Where the name of Italy was born Part 2: From Roccaraso to Pesaro

This is the return portion of the itinerary: Where the name of Italy was born

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: Part 2 – From Roccaraso to Pesaro

We climb to century RIVISONDOLI (1210 m. – 3969 ft.) a mountain resort, where we shall spend the night, or in nearby ROCCARASO. The next day we set out on the beautiful “ring road of the Abruzzi”, a long balcony commanding most stupendous views . It runs along the massif of the Maiella 2800 m. – 9164 ft.) towards Lama dei Peligni (2298 ft.) and GUARDIAGRELE at 61 km. 37 3/4 mi.) from Rivisondoli, with two splendid churches, San Francisco and Santa Maria Maggiore, with a picturesque rustic portico along one side From Guardiagrele 30 km. (18 3/4 mi.) of road bring us to CHIETI.

CHIETI, ancient Teate standing on a pleasant hill with fine views over the Maiella, the Gran Sasso and the Adriatic.

Outstanding monuments to visit: the Roman ruins of the city include three small temples of the late I century AD, the Roman theatre, the barbs of the I century AD with a large storage tank dug into the hillside.

The cathedral with a slender bell tower of the 15th century and a rich Baroque crypt containing the silver bust of St Justin by Nicola da Guardiagrele. The Archaeological Museum rich in finds ranging from the VII century BC to the II century AD, including the famous statue of the “Warrior of Capestrano” of the late VI century BC and the well-stocked provincial library with precious incunabula and the Mss of “Il Piacere” and “La Figlia di Jorio” by Gabriele d’Annunzio.

Leaving Chieti drive towards the Adriatic, reaching, after 12 miles PESCARA, the largest and most up-to-date city in Abruzzo, birthplace of Gabriele d’Annunzio. Worthy of a visit are: d’Annunzio’s birthplace, the stela of the d’Annunzio Memorial Theatre and the painting, by F.P. Michetti, of “The Daughter of Jorio” in the Palazzo della Provincia.

PESCARA has 6 1/2 miles of seaside promenade, wide sandy beaches and a large number of bathing stations; it has become the most popular resort in the Mid-Adriatic. On the tenth day take the splendid seaside drive that links Francavilla through the Pescara pinewood to the important resort of MONTESILVANO, from which leave the coast to climb along the national highway up the eastern slopes of the Gran Sasso to LORETO APRUTINO, a pretty town on a hill; there are 12th-13th century frescoes in the church of Santa Maria in Piano (13th cent.). The Acerbo Gallery contains ancient Abruzzo pottery. From here it is a short distance to PENNE (19 mi. from Pescara), a city of proud Roman, medieval and Risorgimento traditions. To be seen: the church of San Domenico and that of the Annunziata, the Cathedral, the church of Santa Maria in Colleromano; another 26 kms (16 1/4 mi.) brings us to the turning for ATRI with a splendid Romanesque Cathedral (Gothic interior with fine frescoes-the most important cycle in the Abruzzi) and other Romanesque churches. From Atri the road descends to the sea again (15 km. – 9 1/2 mi.) at Pineto degli Abruzzi, from which one arrives at GIULIANOVA. There may be time for a swin at Giulianova before climbing up again to TERAMO

TERAMO (25 km. – 15 1/2 mi.) an ancient Picenian city which later became Roman and then Longobard. Fine Cathedral with richly decorated Portal (1332), in which there is the frontal by Nicola da Guardiagrele and a superb Altar-Piece by Iacobello del Fiore (15th century).

On the next day of the journey we leave Teramo early in the morning for 37 km. (23 mi.) of driving through mountains and gorges which bring us to ASCOLI PICENO.

Ascoli Piceno - Photo © paul goyette
Ascoli Piceno – Photo © paul goyette

ASCOLI PICENO, an inhabited center since the Bronze Age, rich in Romanesque and medieval monuments. This wonderful city will come as a complete surprise to the foreign visitor, who may very well never have heard of it. Our program envisages seeing it on the afternoon of the eleventh day and the morning of the twelfth. We will begin at Piazza del Popolo, which for its sober elegance is one of the finest piazzas in Italy.

On one side is the massive Palazzo del Popolo (13th cent.) with its Renaissance portal (inside there is an Archaeological Museum).

Through a perspective of two small battlemented 16th century palaces, we see at one end the side wall, apses and slim hexagonal bell-towers of San Francesco. Near the porch of this church, in Corso Mazzim, is the elegant Merchants’ Loggia (15th century) which continues the architecture of the facade, one side is open and is used as a busy market, the other is closed, silent and peaceful.

In Piazza dell’Arringo rises the magnificent 17th century Palazzo dell’Arringo or del Comune with tall caryatids flanking the windows (inside a rich Art Gallery with works by, primitives, Carlo Crivelli, Titian, Correggio, Magnasco, Reni, Rubens, Canaletto).

Opposite are the Cathedral and the superb Romanesque Baptistery, built over a Roman temple. In Via Bonaparte stands the fine Palazzo Bonaparte 16th century Lombard work. Taking Vial, Repubblica past the Public Gardens we reach San Vittore, a pretty Romanesque church; along Corso Mazzini we arrive at Palazzo Malaspina, an imaginatively built and rather rough building of the 16th century, with a loggia supported on columns carved to look like tree-trunks.

Going right, along Via Sacconi we arrive at the River Trento by the ancient solitary Porta Tufilla through which, proceeding along Via Bartolomei, we arrive at Santa Maria Inter Vineas: here at hand there are the churches of San Vincenzo with its very rare Romanesque coffered facade and a Romanesque portal, and San Pietro Martire. Go as far as the Roman Bridge and then turn back along Via Soderini with its fine Lombard House, wander through the streets of the fine medieval quarter with its towers, the ancient severity of its house-fronts and the Romanesque church of San Giacomo, the Roman Porta Gemina, the Gothic church of Sant’Agostino, opposite which are the two Towers which give the street its name – Via delle Torri.

