doing justice to these areas by recommending them to the tourist; the tourist himself will make some fascinating discoveries, because these areas are no less rich in art treasures and natural beauties than others much more famous.

There are mighty Roman ruins, wonderful churches and abbeys, Renaissance palaces, picture galleries rich, particularly in works of the Venetian School (to know the rare works of Crivelli or Lotto, one must visit the galleries of the Marches).

Then there is the majestic mountain scenery of the Maiella and the Gran Sasso, and the long golden sands of the Adriatic beaches.

There is yet another reason for visiting these parts. Everyone. knows of the exploits of the other peoples of Italy, the Eruscans in the north and the Greeks in the south: but these peoples, even if they became acclimatized, were foreigners, they came from beyond the sea. The Marches and Umbria were populated and civilized by native people, the Italic. On this route, we shall pass through the ruins of an ancient city, Corfinium.

In 90 BC the people of this city rose against Rome, and made it the capital of their state, giving it a name destined to have a very long life – Italia. That ancient Italia was overwhelmed and defeated. But the name remained, and long outlived Roman power, to spread to the whole of Italy.

The itinerary:

PESARO still has fine monuments dating from the time when it was a Signory, first of the Malatesta, and then of the Sforza and the Della Revere: the Ducal Palace (15th cent.) and the Costanza Fortress by Laurana. From here, passing the Romanesque Cathedral we arrive at Palazzo Toschi-Mosca, with the most important Majolica Museum in Italy, and the rich Picture Gallery (great Coronation of the Virgin by Giovanni Bellini, works by Michele di Malice, Beccafumi etc.). From here we can go on to Sant’Agostino with its magnificent Gothic portal of 1413.

About 2 km. (1 1/4 mi.) out of the city, on a height near the sea, is Villa Imperiale (15th – 16th cent.) of which the Emperor Frederick III laid the foundation stone, a luxurious noble dwelling of the 15th century, with noteworthy frescoes by Dossi, Bronzino, Perin del Vaga.

We can devote the afternoon to FANO.

FANO, a fine city, rich in monuments, about 12 km. (7 1/2) of coast road away, over the Canal Harbor. There is a fine Arch of Augustus; next it, the little church of San Michele with an elegant 16th century portal and the Loggias of San Michele. In the Piazza rises the 13th century Palazzo delta Ragione, of Lombard form, flanked by a Tower and the Palazzo Malatestiano (fine Gallery of Primitives). In the church of Santa Maria Nuova there is a Madonna and Saints and an Annunciation by Perugino. Leaving Fano the next day we reach (25 km. – 15 3/4 mi.) FOSSOMBRONE, a pretty town in the Metauro Valley with a 16th century Palazzo Comunale and many others, all with rhomboid rustication. Five kilometers farther on, turn right before entering the Furlo Gorge, to follow the Metauro (15 km. – 9 1/2 mi.) to URBINO.

Urbino - Photo © brunoat
Urbino – Photo © brunoat

URBINO, a parallelogram lying over its two hills it keeps the form given it by its lord, Federico da Montefeltro. It was the birthplace of Bramante and Raphael. If he arrives from Faro, we advise the traveller to go in by the Via Nazionale, so as to get the southern aspect of the Ducal Palace, with its soaring turrets and storeys of loggias.

And so to the Palace, built by Luciano Laurana (1466), one of the most extraordinary examples of early Renaissance architecture, with its splendid Main Courtyard, the staircase which Vasari described as the finest of his time, the magnificent rooms with carved ceilings and inlaid mantelpieces.

On the first floor is the National Gallery of the Marches, an extremely rich collection, with two works by Piero della Francesca, Flagellation of Christ and a Madonna, Raphael’s , Dumb Girl, and paintings by Verrocchio, Gentile da Fabriano, Giovanni Bellini, Paolo Uccello, Giovanni Sanzio (Raphael’s father), Titian etc. Opposite the right wing of the Palace, the church of San Domenico, with a fine portal.

Passing to Piazza della Repubblica and along Via Mazzini, one arrives at the Oratory of San Giovanni with excellent frescoes by the Salimbeni brothers. We now go back the Via Flaminia along the same road (14 km. – 8 /4 mi.) and pass through the Furlo Gorge to Acqualagna and CAGLI a town of severe appearance with a 15th century Palazzo Comunale and the Gothic-Romanesque church of San Francesco (frescoes inside), to rise through fine scenery to Scheggia at 55 km. (34 1/2 mi.) from Urbino. Here turn to the right and take the road which after 13 kms. (8 mi.) through bare, harsh mountain scenery, brings us into Umbria and to GUBBIO.

