Here we are on the fourth and last day of “#frasassitour: discover the Frasassi Caves and surrounding area”.
So far we have been charmed by good weather, and this morning – June 20th, 2016 – the sun keeps smiling.
Today we will visit three wonderful towns in the province of Ancona: Fabriano, Serra San Quirico and Cupramontana, along an itinerary of about 30 kilometers.
Fabriano, a “creative city” deep in the Umbria-Marche hills and Apennine mountains, is an important hub for both crafts and industrial production, and is globally renowned for its paper. It welcomes us in all of its medieval splendor.
The Piazza del Comune, once known as “Platea Magna”, is named after the imposing 14th-century Town Hall building that was re-built in the 17th century; it is divided equally between sun and shade.
We visit the 13th-century Palazzo del Podestà. Its magnificent rib vault – under which a branch of the Giano, the city river, once flowed – attracts us like the charming entrance to a mysterious world.
The building is a symbol of Fabriano – a Ghibelline town that in the mid-15th century became an important center of the Papal States – and represents a history of municipal pride, battles for freedom, and laic and religious powers that alternated over time.
In front of the white stone façade of Palazzo del Podestà, slightly to the side, the Sturinalto gushes under the sun. The beautiful 1285 fountain, whose name means “pushes water upwards”, was built as a monument to the city’s power. It was modeled after Perugia’s Fontana Maggiore, by Nicola and Giovanni Pisano.
Next to Palazzo del Comune, on the long side of the square, the nineteen arches of the San Francesco Loggiato (open gallery) once connected to the church of the same name, which was torn town in the mid-1800s. Pope Nicholas V had had it built in the 15th century, but the portico’s current layout – with its striking perspective effects – was designed in the late 1600s.
A short walk from the town square, in the upper part of the city, we reach the solemn façade of the Fabriano Cathedral, dedicated to Saint Venanzio, in pink bricks and white Doric pilasters. Originally built as far back as the 11th century, it was rebuilt in the 17th century in its present form.
We enter the church through the right door – the central one, higher and more impressive than the two lateral ones, is closed – and are immediately taken aback by the triumph of “voids” that “fills” the Latin-cross building. It is the effect of the unexpected view of ten side chapels – five on each side –, barrel vaults, and deep, 14th-century apse in the back. Light filters from the large windows into the many cavities of the church, and also radiates on the “fullness” of extraordinary decorations and works (such as the beautiful 17th-cenruty stuccoes by Ticino-born Francesco Selva).
We get lost for a while among the frescoes and chapels – the Chapel of San Lorenzo, painted by Allegretto Nuzi, dates back to the 14th century like the apse and cloister – and enjoy the silence.
But Fabriano is also the capital of paper, so we must pay a visit to the local Paper and Watermark Museum, located inside a former Dominican Convent (where, among other things, you can admire two 15th-century cloisters and a beautiful chapter house, painted in 1480 by Antonio da Fabriano drawing inspiration from Fra Angelico’s paintings for the Convent of San Marco in Florence).
With linen, hemp, cotton and special dyes, the master papermaker at the Museum – where among other things you can see an exact replica of a medieval “fulling mill” – demonstrates how sheets for rare editions, art prints, artistic drawings, graduation diplomas and much more are made. He gives us a glimpse of the “paper beauty” that still makes Fabriano a city of excellence in Europe and the world.
With few necessary changes, the technique is the same craftsmen used in Fabriano in the 14th century: pulp is immersed in a vat and spread on fine wire mesh, sheets are dehydrated and hung to dry, then paper is waterproofed using animal gelatin and finished…
Our next stop is Serra San Quirico, some twenty kilometers from Fabriano. To reach the small town we go back across the Regional Park of Gola della Rossa and Frasassi that we visited yesterday.
Serra San Quirico – which you can recognize from a distance from the ocher outline of the sandstone it is largely built in – is a fortified medieval village, reborn after a series of ruinous barbarian devastations, thanks to the involvement of an important saint, the Ravenna-born monk Romuald (953-1027) who founded the church of Saints Quirico and Giuditta here in 980.
An interesting peculiarity of the local fortifications – built in the 12th century, when Serra San Quirico became part of the Papal State – is the presence of “copertelle”, i.e. covered walkways, built on the city walls along the north-western side of the village. As we walk along them, we let our gaze fly to the hilly landscape that opens to our left, beyond the large windows. In here, the Middle Ages seem to have never finished…
However, it’s an easy leap four centuries forward to find ourselves in the middle of the Baroque Age: all we have to do is dive into the paintings and polychrome marbles of the 17th-century Church of Saint Lucia, a small structure built in 1650 by Leonardo Scaglia, born Leonard Chailleau – a French sculptor and artist who was entrusted by the local Silvestrine monks with rebuilding their parish after it was destroyed, with the adjacent monastery, by an earthquake.
We are catapulted into a sumptuous and colorful sacred theater of gilding, stucco, paintings and carvings. We are surrounded by silver and wood reliquaries, furniture and frontals; we look around and see magnificent paintings – including one attributed to Guido Reni in one of six chapels, and the ones portraying the martyrdom of Saint Lucia in the apse; we are under “siege” by the wooden choir stalls and the frescoes on the vault ceilings above… It all reminds us of verses by Baroque writer Giambattista Marino, “The poet’s goal is to surprise with wonders”… which probably applies to more than just poets.
We have happily nourished the spirit, now the body claims its share. It goes without saying that we will find the way to meet our most natural needs for nutrition with something that will further benefit the spirit. We like to be flexible in our response to human desires…
Therefore, we head for lunch in Cupramontana, about 10 kilometers from Serra San Quirico. Metaphorically drunk of the harsh Middle Ages and sweet Baroque, we must be careful not to get literally drunk with the wonderful, local Verdicchio… After all, the most important event of Cupramontana is the grape festival. A celebration that is deeply felt in the beautiful town – but unfortunately, being held in October, cannot be part of our tour.
Despite that, this is a place where nobody can escape the temptation of wine, and, of course, we give in to this seduction willingly.
We do this by going to “Enocupra”, the municipal wine shop located in an exhibition space – “Musei in Grotta” – inside the grottos of the Monastery of Saint Catherine. The location is also home to the Label Museum, where the most prestigious wines are displayed in bright, light, metal showcases.
We decide to follow the itinerary dedicated to taste, “La strada del Gusto”, which crosses flavors, traditions, and local companies.
So finally, with a glass of Verdicchio, we taste ciauscolo and local cheese, bringing this beautiful Marche Tour to a delightful conclusion.
Restaurants: Trattoria Anita, in Cupramontana, for the traditional dishes of Marche’s cuisine: Via Fabio Filzi, 7, tel.: +39 0731 780311