The magical journey through the Marche, sung by Dante Alighieri in the Divine Comedy, begins in the heart of the Montefeltro, where you’ll find the splendid Camaldolese Hermitage of Santa Croce of Fonte Avellana, surrounded by lush beech woods on the slopes of Monte Catria, an ideal natural setting for numerous excursions and breathtaking views. The monastery, mentioned by the ‘Supreme Poet’ in the Paradise, is strongly linked to the charismatic San Pier Damiani, inspirer of the congregation of Camaldolese monks.
The Latin cross church, the ‘scriptorium’ and the cloister are some of the millenary beauties that struck Dante himself. We must also mention the 7,000 volumes of the ancient library, the botanical garden and the old pharmacy, where you can buy traditional natural products.
It will be exciting sliding down gently alongside the hills, until you can see the sea from the imposing fortified walls of the medieval Gradara, where everything recalls the tragic and poignant love stories of the history of literature like that of “Paolo and Francesca”, both killed for adultery and thus destined to Dante's hell. The echo of their passion, that turned on by reading together the "convict book", as Dante described, still resounds in the castle corridors, up to the famous Francesca’s Room. You’ll go through secret passages, crenellated towers, frescoes and works of art, such as the canvas by Giovanni Santi, Raphael’s father, and the glazed terracotta altarpiece by Andrea Della Robbia. The whole village around has always been the stage for surprising historical re-enactments as well as falconry shows and artisan shops, where you can still taste typical products such as “Tagliolini with a Bomb” or the crunchy Gradarino chocolate.
Not far away, the view of the Adriatic sea is unmissable. It can be fully enjoyed from the Fiorenzuola di Focara’s promontory, a village nestled in the verdant Regional Park of Monte S. Bartolo, full of suggestive trekking trails for biking or hiking, surrounded by flowers like brooms and wild orchids. Because of the high cliff rocks overlooking the sea, Alighieri narrates that it was a place used by the Malatesta to get rid of the enemies, such as the unlucky Guido Del Cassero and Angiolello da Carignano, "the two best men in Fano", as they were described by the Poet.
Traveling alongside the coast, heading to the south, you reach Fano, a sea town linked to the fate of another illustrious person, Jacopo del Cassero, whose soul is encountered by Dante in the Purgatory. Now his remains rest in the Church of S. Domenico, where a marble epitaph, inspired by Dante's verses, is posted.
The monumental entrance door to the old town, well known as “Roman Arch of Augustus” surrounded by the Pincio Gardens, the fortified fortress and the former scenic open-air Church of S. Francesco witness Fano's glorious past.
Reading through the poetic verses written by Dante, you can recognize Senigallia and its jewels, like the ‘Rocca Roveresca’, a perfect combination of Reinassance magnificence and harmony, and then the famous 'Velvet Beach', which makes it one of the favorite destinations for sunbathers, full of renowned restaurants, with an elegant and walkable historic center. From here, you can easily reach the enchanting natural scenery of the Monte Conero Regional Park, which boasts the little church of S. Maria of Portonovo, just a few meters from the sea. The historians suppose that here, or even in the nearby Sanctuary of the Holy House of Loreto, the Camaldolese monk S. Damiani may have stayed on a spiritual retreat.
Heading along the Esino river we reach Jesi, where the earliest printed edition of the Divine Comedy was published by native printmaker Federico Dé Conti in 1472. This thriving and elegant town is one of the most beguiling towns in the Marche and popular for one of the region's best-known wine, Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi. It boasts a rich cultural heritage and a living tradition of craftsmanship, like goldsmithing, leather manufacture and glassware. Its picturesque centre, with narrow alleys and little squares, is surrounded by outstanding noble palaces, such as Palazzo Pianetti, seat of the Civic Art Gallery, with masterpieces by Lorenzo Lotto, the magnificient Pergolesi Theatre, the Planettiana Library and the majestic Piazza Federico II. The square lies at the north-eastern end of the town where the Roman forum of Aesis once lay. Its name recalls the birth here of the fabled medieval Hohenstaufen Emperor Frederick II in a tent on 26 December 1194. Dante mentions the Emperor, known also as Stupor Mundi, in Canti X and XIII of the Inferno for his stirring deeds and remarkable political skills.
Riding alongside the ridges fully planted with olive trees, you can reach Fermo, a city that struck the Poet Dante himself for the particular dialectal inflections of the inhabitants. Thus, after admiring the extraordinary “Mappamondo’s Room” and the painting “Adoration of the Shepherds” by Rubens, in the city art gallery, you can walk around the Girifalco walkway, next to the stunning Cathedral of the Assumption.
Turning west, you will see the hills surrounding Urbisaglia, that was built on the ancient Roman city of Urbs Salvia; it has been transformed over a few centuries from an important commercial hub, with monumental architectures as well as the Roman theater and amphitheater, into a small fortified village. For this reason, the city is mentioned by Dante in the Comedy, together with Senigallia, as an example of earthly transience.
Once you are on the “border with the Kingdom”, paraphrasing Dante himself, you can venture on a river trekking in a canoe and discovering the rich birdlife of the Tronto River naturalistic area, which historically delimits the Marche’s border. The river is mentioned by Dante in the Paradise, to trace the lands on which the Frankish King Carlo Martello would have ruled at a later time.