The Flaminian Way provided a vital link between ancient Rome, Cisalpine Gaul and the whole of Northern Europe. For the cities lying along its route this brought new-found prosperity.
From Rimini to Pesaro and on to Fano, it then turned inland towards the narrow Furlo Gorge, an incredible mountain canyon between Monte Pietralata and Monte Paganuccio, before continuing on to the Imperial capital.
Visitors today following this ancient road will find archaeological sites of great importance, walled hill towns and castles guarding the Metauro Valley and magnificent natural scenery - this is a route to meander along, to discover tiny gems of history along kilometre after kilometre of road.
The Flaminian Way constitutes a true open-air museum, with bridges, tunnels, road side columns, inscriptions, archaeological sites and drainage systems etc..
The route begins at Fano (Fanum Fortunae). With its Arch of Augustus (9-10 AD), this city retains some of the best conserved Roman remains along the route of the ancient road. At Tavernelle, near Serrungarina, various finds have come to light, including bowls, amphorae, coins and a rare marble head of the god Attis, which tend to indicate the existence of an ancient halting post here. Here also are the remains of an ancient sacred shrine.
Further on towards Fossombrone, at San Martino del Piano, is the archaeological site of the ancient town of Forum Sempronii. A short distance away we find a domus (or villa) with the remains of a Roman bath. Many objects from these sites can now be seen at the Museo Civico at the palace of Corte Alta in Fossombrone. A little further along the road, at Calmazzo, are two cippi (inscribed pillars) in an enclosed tomb area from the Roman period in memory of the Cissonia family. After Calmazzo we arrive at the magnificent Furlo Gorge, with its tunnel built by the Emperor Vespasian (76 AD) which is still open to traffic.
After the gorge, in the district of Acqualagna, we arrive at the ancient abbey of San Vincenzo. Just by it is a viaduct built with stone from Furlo during the Roman Republican period to protect the Flaminian Way when the River Candigliano was in flood.
At Cagli (the ancient city of Cale) we find Ponte Mallio, a bridge built at the end of the Roman Republican period which once crossed the River Bosso. Two more bridges lie a little further on, near Cantiano. At Pontericcioli along an ancient stretch running parallel to the modern road, we find a bridge known as Ponte Grosso, dating back to the Augustan period, with two arches separated by a water divider, as well as numerous other Roman remains. A second bridge by the same name still takes traffic across the River Burano over two arches, each around 7 metres wide, with a central pier and water divider.
The road soon became a route of European importance, complete with viaducts and embankments at its most critical points. Near the Abbey of Petra Petrusa there is still a finely built viaduct while a little further on, in the Furlo Gorge, the remarkable supporting walls of the road can still be seen.
Subsequent improvements to the Flaminian Way were made under the rule of Emperor Vespasian between 70 and 76 AD, when a new tunnel was cut through the gorge to ease passage through the gorge.
Furlo has four tunnels, each of which represents an important step in Italian road history.
The first tunnel, dating from the Umbro-Etruscan period, was built in 400 BC out of a need to develop trade links throughout the area. This tunnel was 8 metres long, 3.3 metres wide and 4.4 metres high. The technique employed involved heating the rock with fire and then immediately cooling it with water or vinegar before working it with a chisel and removing the rock that had been chipped away. It probably took around two years to complete the task but this was an important breakthrough for the area. From then onwards, it was possible to pass through the gorge even when the waters of the River Candigliano were high.
Later, it was Emperor Vespasian, remembering the difficulties experienced by his army while passing through the gorge, who decided to make the route less onerous by excavating a new tunnel. Its construction took six years and thousands of slaves were employed in the task. On its completion the tunnel measured 38.3 metres in length, was 5.4 metres wide and 4.8 metres high.
In the 1980s, the Italian State road authority began a new project for the creation of two parallel tunnels through the mountain, bypassing the gorge. The first of these was opened to traffic in 1985, the second in 1991.
Few other places have a history and beauty as rich as the ancient fortresses and castles guarding the hills and valleys of this area, whose age-old past becomes lost in legend.
