If you are planning your first trip to Italy, Le Marche, sometimes known as The Marches, is unlikely to be among the first destination that spring to you mind. It is hard to pinpoint the reasons of this region’s lack of popularity among international tourists: it combines extraordinary natural beauty and a rich and diverse scenery with unique artistic, historic and archaeological sites. Its illustrious children include the pioneer of modern education Maria Montessori and the celebrated poet Giacomo Leopardi. If we were to indulge in a small outburst of national pride, we could say that anywhere else a region such as Le Marche would be a national gem, but since it is located in central Italy, it has to contend with the likes of Rome and Florence, which tend to win the spotlight nine times out of ten. Le Marche has the enormous advantage of being conveniently located to allow you to move easily to several points of interest. This makes it an excellent base for a business or incentive trip that requires you take in multiple destinations. As usual, we want to share a few tips with you, suggesting that you spend your free time in the region visiting sites that do not usually feature on mainstream tourist routes.
1. Explore the underground cities below Camerano and Osimo
Le Marche may be perceived by many a national tourist as a cheerful destination for a seaside holiday, but it conceals a heart of dark and mysterious secrets. Two of its cities, for instance, were built over vast underground tunnel systems. Under the city of Camerano lies a complex labyrinth of sandstone caves. Initially believed to have been built as a series of wine cellars and storage rooms, as the exploration progressed, the caves revealed a level of architectural beauty and complexity that led historians and archaeologists to deduce they were meant to host people, rather goods. They might have had religious purposes, like early Christian crypts and catacombs, or they could have been designed as long- or short-term accommodation for the local population in case of external attacks. The city of Osimo, on the other hand, has an actual underground twin. It comprises 88 caves, stretching for nearly 6 miles, sometimes on different levels of underground depth. The shape and size of the tunnels confirms that they were created as one massive effort rather than a series of subsequent projects. Their original purpose is a mystery that still eludes us. Some believe them to have been a training ground or the site of initiation rites of ancient religious orders such as the Knights Templar. We confidently expect a Dan Brown book featuring either the Osimo or The Camarano Caves anytime now.
2. The Celtic Egg
This is another entirely mysterious archaeological finding whose original purpose has not been determined with certainty. This curious artefact, now believed to be Celtic in origin, was first unearthed in the late 80s in the vicinity of the main church of the town of Sarnano, in the province of Macerata. It consists of one large boulder, egg-shaped and with what appears to be a basin carved into the summit. The whole egg measures nearly four feet and weighs three tons. It currently resides in the town square, Piazza Alta, and it is believed to have been an astronomical device. The conclusion has been drawn because of its similarity to another artefact, found in Terni, whose purpose was to use the reflection of the sky in the water-filled basin to study portions of the firmament and determine the dates of certain religious feasts and the flow of the seasons. Another accredited hypothesis is that the stone basin was used for magical and divinatory purposes and filled with soil, in which several seeds would be planted: the first seed to grow would determine the crop to be planted for the following year.
3. Le Marche’s own Grand Canyon: Lame Rosse
Close to the Fiastra lake you will find the perfect example of just how diverse the scenery can be in this region. The rock formation known as Lame Rosse (literally Red Blades) is by all intents and purposes a canyon and you should explore it as one. It will not be as hard as the actual Grand Canyon: the path is relatively short and easy and it is suitable even to those who have no experience of canyoning whatsoever. It takes about an hour at a leisurely pace. The canyon was formed not by erosion of a river into its own bed, as it often the case with American canyons, but by erosion of the rainwater into the side of the mountain and is therefore shaped like a wide and beautiful natural amphitheatre. Mother nature was even gracious enough as to place large steps for you to sit on at the end of your walk and contemplate the magnificent spectacle of this rocky valley from a vantage point. Bring your camera.
4. Visit Sasso Simone Natural Park
There are lovely beaches in this region, as well as those typically Italian rolling hills. And then there is a canyon. And then there is the Australian Outback. Ok, no, this is not the case, but if you look at the flat rock formation known as Sasso Simone (Literally Simon’s Rock. As in The Baptist, not as in Simon says), you will be strangely reminded of that iconic view of Australia. Sasso Simone is a massive and unusually neatly-shaped formation of calcareous rock, which literally towers over the region on the Tuscan side, with its impressive height of over 3000 feet. During the renaissance, it was Cosimo De Medici’s intention to build a citadel on this rock, it was to be called the City of the Sun and to serve both as a defence outpost for Florence and as the first example of a perfect city, built according to criteria of geometrical and functional harmony in order to make it both an ideal living environment and an efficient military fortification. The project was too ambitious even for the ever-powerful Medici family and it was abandoned by the end of the XVII century, so that nowadays only a few ruins and a cobbled street remain as testimony of this disproportionate endeavour. Sasso Simone is currently part of a vast natural reserve known as Parco Simone e Simoncello (since it also includes Mount Simoncello), under the jurisdiction of the province of Arezzo, in Tuscany, managed together with the Marche and Emilia-Romagna regions.
5. Go to a museum and touch everything
Go on, you are allowed to. Be sure you pick the right museum though, because usually this kind of behaviour will get you thrown out, possibly with a fine. If you visit the Omero Museum in Ancona, however, touching everything is precisely the point of your visit. Named after the celebrated and allegedly blind Greek author of the Iliad and the Odyssey, this is one of the few tactile museums in existence. Its stated purpose is the promotion of integration of the visually impaired and it will allow you to experience art and reality in an unusual way. The museum’s permanent collection includes reproductions of famous architectures and artworks that are to be enjoyed as part of a multisensorial path, designed to teach all visitors, whether they are visually impaired or not, to search for beauty through the stimuli that reach their skin, specifically their hands. You will learn that a statue can be perceived as beautiful and memorable even if you can’t physically look at it. It is a most rewarding experience and one that we recommend to any kind of visiting party: whether you are here on business on your own or holidaying with your kids, you should take some time out of your schedule to learn something about yourself and about the way in which we are trained to interpret reality.