GUBBIO, an ancient city which a perfectly preserved medieval atmosphere. Entering through Porto Metauro, we climb the Via dei Consoli, between ancient house-fronts, running past the austere Palazzo del Bargello to the impressive Piazza della Signoria, opening like a balcony supported on heavy arches, over the lower city and the plain beyond. The piazza is dominated by the superb Palazzo dei Consoli (1332) opposite which rises the Palazzo Camomile of the same period (Picture Gallery inside). Behind the palace rises Monte Ingino, towards which we climb up the steep Via Ducale to the Cathedral (13th cent.), with its austere interior sup ported on ten Gothic arches; with fine primitive paintings. Opposite is the Ducal Palace, by Laurana, with its beautiful courtyard. There is a magnificent view from up here.

Returning to Piazza della Signoria we go down to the San Giovanni Battista district, with the church of San Giovanni, then on down Via Piccardi past sturdy medieval facades to the 14th century church of San Domenico, not far from the Roman Amphitheatre of the Augustan age. Along other streets of the higher city (Via Savelli, with fine palaces) one can get to Santa Maria Nacre, with fine frescoes by Ottaviano Nelli. Then down to the tower of Porta Romana, beyond which stands Sant’Agostino, an impressive 13th century building with beautiful primitive frescoes in the interior and out of Gribbin on to a fine panoramic road through the hills leading to PERUGIA.

We spend the entire day with a visit to Perugia,

On the morning of the next day, we leave Perugia by Via Roma and after a drive of 15 miles come to ASSISI.

After the visit to Assisi, we leave, descending into the valley and passing by the enormous church of S. Maria degli Angeli, and go toward Perugia, but without re-entering the city. When we come to Ponte San Giovanni (12 1/2 miles from Assisi), we take Highway No. 3 his to the right, up the valley of the Tiber, and after some 20 miles come to UMBERTIDE, with its Castle (14th century) and the beautiful octagonal church of S. Maria della Reggia (16th century). In the church of S. Croce (1651), we find a Deposition by Luca Signorelli.

Spello - Photo © ho visto nina volare
Spello – Photo © ho visto nina volare

Thirteen kilometers from Assisi (8 mi.) lies SPELLO, on the last spur of Monte Subiaso. We enter the town through the fine Roman Porta Consolare and climb up past ancient house-fronts to the Oratory of San Bernardino (Madonna by Pinturicchio) and Santa Maria Maggiore with its fine frescoes by Pinturicchio and paintings of his school.

Passing Sant’Andrea (13th cent.) with more paintings by Pinturicchio and the Palazzo Comunale we climb to the Belvedere near the walls of the ancient fortress and the ruins of a Roman Arch. The view from here is superb, looking over the Umbrian hills to Perugia and Assisi.

Going back to the State Highway, another few miles brings us to FOLIGNO, which we enter by crossing the picturesque Canale dei Molini (Mill-race) and coming out into Piazza Centrale on one corner of this stands Palazzo Trinci, containing a fine chapel frescoed by Nelli, a Museum and an Art Gallery. The Palazzo Comunale has a Neo-Classical facade and a 15th century tower. To be seen then the Palazzo Orfini of the 15 century and the graceful sidewall wail of the Romanesque Cathedral, with rose-windows mothered windows and a fine 13th century Portal.

After Foligno, we leave the State Highway for a side road leading to the enchanting town of MONTEFALCO.

MONTEFALCO, (12 km – 7 1/2 mi.). It is in a superb position, girt by massive battlemented walls. In its churches of Santa Chiara, Sant’Agostino, Madonna del Soccorso, San Fortunato but especially of San Francesco, three generations of Umbrian painters in the 14th and 15th centuries left an unbelievable complex of frescoes, quite exceptional for a little place of only 7000 inhabitants. A call here is made essential if only for the beautiful work of Benozzo Gozzoli. The road brings us back to the State Highway after winding for 23 km. (14 1/2 mi.) near TREVI perched on its hill. Two kilometers (1 1/4 mi.) farther on is the little Roman Temple beside the Fonti di Clitunno (springs) in a charming woodland setting. Another 16 km. (10 mi.) brings us to Spoleto where we advise the visitor who is not in a hurry to go first to the cemetery see the extremely rare Basilica of San Salvatore with intact facade and apse of the 4th century and a severe Roman interior. Going back on to the Via Nursina and crossing the bridge, we now enter SPOLETO.