Leave Ascoli by Porta Romana and turn left off the Via Salaria after 8 km. (5 mi.) to climb between steep mountain slopes (to the left Monte Vettore 2422 m. – 7933 ft.) to Comunanza (34 km. – 21 1/4 mi.) and 9 km. (5314 mi.) farther on AMANDOLA with the fine 15th century churches of Sant’Agostino and San Franceseo (frescoes). The road then drops to SARNANO, a fine medieval town with the churches of Santa Maria di Piazza and San Franceseo (inside a rare panel painting by Crivelli) and so to URBISAGLIA perched on a hill, with its massive 14th century Castle to reach finally at 49 km. (30 3/4 mi.) from Ascoli, the ABBEY OF FIASTRA (1141) a wonderful Romanesque Cistercian Basilica Another 10 km. (6 1/4 mi.) brings us to MACERATA.

MACERATA, an ancient city in a pleasant hill setting between the Potenza and Chienti valleys. Its most curious monument is an old sports ground, the Neo-Classical Sferisferio (1829) built for the game of “pallone” once very popular in the Marches, and where opera seasons with famous international singers are new held every summer. From here to the Baroque Cathedral (good tryptych by Nuzi in interior) near which we find the 18th century Madonna della Misericordia. Along Via Don Minzoni, leaving Palazzo Marefossi to the right and the ancient University (1290) to the left, we reach Piazza Liberia with the Palazzo della Prefettura and the Merchants’ Loggia (1490) and the Torre di Piazza. There are fine buildings in Corso Matteotti including the 16th century Palazzo Ferri with rhomboid rustication. In the Art Gallery (Piazza Vittorio Veneto), fine primitive paintings and an expressive Madonna by Crivelli. The next morning we go down into the valley of the Potenza to Villa Potenza (6 km. – 3 3/4 mi.) near which are the vast ruins of the Roman Helvia Retina, destroyed by the Visigoths.

Turning to the right, one goes down into the valley, as far as RECANATI, birthplace of the great 19th century poet Giacomo Leopardi: there is a group of noteworthy churches here, including San Domenico, with frescoes by Lorenzo Lotto, Santa Maria di Montemorello next to be noted for a group of works by Lotto, paintings by primitives, Guercino etc. Going farther down the valley (11 km. – Tam.) brings us to LORETO.

LORETO, a little town dominated by its Sanctuary, built by Sangallo, Andrea Sansovino and other architects (1518-1522) and containing an enormous wealth of works of art, in the church, the treasury and the adjoining Museum-marbles and bronzes by Benedetto da Maiano, Bandinelli, Sansovino etc., frescoes and panel and canvas paintings by Melozzo da Forli, Signorelli, Pomarancio, Garofalo, Lotto, Maratta, Rein, Domenichino, Caracci, Magnasco-and majolica work, tapestries and jewellery. After 4 km. (2 1/2 mi.) we reach PORTO RECANATI on the Adriatic and take the coast road which skirts the magnificent spur of Monte Conero, to Sirolo and its beautiful Romanesque church of Santa Maria di Portonovo by the sea. After 35 km. (21 1/2 mi.) we reach ANCONA.

ANCONA, a city with numerous monuments from all the periods in its long history. Entering by the Baroque Porta Pia at the southern extremity of the port we go towards Piazza Garibaldi. Within easy reach of this point we find the wonderful Portal of Sant’Agostino (1475) built on to a house when the church was demolished, the central Piazza della bepubblica with its Neo-classical Theatre, the Palazzo della Prefettura with its graceful courtyard, the ancient and curious “Fountain of the 33 Jets” and many rugged arches and severe medieval house-fronts. Wide steps lead us to the Baroque San Domenico to see Titian’s Crucifixion and Guercino’s Annunciation. Then we go to the Romanesque Church of San Pietro, with important sculpture and the Piazza del Senato and the very fine Palazzo del Senato which houses the National Museum of the Marches, one of the most important archaeological collections in Italy, particularly as regards pre-Roman Adriatic cultures.

Near here, in a fine palace overlooking the sea, is the important Art Gallery with works by Primitives and also by Crivelli, Lotto, an exceptional canvas by Titian etc. Opposite this palace the theatrical Church of the Gesu by Vanvitelli. It is best to ask the way to the Romanesque Santa Maria della Piazza, the most beautiful church in Ancona, with its facade composed of a striking series of superimposed Romanesque loggias. Close at hand is the Gothic Merchants’ Loggia with noteworthy Renaissance sculpture. Then one must go the whole length of Via Vanvitelli to the Cathedral of San Ciriaco; there is no other cathedral in Italy which boasts such a position, overlooking a precipice into the sea on a lonely promontory. It is of Greek Cross plan with a marvelous porch resting on two carved lions. Lastly, on the end of the jetty there is a Roman Arch built in honor of Trajan, who built the port of Ancona.

On the last day of our journey we leave Ancona and turn off at 11 km. (7 mi.) to visit the ABBEY OF CHIARAVALLE (1172) 5 km. (3 mi.) inland. After another 12 km. (7 1/2 mi.) comes IESI where Frederick II of Swabia was born, with its beautiful Palazzo della Signoria (15th century) and a good Art Gallery.

Back on the coast road, we reach SENIGALLIA with its Cathedral, its 15th century Palazzo Comunale and the 17th century church della Croce, Three km. (1 3/4 mi.) farther on is the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie with a Renaissance cloister and a Perugino Madonna.

Then we take the coast road again, which in 34 km. along the coast (21 1/4 mi.) brings us back to Pesaro.

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