Fano stands only a few kilometres away from so many fascinating places of historic and artistic importance, easily accessible by car, motorbike, camper van, bus or even bicycle.
Here we find ourselves in a sort of magic time machine where fantasy and reality become one.
It takes us to Cagliostro's dungeon, the chamber of Francesca da Rimini and her lover Paolo, the rooms where Lucrezia Borgia once lived and halls which held Renaissance banquets.
The first stop is Fano itself, to see the 15th-century Rocca Malatestiana, a splendid castle built by the Malatesta family who ruled this area. This strategic outpost guarded the coastline and acted as a landmark for ships sailing along the Adriatic Sea.
The last great event in its history occurred in 1848, when Garibaldi stayed here on his march from the north towards Rome.
Another stopping place along our tour is Pesaro, to see the Rocca Costanza. Built along the eastern wall of the city, the castle has survived intact since its construction in 1474, to a design by Luciano Laurana.
Another interesting castle, not far from Pesaro, is the 10th-century Ginestreto Castle, standing in countryside which has changed little over the centuries, among banks of yellow broom.
Gradara Castle was built between the 11th and 15th centuries and was the scene of continuing conflict between the Malatesta and Montefeltro families before falling under control of the Sforza family. However its place in history has been secured thanks not so much to these warring families but to the great poet Dante. In the Divine Comedy, in the fifth Canto in the Inferno, he recounts the tragic love affair between Paolo and Francesca, which stands as a timeless symbol for generations of lovers. Their passionate affair took place here at Gradara Castle and their chamber in the castle still has a melancholy atmosphere which remains just as poignant today.
The Fortress of San Leo was built in the Middle Ages and it was here (San Leo was for a short time the capital city of the kingdom of Italy) that Germanic rulers gave birth to the Holy Roman Empire, at the end of the first Millennium. The fortress itself was enlarged in the 16th century by the great Siena military architect Francesco di Giorgio Martini under Duke Federico II da Montefeltro. It was here, in this impregnable castle, that the famous adventurer Giuseppe Balsamo, better known as Count Cagliostro, lived out his last days of imprisonment. The facts and legends surrounding the life of this extraordinary alchemist, doctor, magician and freemason are hard to separate. It ended with his sentence to death by the Holy Inquisition for heresy. His sentence was commuted to life imprisonment which he served here at San Leo. But this was to bring him little comfort. He died a long agonising death, imprisoned first in the castle's so-called Treasury Room and then confined in the 'pozzetto', where he died after four long years, refusing to take the sacrament.
Cagli is easily reached from Fano along the Flaminian Way or the modern Fano-Rome dual carriageway. Once known as Cale, the town was first inhabited by the Umbrians and later the Romans.
Among its rich artistic and architectural heritage is the 'torrione' (tower) which once formed part of the town fortress, built in 1481 by the great military architect Francesco di Giorgio Martini under Duke Federico II. Its remarkable form is an eloquent testimony of Martini's architectural genius and has survived unblemished by the passage of time.
The hill town of Piobbico, the ancient Publicum, stands a short distance away, overlooked by the imposing Castello Brancaleoni. The rooms of this large castle are now regularly used for exhibitions of considerable importance.
We continue our tour to visit Rocca Fregoso at Sant'Agata Feltria.
Standing on a sheer cliff, it was built over various periods between the 12th and 15th centuries and completed by Francesco di Giorgio Martini.
Inside, there is an interesting museum of weaponry.
The salt air and a thousand shades of blue sea along the Marche coastline, the myriad colours of lush inland plant life - the region's heartland has so much to offer - the Frasassi Caves, natural parks, the geological formations of the Furlo Gorge and the Apennine mountain wolves.
Casa Archilei, just outside the city of Fano, is an environmental education and teaching centre created by a group of Fano naturalist associations. It was opened in 1989 by the Fano City Council in what was once a farm house in 1.3 hectares of land. The aim of Casa Archilei is to create a centre for volunteers in the environmental sector whose energies and expertise are channelled into projects and action plans for the benefit of the community.
