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Montalto delle Marche

The Municipality

Montalto delle Marche is a municipality of 2258 inhabitants in the province of Ascoli Piceno on 513 meters above sea level. It is located on the hilly area that joins the Adriatic coast to the Sibillini Mountains. Montalto delle Marche is 20 minutes away from both the seaside the mountains. The municipality extends for 34.11 square kilometres (13.17 square miles). Its population is distributed in a central village (Montalto Capoluogo) and two former municipalities, Porchia and Patrignone, in addition to a third one in Contrada Lago.
The communities of Porchia and Patrignone date to the Middle Ages. Today it is still possible to visit their old walls and towers.

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History

The territory of Montalto was inhabited since prehistoric times. In fact, the Municipal Archaeological Museum displays findings that date back to the Neolithic (6000 B.C.) to the Apenninic age (2500 BC), to the Picent age (7th Century B.C.), and to the Roman age and following.

In the 14th Century the local communities founded the free communes of Montalto, Patrignone and Porchia. In 1418 Montalto elected its Podestà and in the 15th Century it became a land of Council for the Farfense Stronghold. The Cardinal Montalto and then Sisto V, reaffirmed the authority of their hometown by constituting the Montalto Stronghold in 1586. In 1798, during the French invasion, Montalto arised. The Bishop mons. Castiglioni, the future pope Pius VIII, was arrested and deported to Mantua for order of Napoleon. With the European Restoration of the 1816, Montalto became the district capital over the Governments of Amandola, Offida, Ripatransone and by 1832, San Benedetto del Tronto.

Places of Historical and Artistic Interest

The most majestic building and the symbol of the village is the Cathedral S. Maria Assunta that stands out with its tall bell tower. It was built for order of Pope Sixtus V starting from 1589, when the first stone was laid, and finished three hundred years later. In 1860 Pope Sixtus V passed away, and the construction works were continued thanks to the Cardinal Montalto Alessandro Peretti, who will commission to Annibale Carracci the Madonna Montalto, an exquisite painting that is now preserved in Bologna. Between the years 1852 and 1860 the construction works were continued thanks to Mons. Girolamo Codebò, who spent over 1415 scudi (coins used in Italy until roughly the 19th Century) for the construction of a stairway connecting the inferior church with the upper church, a Latin-cross plant church with three naves and twelve lateral chapels. Furthermore, the pillars to the choir were erected, the two sacristies were covered and the winding staircase leading from the crypt to the tower was built in addition to several chapels, such as the one dedicated to the Madonna della Misericordia and to the Madonna di Reggio. Further contributions were given in the following centuries by the bishops Ascanio Paganelli, Francesco Saverio Castiglioni (future Pope Pius VIII), Eleonoro Aronne and Luigi Bonetti. Cardinal Luigi Sacconi from Montalto paid for most of the inside decoration commissioned to the painter Luigi Fontana from Monte San Pietrangeli, a fine scholar of the great Italian Masters of the 16th Century who studied at the St. Luke Academy in Rome.

Right in front of the cathedral stands the Palazzo della Signoria, or Former Seminary, where is today located the Museo Sistino Vescovile.

The project for the seminary dates to the creation of the diocese itself, but it was later built thanks to Mons. Codebò. In 1652, in fact, the Monastery of St. Augustine was closed after the emission of the papal bull Bolla istaurandae of Pope Innocent X, which stated that all Italian monasteries with insufficient incomes needed to be closed. This is the reason why Mons Codebò decided to use all income of the Church and of the monastery to build the Seminary.

The seminary was particularly prosperous with Mons. Accoromboni. There were distinguished teachers of Grammar, Humanity, Chant and Philosophy in addition to many prestigious lectures that let the number of the student grow.

Up the highest part of the village, on the top of the house of Sixtus V, there are beautiful balconies where to admire a spectacular 360° panorama. Right below the house there is the main square, piazza Umberto I, surrounded by the old Town Hall with an exquisite Municipal Tower where are located the historical archive, the library, the current town hall and, to the north-east, the Church of San Niccolò.

