THE HIGH VIA FLAMINIA – MARCHE REGION
I stop: On the track of Rome
Ponte Grosso and in the background the Serra del Burano mountains in Pontedazzo
Pontericciòli (Cantiano). At a safe distance, a cat is watching you suspicious. It doesn’t seem used to seeing strangers. This archaeological place must not be so frequented. The signs guide you towards a farmhouse. Then you have to carry on by foot, leaving behind the cluck of hens. The narrow trail enters in the foliage. It is difficult to think of the ancient Via Flaminia here. Yet a hundred meters after, the Roman cobblestone appears. Isolated by a wooden fence, it continues on Tre Archi bridge. The structure tracks a wide semicircle between the underlying glade and upper hill. The blades of grass sprouts from shiny hewn stones. In a charming environment, the hidden rural area is almost like a gorge surrounded by the Apennines ridges. As an interlocking construction of Legos or a piece of the Playmobil track, in giant sizes, the Augustan fornixes of the bridge crosses the road from nothing to nothing. This refined engineering work appears from the earth and dies in the earth. It is like discovering a civilization that has been buried for 2200 years and seeing that smoothed surface for consumption. Surrounded by other remains of bridges, sewers and substructures, the high Via Flaminia begins with this amazing landscape. Route. From Pontericciòli we leave again by overcoming Cantiano. On the new and busy Via Flaminia, in the village of Pontedazzo, the signal is super clear: Roman bridge. We turn to park immediately after, along the torrent Burano. To admire the majesty of Grosso bridge, in the right season, you can descend on the heap of stones that surrounds the river bed. Double arcades 7 meters high stand out on the beautiful Serra di Burano. The small mountainous conformation divides the Tiber basin, which reaches the Tyrrhenian Sea, from the one of Burano, which slips into the Adriatic Sea. The natural park Bosco di Tecchie with Turkey oaks and beeches covers the uplands. We continue towards Cagli. The insulation of Tre Archi bridge counterbalances the urban obstruction of Ponte Mallio. It has lost the centrality of the street network too, but the new city viaduct skirts it within a few meters in a strange contrast between stone and bricks. Great part of the structure is underground, its use is marginal, but it is worth appreciating its beauty. After taking again the new Flaminia you will have to exit following the indication of Furlo. The Viadotto di San Vincenzo, of Augustan age, is near the namesake abbey church. The archaeological complex borders on the road. It had the purpose of repairing the Roman road by the floods of river Candigliano. Before going forward, there is a surprise waiting for us: there was also another Flaminia. Let’s take a step back.
II stop: the “Vurgacci” of river Potenza
Pioraco. The panorama of Croce seems like it has slipped from the Dolomites. Under it, the village appears to be enclosed between the mountains Primo and Gemmo. The two rocky walls dominate the town skirting the houses, the bell towers, the renowned paper mill. Like the curtains of a theatre, they open up with a view over the lush valley of river Potenza. However, in Pioraco, the river tangles up itself. From the beautiful urban park the singular intersection of watercourses was already noticeable. Potenza River comes from the nearby Monte Pennino in the west. In front of the church of San Francesco, the torrent Scarzito leads into it from south, just before Potenza river bends in the north. By crossing the beautiful bridge Marmone, originally Roman, it bypasses the village. Once you can see it arriving peaceful from Fiuminata. Then you see it calm, exiting towards Castelraimondo. But in the woods that skim the houses something magical happens. As an ogre, it twists in turbulent vortexes, from which derives its dialectal name Vurgacci. To admire them, from the panoramic viewpoint you have to descend the appropriate path. The pedestrian path winds for 500 meters in the shade of the trees up to the paper mill, which exploits the power of water for its production. While you can hear its thunder, you have to proceed along an organised path that follows and crosses the river banks. A beautiful waterfall falls for ten meters above a wooden gangway, another one forms an inviting pond 100 meters later, and another one still peeps out from behind a gorge. And around there are sheer rocks, caves and ravines, aquatic plants, lichens and mosses. You can clearly forget to be just a few meters from the village. You may not find the ogres but pay attention to the monsters, Grotesque sculptures made with stone by the artist Antonio Ciccarelli. The itinerary is accessible also on the other side, but only from April to October. Route. Old roadway of the ancient Via Flaminia: the plaque on the mountain slab, next to the indication for the Vurgacci, is just outside Pioraco. Proof that the Flaminia had a southern variant. It departed from Nocera Umbra and reached San Severino Marche. The current Via Septempedana, referring to the latin name of the latter, crosses the border of Umbria and Marche and touches the Adriatic in Ancona. From this port, it rejoined the main branch of Fano. Leaving Nocera Umbra, the welcoming sign in the high valley of the rivers Potenza and Scarzito comes immediately after the Umbrian boundary. From Pioraco, Roman station, you can follow the southern Flaminia until Castelraimondo. From here, it bends towards the north to assist another spectacle of nature and of man: Frasassi. Recommended stops in Matelica, Esanatoglia and Monte San Vicino.