The various activities carried out at Casa Archilei - environmental education for schools, its specialist library, creation of a database covering the Metauro basin, weather observation, reconstruction of natural environments, assisting animals in difficulty, growing organic vegetables etc. - are based on learning through practice and therefore encouraging active participation and interest in nature and the world of science.
Casa Archilei is managed by a committee made up by public organisations and naturalist associations such as Argonauta, Kronos and ENPA. It has been involved in a project entitled "Fano, city for children" and in 1996 became recognised by the Marche Regional Government as a Territorial Laboratory.
Furlo is the home of many wild animals of great ecological importance, including the wolf, golden eagle, Montagu's harrier (Circus pygargus), peregrine falcon, sparrow hawk (Accipiter nisus), Cornish chough (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax) and wall creeper (Tichodroma muraria) as well as plants of botanical interest (including the Moehringa papulosa and Salix apenninica). In addition, there are 2500 hectares of state owned forest and two plant protection areas where natural habitats are in the process of development.
Against this magnificent natural background it is possible to trace back the natural history of the area which is plainly visible in the limestone cliffs of the gorge.
Among many other interesting aspects of the area are the ancient farming traditions out of which the more recent culinary culture of the truffle has grown. The mountains of Furlo and nearby Acqualagna are among the main areas in central Italy for growing the black truffle (tartufo nero) and white truffle (tartufo bianco pregiato).
The Parco naturale del San Bartolo is a natural park covering more than 1600 hectares of land in the Pesaro and Gabicce Mare districts, rising from the beaches along the Romagna and Marche border up to a series of hilly spurs and valleys and punctuated with sheer cliff faces of great beauty. The two main peaks, Monte Castellaro and Monte Brisighella, reach a height of 200 metres, giving grandstand views along the coastline and out over the sea, while the rugged cliffs provide an unusual feature in this stretch of flat sandy coastline.
Its cliffs contain fossilised fish and rare chalk crystals of great geological interest. Below them are narrow pebble beaches created from the erosion of the cliff walls above.
The Parco del San Bartolo also has interesting rare examples of flowers, vegetation and animal life. In May the hill slopes overlooking the sea are covered in yellow broom (Spartium iunceum). Most of the vegetation is relatively sparse but there are also small woodland areas of Adriatic oak. The bird-life here is another important feature, particularly in winter time, with various marine species including the red-throated diver, members of the merganser family, the crested cormorant, wild goose, long-tailed duck, common scoter and many others.
The park, established in 1996, has a modern visitors centre with a science laboratory and learning centre for children. The park has a great variety of wildlife, including birds of prey, wolves, deer and wild boar. It also provides a thriving habitat for flowers and vegetation, with specimens that are hard to find elsewhere.
A journey to admire the extraordinary beauty of the Parco Naturale di Frasassi and the Parco della Gola Rossa is certainly worthwhile. To reach Genga, take the A14 motorway as far as the 'Ancona Nord' exit and then head inland along the Ancona-Rome dual carriageway as far as the Genga- Sassoferrato turn.
Here, in the spectacular Frasassi Gorge, are the Frasassi Caves, a place which attracts more visitors than anywhere else.
This series of underground caves has been described as among the most beautiful in the world. It was discover in 1971 by the CAI Speleological Association from Ancona. Realising that this was a place of rare outstanding beauty it was decided within a space of three years to open the caves to the public. Over the years the tourist route through the caves has been extended and improved in order to highlight the colours and form of the stalactites and stalagmites as well as the natural presence of water and its majestic rock vaults. The caves are open throughout the year (except for 1st January, 24th and 25th December).
In 1997, Frasassi became part of the Parco Naturale Regionale della Gola della Rossa e di Frasassi, the largest protected area in the region. A journey around the park reveals a rich historical and artistic heritage concealed in a fascinating, peaceful landscape which is still healthy and unspoiled. This natural scenery stands in the even larger Esino-Frasassi mountain area, which comprises the towns of Arcevia, Fabriano, Genga and Serra San Quirico, places of great historical, archaeological and artistic interest.
