Often ignored by tourists, Marche is one of the most fascinating regions in Italy. It has a quadrilateral shape and is located between Emilia Romagna, Tuscany, Umbria, and Abruzzo. This authentic region extends from the Apennines to the Adriatic Sea, yet its administrative boundaries do not always correspond to the natural boundaries defined by the geological elements.
As for the landscape, Marche is characterized by its peculiar geography, specific to Central Italy. The western side is dominated by hills and mountains that extend to the shores of the Adriatic, and the whole territory is scattered with traditional medieval villages that, from the heights of the cliffs, overlook the sea.
Marche’s cuisine and culture are closely tied with those of Umbria and Tuscany. Emilia Romagna has little influences in the region despite its geographical proximity, while influences from Abruzzo are also scarce.
The name of the region has Germanic origins. The term “Marche” refers to borderlands and designates a group of different territorial administrations joined by a common historical process. This is the case of Marche, a region formed in the tenth century AD from the union of different administrative areas called, literally, marche. When these special domains were unified under the Duchy of Urbino, the region gained its name.
Although considered archaic by many, Marche is one of the most dynamic regions in Italy, both economically and culturally. Regarding its development, Marche followed a constant growth rate that is often associated with Northern Italy.
Despite this aspect, the region was sometimes seen as a weak element that lacked the right polarization around a functional urban core. Nevertheless, the development of the region along the centuries was balanced and uniform. And it is safe to say that starting from the last decades of the twentieth century, the nation and the world started to rediscover this land of rare beauty.
Prehistory Of Marche
The oldest findings attesting the presence of ancient civilizations on the territory of the region correspond to the Lower Paleolithic and were found near Ancona, in the area of Monte Conero. The lowest lithic layers show traces of splinter industries, while some pebble artifacts were identified in caves in the area.
A series of artifacts bears evidence to the presence of the Levallois technique, associated with Mousterian industries. These findings belong to the final phase of the Middle Pleistocene, while scant artifacts from the Middle Paleolithic were found in the upper layers of the caves.
Sporadic artifacts, including some fragments belonging to Levallois technique and related to the Riss-Würm interglacial stage, have been collected in different locations in the Misa Valley and near Ancona, but also in the Potenza river valley near Macerata, in Ponte di Crispiero and in Jesi.
From the Upper Paleolithic era, some ancient Epigravettian industries are evident, especially in the area of Ponte di Pietra in the province of Ancona. In the same province, more recent complexes belonging to the final Epigravettian culture have been identified. Some of the most noteworthy sites are the caves Del Prete and Della Ferrovia, and also Riparo La Cava Romita.
The Neolithic cultures are better represented, but particularly widespread are the testimonies of the cultures from the Metal Ages. From this period, an interesting site is Conelle Di Arcevia, which is similar to a site in the Abruzzo region containing evidence from the Copper Age. The Apennine and Sub-Apennine areas are rich in evidence of the Protovillanovian phases.
The Iron Age is also well represented in Marche. Some of the most noteworthy remains were found in the vast Piceno necropolis, and some important artifacts from the era are exhibited in the National Museum of Archaeology in Ancona.
These materials highlight the rich facies of the various prehistoric cultures present in the region and stand as proof of intense commercial activity between Marche and the other side of the Adriatic. Supportive evidence includes a number of amber artifacts found in many areas of the region.
History Of Marche
In the ninth century BC the Picenes, a population of Sabine origins, established themselves in the region’s territory. The Picenes controlled the area for the upcoming centuries until the lands draw the interest of the Senones, in the fourth century BC. Stronger than the Picenes, the Senones gained control over the region and settled their tribes between the fourth and the third centuries BC.
However, they only controlled Marche for a short time. The fertile lands and peculiar landscape quickly drew the attention of Rome.
Extending their empire to the north, the Romans gained control over the region in 295 BC, after a clear victory in a battle against the Senones. The original settlements were replaced by Roman structures, and the empire laid the basis of Sena Gallica, the first Roman colony in Marche. At the same time, both the Picenes and Senones were deported to Campania.
In the first century BC, due to the Augustan Reformation, Sena Gallica became part of the V Roman region of Picenum and during the Imperial Age, the region flourished. The port of Ancona, above all, benefited from the Trajan’s Dacian wars at the beginning of the second century AD.
Following the reform of Diocletian in 292 AD, the Marche region was incorporated into Flaminia et Picenum and its territory was divided between various parts of Italy. This move marked the beginning of an economic and social decline in the region, which continued throughout the following centuries.
In the fifth century, Marche was first devastated by the hordes of Alaric, then shattered by the Gothic wars and eventually abandoned to itself. These events left the region without a concrete administrative organization, and the upcoming events didn’t help in reestablishing the social, economic and political balance.
In fact, the Lombard invasion did nothing but fragment the territory even further, and when the Byzantines arrived, they only established their rule along the coasts in the territory of Ancona, Pesaro, Fano, and Senigallia. The Byzantines were interested in few inland regions and implemented their government only in the areas of Urbino, Gubbio, Jesi, Fossombrone, and Cagli.