III stop: The original Frasassi Caves
Church of the Beata Vergine di Frasassi or Temple of Valadier
Genga. You should thank those who brought you here without telling you nothing about it. If you swore at them for the steep climb of 700 meters, at the last turn of the cobbled lane, after just avoiding a vicious spike of rock, remain silent while you pass the small gate: the vision has the charm of never-seen-before things. A church, Neoclassical, is inside the first cave, the parietal one is guarding the second. The soundtrack will be the flowing of Sentino, to look at from the suspended sheer yard. And the bottom will be the white twin cliffs of the gorge. The real name is "Grotte di Frasassi", but in this way one will think of stalactites and stalagmites of spectacular karst caverns, discovered in 1971. The appropriation of that name misrepresents history, which is much more ancient than the original ones. They open on the opposite side of the gorges at 1,5 km away from the entrance of the most famous ones. The name refers to the church of Santa Maria Infra Saxa, which guarded one of the caves, and to the one of the Beata Vergine di Frasassi, located inside another cave. The first church seems to be the continuation of the rock; the second looks like a spaceship built-in a cave. The oldest, of the XII century, was a cloistered monastery of Benedictine nuns; the most recent was realized by Valadier in 1828 on behalf of Pope Leo XII, that honoured the native land. Route. The park has a surface of more than 10,000 hectares. You can park in the small town of San Vittore Terme. Its square is distinguished by the view of San Vittore alle Chiuse Abbey (XI century), placed in a scenery of mountain walls. Shining example of Romanesque architecture, it houses in its interior the Museo Archeospeleopaleontologico. The Roman bridge on the Sentino and the medieval tower of defense complete the scenery. The three km long stroll requires 45 minutes and allows an integral vision of the gorge. Past the Madonnina dei Rocciatori, off the entrance of the most famous caves, raise your head towards the opposite wall. The Italian copy of the Lorelei cliff hosts the midday’s cave, cross to bear and delight of free climbers. The ascent to the mentioned temple of Valadier requires other 20 minutes. You can safely reach this point by car and travel by foot only this last stretch. The first exploration within its cave dates back to 1872. Researchers found several archaeological findings belonging to various eras. Extraordinary in 2007 was the discovery of the "Paleolithic Venus", realized on a stalactite fragment of 8 centimetres. Take the car again and in an hour you will reach the Furlo one from this side.
IV stop: The Furlo gorge
Fermignano, view of the Furlo gorge
Between Acqualagna e Fermignano. “Beautiful surprise: the road was accessible only by foot or by bike. Previously we were relegated on sidewalks, now we can walk in the middle of the road. Mayors, keep it closed!" For a few months, calls like these are being wasted on the internet. Due to a landslide, the Municipality of Fermignano firstly arranged the complete closing of the gorge in 2013, then they restored the access only to pedestrians and cyclists in 2015. The latter ordinance transformed the gorge into one of the most extraordinary places for walking in Italy. The partial interruption is inside the section between the public park La Golena and Enel’s dam. Coming from south, you have to exit when you see the first sign for Furlo, right after Acqualagna. By looking up, on the left wall, you can still recognise the remains of the Duce’s profile. The forest service of the Blackshirts built it in 1936 on Monte Pietralata, through dry stone walls, which improved in this sense the original nature of the stone. It was partially destroyed after World War II. The park La Golena, where you can park, is a pleasant balcony overlooking the river. Several restaurants and bars make it a very well served place, without altering its pleasantness. Between willows and poplars, we reach the side of river Candigliano where the riverbed spreads itself and then bends to the left. The riparian vegetation is typical of the ecosystems of rivers.
Route. One hundred meters beyond the park, the roadblock starts. The intense green of the river can be admired in the most absolute peace, as it never happened before. Let’s walk in the shade of Monte Pietralata, while the eyes raise on the white walls of Paganuccio mountain. Both of them are almost one thousand meters high. The Grotta del Grano appears on the left. The name of the archaeological site derives from the discovery of different carbonised cereals, dating back to the Middle Ages. Once you reach the "panoramic viewpoint", you can descend until you can touch the river. The Roman substructures emerge from the waters on the left. Due to the block of Pietralata that is towards the Adriatic Sea, the old Flaminia wedged itself along the gorges. The accessibility was guaranteed thanks to a terracing, raised up to 20 meters. Built in the Augustan age, in 27 B.C., it still represents the base on which the current road is founded. Another example of Roman engineering is the nearby "chiavicotto". The drainage channel can be seen descending from the edge of the road. At the top, you can also notice the cavity of the mountain from which the waters drained away. About 3 km later, there are two parallel tunnels. The smaller one, not so accurate, was dug as a temporary solution for the passage of a single wagon; the bigger one was opened by the emperor Vespasian in 76 A.D. It solved definitively the connection between the Flaminia and Fano.