SPOLETO through Porta Garibaldi. This was a proud Etruscan city, then Roman; it became the seat of a powerful Longobard Duchy in the early Middle Ages. In Piazza Garibaldi is the 12th century church of San Gregorio Magno, and near it, a Roman bridge. Going along Via Anfiteatro, skirting the ruins of the Roman Amphitheatre which Totila. transformed into a fortress in 545, we go up Via Cecili as far as Porto Fuga (12th century) near Palazzo Cecili (15th century) and on up to Piazza Torre dell’Olio, near the massive city wall with superimposed Etruscan, Roman,Longobard, medieval and Renaissance work. We continue to climb past ancient buildings, all vaults and towers, to Piazza San Domenico, with its 14th century church, in bands of white and red stone.

From here it is only a few steps to the piazza in which Palazzo Collicola stands. In this area there is the little Romanesque church of San Lorenzo. Here one takes Via delle Terme for the ruins of the Roman Theatre in Palazzo Ancaiani.

Starting from Piazza della Liberta one can get to the small church of Sant’Ansano, beside which stands the Arch of Drusus (23 AD) leading into Piazza del Mercato, the center of the medieval city. Turning left off this we enter Piazza della Genga with Palazzo della Genga and the Fontana Grande, or Great Fountain. Piazza Municipio, reached along Via dei Duchy, contains the 13th century Municipal Hall m which there is an Art Gallery. Passing from the panoramic Piazza Campello and Via Saffi into Via dell’Arringo, we go down the wide steps leading to the superb Cathedral, inside which there is sculpture by Bernini,frescoes by Lippo Lippi and the latter’s tomb.

From Spoleto to TERNI is 26 km. of mountain road (16 3/4 mi.).

TERNI. As one enters, it is best to make for Piazza Tacito and then along Via Fratti to the 13th century church of San Francesco, inside which there are 14th century frescoes inspired by Dante’s Divine Comedy. Going along Via Nobili and Via Fratini and then Via Cavour brings us to the Cathedral, with a 17th century facade ascribed to Bernini, whose loggia opens into the Romanesque Portal.

There is a fine 10th century crypt. Opposite the Cathedral the fine Palazzo Bianchini-Riccardi by Antonio da Sangallo the Younger and, to the right, the rums of the Roman Amphitheatre. Via Vescovado, Via Roma and then Via del Popolo take us to the city’s finest church, San Salvatore, whose 12th century nave was built onto an ancient Temple of the Sun Passing the majestic Palazzo Spada brings us to Piazza del Popolo and so we leave Term by Ponte Garibaldi along a fine road which takes us past the Marmore Cascades (8 km. – 5 mi.) and Lake Piediluco and minor lakes to RIETI.

RIETI Immediately on entering the town after Piazza Marconi is San Domenico (13th century) on the right. From here to Piazza Battisti with the Cathedral; Romanesque with Renaissance facade ad fine campanile; and the Bishop’s Palace. Close at hand, the picturesque Vescovado Vaults (1288). Via Roma has fine Gothic houses and leads to San Pietro Apostolo with a 13th century Romanesque portal: close by is the late Renaissance Palazzo Vecchiarelli Ponte Romano crosses the River Velino, on to which picturesque houses front. To the left here stands San Francesco (1285) with a Gothic Altar and frescoes. In the Baroque Palazzo del Municipio the Civic Museum is housed, with some good works such as paintings by Antoniazzo Romano and his pupils, Luca di Tome, archaeological exhibits and a fine 15th century German Pieta. Leaving the town by Porta d’Arci, note the massive Walls (13th century) which still surround the town.

One leaves Rieti by State Highway No. 4, commanded to the left by Monte Terminillo. After Cittaducale, perched high on a hill, one posses wooded valleys to arrive at ANTRODOCO (25 km. – 16 mi. from Rieti). This is an ancient town at the foot of Monte Giano. Here we leave the River Velino and go up a majestic valley, through road tunnels and narrow gorges to arrive at Sella di Caron. Here we are at 3212 ft and the setting is Alp ne. From here we go down into the bowl of the hills in which L’AOUILA lies.

Downtown L'Aquila
Downtown L’Aquila before the earthquake – Photo © sangiopanza2000

L’AOUILA. Its monuments are scattered at random round the outskirts. Beginning from the modern Piazza del Duomo, go up to Santa Maria di Paganica, a fine Romanesque church of 1308, surrounded by noteworthy 15th century palaces. From here we can go on to the superb Castle built in 1535 by the Spanish Viceroy, who had been frightened by a revolt of the Aquilans in 1529. Magnificent view over the city and the mountains, among which the Gran Sasso d’Italia stands out.