As a result of this territorial division, the lands at the south of Ancona remained subject to the Duchy of Spoleto, and they were later donated by Charlemagne to the pontiff in 774.
Despite becoming subject to the law of the Papal State, the clerical authority was more formal than real in the region. The distance from the center of the Imperial and Papal political power favored the configuration of local autonomies on the back of complex and unstable alliances.
The feudal organization left behind the current name of the region and a legacy of political and administrative structures. The ancient name of Piceno fell quickly into disuse while the new name of Marche established itself completely at the beginning of the tenth century.
Marche was a name indicating the imperial jurisdiction in the various territories. In fact, the territory of the region was divided into small entities, named “marche.” This broad name included the administrative territories of Camerino, Ancona, and Fermo.
After the descent of Federico Barbarossa, the various municipalities started to oppose the imperial claims. Yet, divided into separate territories who were acting in accordance with local interests, Marche didn’t manage to establish fruitful relations with the surrounding powers. Even with Venice, the hegemonic power in the Adriatic, the region experienced difficult relations.
In this context, the only municipalities to experience a certain development were Matelica and Fabriano. The first established itself as a center for the production of fabrics, while the latter focused on the production of paper.
In the first half of the fourteenth century, during the so-called “Avignon captivity,” emerged the territorial lordships. The various cities of today’s region became lands of different lords; the most important was the lordship of Da Varano in Camerino, Malatesta in Fano and Pesaro, and Montefeltro in Senigallia and Urbino.
Many of the other municipalities, on the other hand, started to rebel against the Papal State. The riots didn’t last long, and the papal authority reaffirmed its position in the second half of the fourteenth century when cardinal Egidio Albornoz was crowned in Fano, in 1357. The cardinal established the Parliament of the Marca and promulgated the so-called Egyptian Constitution. The new laws sanctioned the new political settlement of the region and remained in force until 1816.
In the fifteenth century, Francesco Sforza gained control of most of the region, subtracting it from Pope Eugene IV. However, diplomatic and military pressures convinced him to give up all territories except Pesaro. The Church established its hegemony in the region once again when Pope Pius II defeated the lordship of Malatesta.
But the real collapse of the local autonomies happened only after Cesare Borgia attempted to establish its dominion in central Italy. These events were followed by a true destabilization that created the perfect setting for the Church to regain its power. In fact, thanks to the weak administration, the Papal State successfully abolished the various lordships and implemented its law in the region.
The serious economic crises that hit all of Italy in the second half of the sixteenth century took its toll on Marche. The crisis favored the phenomenon of banditry, which often assumed political connotations.
Things remained mostly unchanged throughout the seventeenth century, and the situation began to slightly improve only in the eighteenth century. In 1732, Pope Clement XII proclaimed Ancona a free port and implemented a wide concession of exemptions and privileges in an attempt to build a strong commercial node capable of reviving the productive activities.
The Napoleonic campaign in Italy involved Marche as well, and the armistice of 1796 between Napoleon and Pope Pius VI conceded the citadel of Ancona to the French. In the meantime, the civil government of the city remained under the rule of the pope, and the agreement between the Papal State and France was confirmed with the Treaty of Tolentino, stipulated in the following year.
But Ancona rose up in 1797, proclaiming the republic. Other centers, including Macerata and Ascoli, followed the example of the capital and the region of Marche was incorporated in 1798 in the Cisalpine Republic.
Following the overthrow of the fate of the Napoleonic wars, the whole territory of the region was returned under papal dominion in 1800. In the upcoming years, the region was disputed by the French and the Papal State, leading to the rise of Risorgimento revolts throughout the territory.
In 1860, the region was annexed to Italy but was afflicted by the economic crisis, which caused emigration and a bitter social conflict.
Following the First World War, the region began to recover and establish commercial relationships with Istria and Zadar. However, the Second World War brought destruction, particularly in Ancona, where the massive air raids razed to the whole city to the ground.
After the war, the region focused on the development of agriculture and industry. The hard work and commitment of its citizens made Marche a model for the whole country, and in the last two decades of the twentieth century, entrepreneurship was widespread throughout the whole territory, boosting the evolution of the artisan production.
Archaeology In Marche
In Marche, archaeology is well represented, and many important artifacts are exhibited in various museums all over the territory. Numerous Etruscan bronzes and figurative Greek vases were discovered in various necropolises and tombs. Roman remains are also scattered all over the region.
In fact, the remarkable importance of the region in Roman times is attested above all by the monuments present in numerous cities. Often built along the consular roads of Flaminia and Salaria, these buildings are testimonies of the strategic importance of Marche.
Many Roman remains are also present in Ancona, Ascoli, Pesaro, Villa Potenza, and in many other municipalities.
Important artifacts belonging to both prehistoric and historic ages are exhibited in the National Archaeology Museum in Ancona. Also noteworthy are the numerous archeological parks present in the region.