The Church of San Niccolò is a Baroque style church which was rebuilt around 1647-1653, as it can be read on the travertine façade. The Church of Santa Chiara is a Baroque style church, too, it was annex to the old monastery of the order of St. Claire. It formerly was the house of Sebastiano Franchi, a very devoted gentleman of Montalto who wished to donate his assets to create a monastery under the rule of St. Claire. The monastery displays a stone statue of St. Claire and a fine painting depicting the Holy Trinity that dates back to the late 16th Century.

In contrada Cese, in the municipality of Montedinove, there is the small monastery Convento di S.Francesco delle Fratte. The name of the monastery roughly translates in Italian “Monastery of St. Francis of the thickets” because of the woods that surrounds it. According to the tradition, the monastery was built by St. Francis himself.

The masonry structure and other architectural elements suggest a Romanic origin, even though the building was restored and changed many times so that nothing of the original setting was preserved. It used to be on one storey, then it was probably Pope Sixtus V who ordered to build a second storey. The church of St. Francis is very simple and it is composed by a single nave with a truss ceiling, an apse with a barrel vault and five altars. The church is rich in frescos which paradoxically saw the light thanks to the progressive degradation of the mortar layer that used to cover them. Behind the chapel of the Madonna della Pace is preserved a fresco depicting the Holy Virgin, Magdalene, and St. John that was painted between 1530 and 1533 by Giacomo Bonfini of Patrignone. It is plausible that the compartment under the major altar used to preserve the relics of St. Aurelius, who was worshipped in this church, and were then moved to the Cathedral. This monastery used to be the house of Brother Felice Perretti, the future Pope Sixtus V, and of his uncle Padre Salvatore Ricci who housed and educated him.

Let us move to the close community of Patrignone and its beautifully preserved medieval village and its prestigious cultural tradition. It is worth mentioning that Patrignone was the hometown of the famous humanist Antonio Bonfini, the first historian of the Hungarian nation. Moreover, the church of Patrignone Chiesa di Santa Maria in Viminato is particularly magnificent. Santa Maria in Viminato is a Romanic style church that displays frescos from the 14th to the 16th Century by Pagani, Paolo da Visso and Francesco Agnello, in addition to a wooden tabernacle depicting a temple by Desiderio Bonfini, an artist that was born in Patrignone in 1576.
Furthermore, it is possible to admire Palazzo Bonfini that dates between the 15th and the 16th Century. Its stone façade has three orders of windows and a door of the 13th Century where there is a gothic inscription about King Manfred that dates 1263.
Two other churches are worth being mentioned, the Chiesa dell’Annunziata whose construction started in 1508, that displays exquisite frescos, and the Chiesa della Madonna delle Grazie, dating to the 16th Century where there is a 15th Century fresco and Murano Chandeliers dating back to the 18th Century.

Similarly, the community of Porchia, roughly located 3.5 km away from the village, displays its medieval origins. In the crypt of the Chiesa di Santa Lucia it is possible to admire an exquisite artwork by Pagani and a magnificent Nativity of the 15th Century. It is still possible to admire the geometrical proportions of the surrounding orchards with the vegetable fields, where stands out the tower of the old Mill of Sixtus V, that also used to be the mint of Montalto.

Museum District City of Sixtus V

The art gallery is equipped with modern technology and is located at the last floor of the town hall. It displays vestments, paintings and miscellaneous artwork saved from the decay of time. The art gallery is divided in four sections: one dedicated to Montalto, also called Sixtine’s hall, the others dedicated to Patrignone, Porchia and Valdaso, thus underlining the strict correlation of the four communities that currently form the municipality of Montalto. Among the most interesting exposed items it is worth mentioning the décor and the clothing of the Magistrates (called Priors) of the late 16th Century and the gold medal that Pope Sixtus V wanted to add to their outfit. Furthermore, the museum displays the currency of the abovementioned mint of Montalto. As far as the paintings are concerned, it is possible to admire some sacred subject paintings from the 17th to the 18th Century, a rare 17th Century oil painting that depicts the adoration of the three Magi and several portraits, among which stand out the portraits of Pope Sixtus V and of his sister Camilla Peretti.