V stop: The Renaissance balconies
Pieve del Colle (Urbania). We descend along the vineyard, on a delimited path. Simply follow the signs "Balconi di Piero", just outside the entrance of the farm. The panoramic viewpoint is 80 meters below. In front of us, the Piana di San Silvestro opens up among the hills of Farneta and San Lorenzo. More than wavy elevations, they look like separated anthills. Organized in a wedge shape, they close the northeast perspective towards Urbino. You can watch the nature extending at your feet and then the work shown in the support panels. They show the Trionfi by Piero della Francesca, the most modern artist between Renaissance painters. The comparison leaves you amazed. If we exclude the small lake, no longer existing, it is as if that landscape was painted by a cartographer. Made in 1465 in Urbino and exhibited today at the Galleria degli Uffizi, this oil on panel piece displays Federico da Montefeltro and Battista Sforza on triumphal carriages. The background of the other part of the diptych, the spouses’ portrait, should correspond to the view from the nearby village Ca’ Mocetto. The project Montefeltro Vedute Rinascimentali, by the Marche and Emilia-Romagna regions, opens a new suggestive approach to cultural tourism.
Route. We leave the Flaminia for Acqualagna, right after the first turn to Furlo. From the provincial road Metaurense, between Urbania and Urbino, we go up for 5 km in the direction of Pieve del Colle in a hilly outline of great charm. We park in the namesake farm holiday to enjoy the landscape of Trionfi. In that plain it seems like that the battle of Metauro had taken place, won by the Romans against the Carthaginians in 207 B.C. In order to appreciate the river you have to reach Fermignano, just 10 km east. Once you parked the car in Via Metauro, descend towards the riverbed. The view from the Roman bridge, the medieval tower and the double jump of the waterfalls looks like a postcard. Donato Bramante was born in this village, master of sixteenth-century architecture. 10 km further and we are in Urbino. When you reach the loggias of Palazzo Ducale the view over the hills, covered with horse chestnuts, Aleppo pines and downy oaks, confirms the integrity of the landscape. The Parco della Resistenza, with the Albornoz stronghold, opens to a magnificent view across the old town centre. Do not settle for this: go 500 meters further along Via Bruno Buozzi and walk down the hill. You will fully see the extraordinary facade of the Torricini, which were once hidden. It is the same image that Cristoforo Unterperger painted in the XVIII century in the apse of the Duomo. "A city in the form of a Palace", as Baldassarre Castiglione used to describe it.
VI stop: The panoramas of the fortresses
Gradara, panorama of the Malatesta family walls
Corinaldo. When you see the skinner’s tower, you wonder what level of cruelty had reached the inhabitants of Corinaldo. Then you find out that the city towers were assigned, after the Middle Ages, to needy people. And in part, knowing that in there resided a sheep’s skinner it’s reassuring. Visiting Corinaldo without traveling along the one kilometre long walls, is like going to Venice and forgetting the Canal Grande. The community seems to have a pulsating and lively relationship with these towers. You are aware of it, once you cross Porta del Mercato, when you have in front of you the wonderful staircase of the Piaggia. The barycentric Pozzo della Polenta was reconstructed only 35 years ago. You can see it in the Torre dello Sperone: the war memorial is inserted in its bosom. You can compare it with the Landroni, that run under the houses of the XVIII century imitated with recent “rough” terraces of Via Simonetti. You will certainly notice it in the Torre del Calcinaro, where they used to macerate the skins, or in the one of Mangano, where they pressed the fabrics. You can discover this in the walkway that ends unexpectedly at the Porta del Mercato, and from the opposite entrance you will find the notice that the tower house is subjected to legal seizure. Everything is so surprising that you wonder what to expect behind the corner: the views over ploughed hills. The small rectangular plots are separated by organised lines of oaks. Do not miss two of them: from the Torre della Rotonda and from the top of Porta San Giovanni. Here Prince Charles stayed for a long period of time. Besides any royal protocol, he equipped himself with canvas and colours and began to paint the Marche countryside.
Routes. The Sienese artist Francesco Di Giorgio Martini (1439-1501) is remembered as a civil and military architect. After the Municipal Palace of Cagli, where you can visit the Museum of the Via Flaminia (as in Cantiano), and the Ducal Palace of Urbino, where he followed Francesco Laurana, we find his genius in the fortresses of Mondavio, Corinaldo and Mondolfo. The history of Gradara is a more ancient one. Each path of walls is different from the other and every time we stop to watch the moving views under the reddish purple stones. Mondavio rotates around its Roverasca fortress, in understandable admiration and beauty subjection. Corinaldo is the direct expression of gates and towers. Mondolfo has double castle walls, which survived after the fortress demolition at the beginning of the XX century. In Gradara the beat is so beautiful and homogeneous, above the buildings, that reminds a cloak-and-dagger movie. For those coming by car from the SS3 we suggest you to take the exit for Fossombrone and follow our visit agenda.