From the Castle, down to San Bernardino, a fine 15th century Basilica built over the tomb of the Sienese saint who died here in 1444: inside, carved ceilings, fine Renaissance sculpture.

Going down the majestic monumental staircase in front of the church into the picturesque Via Fortebraccio and turning to the right before reaching Porta di Bazzano, we enter the old quarter, where the severe Romanesque facade of Santa Giusta rises.

Then back to Porta di Bazzano, go through it and climb up to Santa Maria di Collemaggio, one of the most beautiful churches in Italy, whose majestic facade is relieved by three portals, three rose-windows and inlaid work of tiny red and white stones (13th century). Going back to Porta Bazzano, go towards Corso Federico II and beyond it to San Marco, with a fine Romanesque portal. Via Arcivescovado has several fine palaces: in Via San Marciano, which is near, there is the House of Nardis, with Gothic arches and the church of San Marciano from which one may proceed to Santa Maria di Roio (15th cent.) surrounded by noteworthy palaces. Via Fontesecca takes us down to the famous Fountain of the 99 Jets, near which stands the splendid Romanesque church of San Vito. Returning to the city, one may visit San Domenico, San Pietro in Coppito and the 14th century San Silvestro.

In the Castle there is an important National Museum of the Abruzzo (sculpture, paintings and objets d’art). The seventh day of the journey begins with the ascent to Assergi (21 km. – 13 mi.)with a fine Romanesque church of 1150, lower station of the bold cableway of 3400 meters to Campo Imperatore (2114 meters – 6934 ft.). All around, the peaks of the Gran Sasso and a vast panorama of the Abruzzo mountains and plains. On the eighth day we leave L’Aquila by Porta Napoli. After 8 km. (5 mi.) we come to Bazzano, with its beautiful rustic Romanesque church of Santa Giusta. From here we climb to Poggio Picenze, leaving the Barisciano turning. It would be worth the trouble, however, to make a short deviation (5 km. – 3 mi.) for BOMINACO for its splendid Romanesque churches of San Pellegrino and Santa Maria. Back on the State ighway take the straight over the Navelli plateau-beautiful country-and then down into the River Pescara valley to POPOLI at the foot of the mountains (50 km. – 28 1/4 mi.) from L’Aquila. Here there is the fine 15th century church of San Francisco and the Gothic Ducat Tavern.

From Popoli, passing the CORFINIO turning after 5 km (3 mi.) we reach SULMONA, an ancient city with fine buildings. The 13th century Cathedral is on the left as you enter; Palazzo dell’Annunziata, the finest civic building in the Abruzzi, a synthesis of styles trouble, however, to make a short deviation (5 km. – 3 mi.) for BOMINACO for its splendid Romanesque churches of San Pellegrino and Santa Maria. Back on the State Highway take the straight over the Navelli plateau-beautiful country-and then down into the River Pescara valley to POPOLI at the foot of the mountains (50 km. – 28 3/4 mi.) from L’Aquila. Here there is the fine 15th century church of San Francesco and the Gothic Ducal Tavern.

From Popoli we suggest making a deviation of 14 km. (8 3/4 mi.) to TORRE DE’ PASSERI to see the architectural masterpiece of the Abruzzi, the Romanesque Abbey of San Clemente at Casauria, a splendid monumental complex built between the 9th and the 12th centuries; it is to be seen both for its architectural splendor and for its carvings.

Deer – Photo © www.aquilatv.it

From Popoli, passing the CORFINIO turning after 5 km (3 mi.) we reach SULMONA, an ancient city with fine buildings. The 13th century Cathedral is on the left as you enter; Palazzo dell’Annunziata, the finest civic building in the Abruzzi, a synthesis of styles running from Gothic to Baroque: in the interior, Civic Museum with a statue of Ovid, who was born here: the Romanesque church of San Francesco alla Scarpa. In the airy Piazza del Mercato, we see the arches of a 14th century acqueduct which feeds the 16th century fountain, Fontana del Vecchio ; at the foot of the mountain stands San Filippo. Leaving the XIV century rustic Porta Napoli we climb to century RIVISONDOLI (1210 m. – 3969 ft.) a mountain resort, where we shall spend the night, or in nearby ROCCARASO.

The return from Roccaraso to Pesaro is covered in this itinerary
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