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Urbino, in the very north of the region, is said to be where the Renaissance began and it is famed as an exceptionally beautiful town, described by one author as: "a jumble of Renaissance and medieval houses".
This hill town was an important cultural centre in the 15th century drawing artists, writers and poets from across Europe. During the second half of the century the court was ruled by Federico da Montelfeltro a daunting soldier, an astute and intellectual ruler and the Illegitimate elder son of his family.
He only became ruler of Urbino after his menacing half-brother Oddantonio was assassinated during a popular rebellion. Federico made himself popular by cutting taxes although, in a region known as the home of tax collectors, there may have been dissenters!
Federico’s court was one of the most prestigious in Europe. He employed some of the greatest artists and architects of the time to build and decorate his palace - Palazzo Ducale - considered one of the most important buildings of the Renaissance.
Inside there is a significant regional art collection among which is the quirky portrait of La Muta by Raphael and Piero della Francesca’s works including the controversial Flagellation
San Leo, on the northern tip of Le Marche, almost on the border of Emilia Romagna, is rugged with sweeping views over the countryside – a formidably beautiful inspiration for Dante’s terrain in Purgatory.
A fortress, remaining since the Romans founded a city on the rock, stands at the summit of a vertiginous precipice. St Leo arrived at this village in the third century and converted the local population to Christianity.
But is notorious as home of the papal top security prison with its famous inmate Giuseppe Balsamo or Count Cagliostro as he was better known: fortune teller, miracle worker, freemason and the man who persuaded a large band of aristocratic followers that he had found the secret of eternal life. In fact he died in prison!
There are many more castles in this area, if you journey through the Monte Carpegna landscape - its name comes from the table-top mountain dominating the countryside at 750 metres above sea level. There are good opportunities for trekking here.
Ascoli Piceno, the provincial capital, is a gorgeously pretty town, much of it hewn from from local travertine.
So the story goes, the town owes its existence to a woodpecker that led a band of nomadic shepherds to the wedge of land between two rivers, the Castellano Torrent and the Tronto where it is situated.
The central Piazza del Popolo is flanked by Renaissance porticoes and in the evenings at passegiata time it becomes the heart and soul of the place.
The showy work of the Baroque architects is very evident in the Piazza Arringo. In the Duomo there hangs Crivelli’s magnificent panelled altarpiece of the Madonna and Child with Saints.
Jesi, known as “the little Milan of the Marche” has a well preserved historic centre flanked by medieval walls and there are Renaissance and Baroque palaces.
Particularly worth visiting is the Pinacoteca Civica with its 72-mete long stuccoed, gilded and frescoed gallery.
Best of the paintings are later woks by Lorenzo Lotto who, unlike his contemporaries Titian and Giorgione, chose to be an exile from the Venetian artworld. Jesi also produces a very fine Verdicchio wine.
Fermo , is one of the most alluring hilltowns in southern Marche, overlooking the Blue Mountains that inspired the poet Giacomo Leopardi.
The huge Maria Assunto in Cielo cathederal was built in 1227 , the front made in Istrian stone has a strikingly pretty rose-window and, unexpectedly, inside you find the chasuble of St Thomas a Becket of Canterbury as well as some important pieces of art including one by Rubens.
Equally special is the library next door the Palazzo dei Priori which houses more than 400 books, 200 old codes, 15,000 16th century books and thousands of old drawings and prints.
It is also an important port developed by Lorenzo Tiepolo, Mayor of Fermo, who became the Doge of Venice in the 13th century. Just 5km from the sea Fermo is a hub for Italy’s fishing industry and there is a nearby marina.
Macerata. The city was created after the Visigoths destroyed this Roman settlement in the 5th-6th century. Its inhabitants moved up to safer ground and founded Macerata now renowned for the international opera festival held there in the summer.
The centre was almost entirely built between the 16th and 19th centuries .The Renaissance two-tiered arcades of the Loggia dei Mercanti on central Piazza della Liberta' is talked of as the city’s most striking piece of architecture.
The best of the palaces line Corso Matteotti, the road that leaves the square at the side of the Loggia, while Corso della Repubblica will take you to Piazza Vittorio Veneto and the civic gallery and museum. Here is a mixed bag of works by Umbro-marchigiani painters - most important is Carlo Crivelli's Madonna and Child.
You might like to brush up your modern Italian history in one of the country's best museums dedicated to the Unification of Italy and wartime resistance - you'll find them in the same palazzo as the pictures.
By the river at Villa Potenza, lies ancient Helvia Ricina. where remains of the old city can still be seen and a few kilometres to the south of the city lies another outstanding monument. The Romanesque church of San Claudio al Chienti . It is one of the region's earliest and most important churches. It is in fact two churches, built one above the other, with separate entrances and flanked by two cylindrical towers. Built between the 5th and 7th centuries, probably on top of the ruins of a villa which formed part of the Roman city of Pausulae, it was constructed using material from the ancient ruins.
For details of other towns and places to visit the Marche Region Tourism Department publish an excellent guide Regione Marche – The Gateway to Central Italy. email@example.com
Their website is www.le-marche.com
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