VII stop: The hidden life of river Esino
Ripa Bianca Natural Reserve. The artificial lake where herons nest.
Iesi. The moorhen swims quiet without noticing it is being filmed like a star. All we have to do is move to watch the canes emerging from the marsh and a willow tree that dives in the waters. The birdwatching station is completely covered with beige wooden boards. Benches and counters are placed all along the slope overlooking the lake. Windows are filtered by green curtains to hide the observers. "Please speak quietly" is written at the entrance. And then a series of other strict instructions. The view opens on the old quarry of San Biagio, a deep wound in the landscape which today is healed. For centuries, here there was an oak grove. First came the chainsaws and took away all the available wood. Then it was the turn of the excavators that began to perforate the earth to extract the gravel. When the extractive activity ended, nature prevailed once again. The great hollow dug with the excavator was covered with water, forming an impressive lake two hectares long and four meters deep. And without an apparent reason it became the largest site of the Marche for the nesting of herons. The noises of the construction industry today are replaced by the swooshing of rushes, of the croaking of frogs, of the melodies of birds.
Route. “No movie or picture, no matter how beautiful they are, will enable you to grasp the hidden life in river nature". This is how Sergio Romagnoli wrote, the inspirer of the Natural Reserve Ripa Bianca di Jesi. He was killed in Africa in 1994, while working as a volunteer in an orphanage. The WWF oasis was founded in 1997 to encourage that "direct experience of the humble and curious visit of the river" theorized by Romagnoli. The reserve has an extension of 319 hectares. The four environments proposed during the visit are: the rural area, with the sustainable cultivation that resumes the regional cultures; the heronry, which covers the artificial lake created by the previous extractive activity; the Nature Centre, which is located at the old farmstead, where there are the classrooms, services and the information office; finally the river area, consisting of poplars and willows, islets and gravelly areas with shrubs vegetation. A 1,5 km long hiking trail exceeds the Esino river through a floating bridge. Removed in autumn and restored in the spring, it allows you to reach the badlands, surrounded by the riparian woods. When we visited the reserve, they told us that last winter the flood produced by the torrential flow of Esino had uprooted the bridge.
VIII stop: San Bartolo, a cliff on the sea
Urbino, photo by Paolo Milani
Pesaro. Baia Flaminia: the name testifies the ancient route up to Rimini. The creek laps Rossini’s city from west. You can find it right after the canal that leads the River Foglia to the Adriatic Sea. The sand is extremely fine and the sea bottom is low. San Bartolo shows up on the left slope and it softly encloses the sandy shore. We are approaching to the mountain. Certainly, it hasn’t got the roughness of Monte Conero. Behind us the messy palaces of the promenade wander away, above our head the shrubs of the park appear. Holes of white sandstone are inserted in the green coat at various latitudes. Bundles of broom embellish the vertical wall. We move forward along the underlying stone quarry, which descends towards the sea. The white cliff shows up after 500 meters of a narrow coastal path. To go on you must get wet by bypassing the rocks. In this case, the route can also last the entire 12 km coastline of San Bartolo.
Route. Established in 1994, the park covers about 1600 hectares between Pesaro and Gabicce. Villa Caprile and the Imperiale one represent its artistic excellences. Santa Marina, Fiorenzuola di Focara and Casteldimezzo are the delightful suburbs that you can meet along the way. Gabicce Monte is the city of Romagna that conquers a piece of high ground. We advise you to reach the top of the mount to appreciate further the landscapes. After taking the car again in Viale Varsavia, overlooking the beach of Baia Flaminia, we enter in the residential hilly area and we climb by taking the SP44. The first stop is in the panoramic area near the restaurant Gibas. The nearby pedestrian trail crosses the park slotting into the trees for 800 meters. The information plaques also tell a piece of history. In August 1944 the Nazis created the Gothic line against the allied advance from south. From the Apuane Alps the last Nazi defense system of Italy reached the strategic heights of San Bartolo. Kesselring against Alexander: the offensive on the Gothic line was the biggest Italian battle of World War II. It lasted five months and the battles touched each plot and cottage around here. The line was broken by the Allies on 6 January 1945. Today the path borders on a beautiful terraced vineyard, until it pops out on the Provincial road at a new overlook, equipped with a picnic area. The track descends from the benches towards a wood of conifers. By being careful about your ankles, you can reach the beach in 20 minutes. Isolated from the cliffs that touch the sea, you can crouch down to watch the flowing of waves. Civilization seems infinitely distant.