The Road of the Pilgrims
Ravenna - Rimini - the Adriatic Riviera - Pesaro - Macerata - Urbino - Forlì
The road south from Venice (S.S. 309) is called the 'Via Romea' because it led the pilgrims down to Rome in the Middle Ages from central Europe. It skirts the Venetian lagoon, crosses Millecampi valley with its thousands of islets and takes us past Chioggia, over the River Po to Mesola a strange circular village where the houses cling around the Este family's ancient hunting lodge (1583), set deep in the heart of this silent, melancholy delta land which stretches as far as the eye can see, brightened up here and there by the colored sails of boats making their way down to the sea along the canals, in a strange stillness which is broken only by the squawking of the seabirds.

Pomposa Abbey

Pomposa Abbey
It is in this mysterious setting that Pomposa Abbey stands in splendid isolation: the magnificent building, with the Basilica of S. Maria (8th-12th c.) and the slender bell tower, adjacent monastery, refectory and dormitory was formerly the center of this ancient ecclesiastical fief. And it was here that students of Giotto and 14th c. painters from Bologna and Romagna worked on the frescoes, to produce the most comprehensive display of Emilian Gothic painting that exists.

Ravenna - Basilica of S. Vitale

Passing through a number of well-known seaside resorts, such as Lido delle Nazioni, Lido di Pomposa, Lido degli Scacchi and the quaint town of Comacchio near the buried Etruscan city of Spina, Porto Garibaldi, Lido degli Estensi and Lido di Spina, we reach Ravenna the ancient capital of the Western Roman Empire, and the bridge between the Roman and the Byzantine worlds, a treasure house of splendid monuments that this short account cannot even begin to do justice to. We must see the 6th c. Byzantine Basilica of S. Vitale, the 5th c. mausoleum of Empress Galla Placidia, the 5th c. cathedral Baptistery, and S. Apollinare Nuovo embellished with unique mosaics of the 6th-9th centuries.
Other examples of Ravenna's art are the cathedral with its cylindrical campanile, the Churches of S. Francesco, S. Maria in Porto and S. Giovanni Evangelista, the National Museum, the Museo Arcivescovile, the Galleria dell'Accademia, with Guidarello Guidarelli's famous funeral Statue (1525). Then there is the tomb of Dante, who died in exile in Ravenna in 1321, Theodoric's mausoleum - a massive polygonal tomb in the barbarian style, and above all, the extraordinary Basilica of S. Apollinare in Classe (5 kms away), with its huge solemn interior, and the raised sanctuary covered in magnificent mosaics. South of the basilica, the ancient pine forest of Classis which so enchanted Dante and Byron runs down to the seashore.

Rimini - Tempio Malatestiano


After the seaside resort of Milano Marittima and the spa resort of Cervia we reach Rimini. This popular tourist resort is also an ancient town with a turbulent history to which the extravagant Malatesta family has left a legacy of innumerable monuments. The Arch of Augustus is Roman - the oldest existing Roman arch in the world; Leon Battista Alberti 's "Tempio Malatestiano" is a jewel of Renaissance architecture, with Giotto's crucifix, Piero della Francesca's fresco, and Agostino di Duccio's elegant reliefs embellishing its interior.
Noteworthy are the Palazzo dell'Arengo, Palazzo del Podestà, the Pinacoteca, the Roman Bridge of Tiberius, and Sigismondo Castle (1446). The towns along the coast read like a summer holiday brochure: resorts like Riccione and Cattolica (visiting Gradara Castle, the setting for the tragic love story of Paolo and Francesca da Rimini immortalized in the sublime poetry of Dante's 'Inferno').

Pesaro - Rocca Costanza
From Gabicce Mare we drive down towards to Pesaro, the birthplace of Rossini, and the venue for major international festivals (film, music, etc.). We shall see the Piazza del Popolo, the 15th-16th c. Ducal Palace, the Costanza Castle, Rossini 's house, the Museo Archeologico Oliveriano, and the municipal ('civic') museums (paintings, ceramics, etc.). Roman settlement of Fano, where we can see the Arch of Augustus, the Renaissance oratorium and the Loggia of S. Michele, Palazzo della Ragione (1229), Palazzo Malatesta, the municipal museum and art gallery.