Furthermore, the museum preserves a carved wooden town gate that dates back to the 17th Century which is called “Porta dei Leoni”, and a collection of historical pictures of Montalto and its territory that date back to the late 19th Century and to the early 20th Century. A room hosts the re-enactment of the office of the architect Giuseppe Sacconi, the creator of the Altare della Patria in Rome, while another room is dedicated to the local painter Osvaldo Licini (1894-1958), an eminent artist in the domain of the painting of the 20th Century.

Osvaldo Licini studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Bologna and in Florence and met very important artists such as Morandi, Picasso and Modigliani. This room also displays ten original signed sketches of Licini that emphasize his artistic maturation from his figurative period until the achievement of his extraordinary abstraction, which is utterly expressed in the essentiality of the Angelo di Santo Domingo.

The Museo delle Carceri del Presidato Sistino (Jail Museum of the Sixtine stronghold), is located between the ground floor and the second floor of the town hall. Its basic furniture is re-enacted on the basis of a 1604 Inventarium (inventory) that emphasize the prisons’ historical depth in addition to the engravings and the sketches on the walls of the cells.  The museum is equipped with speakers through which is possible to listen to the authentic stories of the prisoners read by the theatre company “Teatro delle foglie”.

The jail detained for over four centuries all kind of criminals, who sometimes used their everyday working tools, such as a rake or a sickle, as dangerous improvised weapons. Or even more, poor people who were imprisoned for the debts they incurred after famines or epidemics, like the story of Francesca da Force in the late 16th Century, who sold all his possessions to pay her creditors and get her liberty back. The jail, however, also detained people who committed more serious crimes, such as kidnapping, extortion, murder and attack to the Church’s goods, like Innocenzo Michelini, who was hanged for setting on fire the church San Gregorio in Montelparo back in 1745.

The Archaeological Museum was only opened in 1999, but its project dates to the 1975-1976, with the creation of the Deposit for the cultural and archaeological assets, the first of the museum network of Montalto. The museum aims to document the historical stages of Montalto and its surroundings by displaying documents and findings that trace its past from the prehistory to the Roman Age.

The items are displayed in a chronological order. At the entrance of the museum shells and plant fossils take place with all historical and territorial information. Moving on it is possible to admire the first prehistoric stone objects that date from 5000 to 2000 B.C., such as arrowheads, flint blades and little grindstones in addition to animal bones. All findings show the consistent number of settlements in the Montalto area during the Neolithic.

The following room of the museum is dedicated to the Picent civilization (9th– 3rd Century B.C.). It is possible to admire flint artefacts such as arrowheads, double edged blades and spearheads with a superior manufacturing. Even the terracotta artefacts start to present a finer taste which does not only aim to their usefulness but also to please the eye with some decoration which, however, was still very rough as the lathe was not invented yet. The finding of a crucible for melting bronze shows that there were metal workers in the area. A bone needle found next to pierced shells remind of their use as necklaces. Among the ceramic fragments stand out some animal-shaped handles and geometric-decorated edges in a black ceramic that imitated the Etruscan Bucchero.

The last room of the museum is wide and has a barrel vault with the remains of an old fireplace that testifies that the building used to be a house. The last room is dedicated to items that date back to the Roman Age from the 3rd Century B.C. to the 4th Century. All findings are displayed according to their functions and their material. There are construction materials in terracotta, such as old roof tiles that present the signature of their maker, in addition to the scale model of a rural Roman villa. The map points out the presence of a rural villa in contrada Valle di Montalto where many of the displayed materials were taken, e.g. painted plaster, mosaic fragments and other paving materials, handles and other ceramic fragments, almost perfectly preserved oil lamps and amphorae.