Continuing on inland from Pesaro there is another natural park which is rich in natural delights both for those who are interested in nature as well as for those who are rarely able to discover its attractions. The Parco naturale regionale del Simone e Simoncello lies in the heart of the Lands of Montefeltro, in an area which is rich in history and of particular natural interest.
It covers an area which includes the towns of Carpegna, Frontino, Montecopiolo, Pian di Meleto, Pennabilli and Pietrarubbia.
Marina dei Cesari (‘The Caesars’ Marina’) is a ‘port in the city’. The new docks are located at a short distance away from the city centre of Fano, with all its shops, cultural activities and perfectly preserved historical monuments. The tourist port is located next to the old commercial port, a lively and colourful area, with its quaint fishermen’s houses on the sea, the sandy beach and the shingle beach, restaurants, hotels and other venues which complement the services offered by the tourist port and make your stay on land entertaining and fun.The tourist port of Fano has enough space for 420 boats (from 7 to 40 m in length) and its wharf offers all the facilities necessary to ensure comfort and safety.You can walk to the Marina from the Lungomare Sassonia through the Passeggiata del Lisippo (‘Lysippos Walkway’), a pier protected by the rocks, with a view on the sea.
The walkway can be accessed by pedestrians, bikers and people with reduced mobility. The walkway is little more than 1 km long and is one of the longest of its kind on the Adriatic coast. At the end of the walkway, with a view the tourist port, you can see a copy of the Victorious Youth, the bronze statue attributed to Lysippos and found by Fanese fishermen in the Adriatic Sea in 1961. The statue, dating from a period between the 4th and the 2nd centuries B.C., and attributed on stylistic grounds to the Greek sculptor Lysippos, or to one of his apprentices, is now housed at the Getty Museum in Malibu, California. The Italian government, the Marche region and the municipality of Fano have all made claims for the return of the sculptures in the past few years, to no avail, because the American museum has rejected the claims as unfounded due to the impossibility of exactly locating the place where the statue was found.
The beaches of Fano stretch across a long coastline from Pesaro to Ponte Sasso. To the north, the beach is protected by the hills covered with the Mediterranean shrubs, which paint the sea below green. In front of the city, there are two beaches separated by the two piers of the port and featuring different characteristics.
The Lido, to the north, is a beach of fine, golden sand.
The Sassonia, to the south, is a shingle beach, with round and smooth cobbles, which also offers spaces with sand and gardens where children can play safely.
Tourists wishing to spend a peaceful and relaxing holiday may choose the seaside resort of Torrette, located directly south of the city of Fano, which offers a beach of fine sand, hotels, camping sites and restaurants with a view onto the sea.
In addition to the Blue Flag, Fano has also been awarded the Bandiera Verde (‘Green Flag’) 2016, a commendation given every year by Italian paediatricians to the tourist destinations that best suit the needs of families and children. Fano, the ‘City of Children’ (Città dei Bambini), has become a popular destination for families and over the years has developed services tailored to the needs of families and of their children in particular.
Furthermore, Fano has been positively assessed by the Italian environmentalist association Legambiente and by its famous Goletta Verde, the ship that controls the quality of the Italian sea every year, which proves the good state of preservation of the sea and coastal environment as well as the high quality of its accommodation facilities.
Due to its geographical situation, the city of Fano has had a port since Roman times. In the 12th century, Venice already traded with the port of Fano. The port was rebuilt in 1616, under Pope Paul V Borghese (Darsena Borghese, ‘Borghese docks’), and enlarged in the 19th century. Following the enlargement, the port was divided into three areas with different functions: the fishing area, the shipyard and the boating area.
The wholesale fish market was located in 1912 in a warehouse in the Liscia area. Then it was transferred to the Casa del marinaio (‘Fisherman’s house’) in Via Francesco Castracane, near the canal port, and in 1931 it was transferred again to the storehouses of the Borghese docks, near the Albani canal estuary.