Santuario of Loreto
Senigallia and Ancona
We shall follow the coastline to Senigallia, with its square castle, Church of S. Maria delle Grazie and nearby Chiaravalle Abbey of Santa Maria della Castagnola, one of Italy's oldest Cistercian monasteries. After Ancona we reach the Conero Riviera, with the charming Portonovo Bay, Sirolo and Numana, built high up overlooking the sea, Porto Recanati, Loreto (one of Italy's principal shrines containing the Holy House of Nazareth on which major Renaissance and Baroque artists worked), and Recanati, steeped in memories of the poet Giacomo Leopardi.

Jesi - The massive 14th c. walls
Macerata and Jesi
Climbing up the Potenza Valley, we reach Macerata, nestling in the hills. Let us see the Palazzo del Comune, the 16th c. Loggia dei Mercanti, Palazzo della Prefettura, the ancient University, the 18th c. cathedral and the 'Sferisterio', a grandiose neoclassical sports arena built in 1819-29 and now used as the venue for the town's Opera Festival. Let's get off the beaten track for a while, and head north to the charming little town of Cingoli, known as the 'balcony of the Marches', and Jesi where Emperor Frederick II of Swabia and the composer Pergolesi were born, where we can see the Palazzo della Signoria built by Francesco di Giorgio Martini (1486-98), the municipal picture gallery (paintings by Lorenzo Lotto), the cathedral, and the 14th c. town walls.

Urbino - Palazzo Ducale
From Jesi, via Fossombrone, we will stop at Urbino, one of the 'capitals' of the Italian Renaissance, ruled by the Dukes of Montefeltro, and the birthplace of two of the world's greatest artists: Bramante (1444-1514) and Raphael (1483-1520). We cannot leave without a visit to the magnificent Ducal Palace, built by Luciano Laurana (superb courtyard, and unmistakable 'torricini' towers), housing the National Gallery of the Marches (works by Bellini, Melozzo da Forli, Berruguete, Paolo Uccello, Giusto di Gand, Piero della Francesca, Raphael, Titian, etc.; tapestries, reliefs, and marquetry work of drawings by Botticelli). Standing guard over the Montefeltro region is the mighty Fortress of S. Leo where the charlatan Cagliostro died in prison.

Faenza - Cathedral
Forlì and Faenza
From here we can go and see the Republic of San Marino, before descending to Cesena, via Novafeltria and Sarsina. Continuing along the Aemilian Way, we reach Forlì, with its municipal painting gallery and museums and Romanesque Church of S. Mercuriale, while 15 kms further on is Faenza, famed for its ceramics, which reached the peak of its splendour in the 15th and 16th centuries; let us visit the Renaissance cathedral (1474), the picture gallery and the extraordinary Ceramics Museum.
Food and Wine

Tagliatelle with ragù
• Emilia Romagna
To understand this region’s cuisine, it is necessary to list some of the native products like parmesan cheese (parmigiano-reggiano), egg pasta, Parma ham (prosciutto di Parma) and balsamic vinegar. Bologna is regarded as the gastronomic capital of Italy, and Emilia is the only true home of pasta in the North: often lovingly hand-made, the dough is formed into lasagne, tortellini, tortelli stuffed with ricotta cheese and spinach, pumpkin or pork, and other fresh pastas served with ragù (meat sauce), cream sauces orsimply with butter and parmesan. Modena and Parma specialize in boiled meats (bollito misto) , such as flank of beef, trotters, tongue and spicy sausage; another Modenese dish is zampone - stuffed pig's trotter. Romagna's cuisine is more Southern in orientation. While ingredients such as butter, cheese, mushrooms, chestnuts and meat feature in Emilia, Romagna tends more toward onions, garlic and olive oil; the region is second only to Sicily for the amount of fish caught in its waters. Typical wines: Lambrusco, Albana and Sangiovese.
• Marche
The region Marche is a combination of sea, hills and mountains, cooking is deeply rooted in peasant tradition. Pesaro, on the Adriatic sea, is famous for its brodetto or fish soup. Also prepared along the coast, the brodetto marchigiano made with fish dipped in flour, fried in a mixture of oil, onion and parsley, and flavoured with saffron. Ingredients are different in other areas. Among the cheeses: the pecorino di San Leo, made from sheeps milk, the ricotta (a kind of cottage cheese) from Urbino, the bazzott (a local fresh cheese) from Fano. Another specialty is the olive ascolane, big white olives filled with a mixture of cheese, egg, nutmeg, white meat chopped and mixed with prosciutto, mortadella and salame, lemon peel and parsley, then dipped in beaten egg and bread crumbs and fried in oil. Typical wines: Rosso Conero, Rosso Piceno, Verdicchio.
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