Furthermore, the museum also displays bronze and glass items, such as lock fragments, nails, a sword hilt, and the lid of an oil lamp shaped like the face of a child, in addition to many roman coins that are very important as they provide chronological information.

A section of the room is dedicated to the iron and lead findings, like the glandes plumbeum, i.e. the lead projectiles used in the war between the Romans and the Picentes.

The last part of the museum holds two very important items.

The first one is the lady of the animals, or Artemis, which was found in the Monterinaldo area, near the Hellenistic sanctuary located in Contrada Cuma that dates between the 2nd and the 1st Century B.C.
The second one is a dolium, a large earthenware vase that was found in contrada Valle, close to the Valdaso, which was used for burying a child, even though the dolii were usually containers for wheat, olive oil or other agricultural goods. Furthermore, there are two old column bases in travertine that originally were in contrada Sant’Emidio, where today stands an old Romanic church.

Old coins and other items in the area of Sant’Emidio church witness pre-existing settlements.

In the undergrounds of the town hall there is the Museo l’Acqua, la Terra e la Tela (Museum of the water, earth and canvas). The architecture of the museum is very fascinating, with its vaults, arches, its old well and a small labyrinth with vaulted tunnels. It displays some precious well preserved or restored rural tools, e.g. the wooden sails of a watermill that still exists in contrada Tesino, a very old stone fountain, a local decorated farm wagon, several looms, grindstones and travertine containers. The exhibition is provided with information signs.

Ultimately, the former bishop’s seminary hosts the Museo Sistino Vescovile (The Sixtine Bishop Museum). The museum was inaugurated in 2002. It displays artworks from Montalto, Porchia and Patrignone. Here it is possible to admire the gold thread vestments that belonged to the first bishops of the village (it is worth mentioning the chasuble of Francesco Saverio Castiglioni, who became Pope Pius VIII in 1829), a painted cross of the 13th Century, wood sculptures and paintings, silver accessories and a collection of crosses that date from the 14th to the 16th Century which were recently restored by the Opificio delle Pietre Dure in Florence. But the most important item of the whole collection is the Reliquary of Montalto, the absolute masterpiece of the French gold works that dates back to the 14th century, made in gold, silver, gems and pearls. The precious artwork was probably made by the Paris workshop of Jean du Vivier. It belonged to many important owners, such as Frederick IV of Tirol, Lionello d’Este of Ferrara and Pietro Barbo (the future Pope Paul II) in Rome. Pope Sixtus V took the reliquary from the Holy See and donated it to his hometown.

Among all the donations of pope Sixtus V it is possible to admire his majestic vestment, composed by a large cope with chasuble, stole, maniple and the corporal burse, in addition to two small robes and an antependium with the papal emblem.

EVENTS

The most famous festival of Montalto is the “Notte delle streghe e dei folletti” (The night of the witches and of the pixies) that is celebrated in August. For three days the whole village is transformed into a magic world inhabited by fairies, pixies and all kind of fascinating magic creatures. The village is brightened by workshops dedicated to the children, musicals and theatre plays that end up the last day of the festival with the burning stake in the main square of a puppet that represents a witch.

Furthermore, during the year there are several meetings and conferences concerning the historical and cultural life of the village and its famous inhabitants, such as, beside Sixtus V, the painter Giacomo Bonfini of Patrignone, the architect Giuseppe Sacconi, the cardinal Carlo Sacconi and the great humanist and historian Antonio Bonfini.

Summer opening

June

Every Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and Tuesday, 02
Morning from 10:30AM to 12:30AM
Afternoon from 4:00PM to 7:00PM

July

From Thursday to Sunday
Morning from 10:30AM to 12:30AM
Afternoon from 4:00PM to 7:00PM

August

Everyday
Morning from 10:30AM to 12:30AM
Afternoon from 4:00PM to 7:00PM
Wednesday 12, Thursday 13, Friday 14
The night of the witches and of the pixies
Afternoon open until 11:00PM

September

Every Saturday and Sunday
Morning from 10:30AM to 12:30AM
Afternoon from 4:00PM to 6:00PM