The 45-km itinerary winds its way to the Monti Sibillini National Park, starting from Amandola and going through Montefortino, Montemonaco, Montegallo before reaching Arquata del Tronto, under the towering limestone cliffs of the Vettore, the highest peak in the Marche.
In mediaeval literature, the Sibylline mountains already appeared in fantastical stories of mysterious beings.
The place names of the mountains are disturbing to say the least: there are places with strange and ghastly names such as Pizzo del Diavolo, Passo Cattivo, and l’Infernaccio – the “devil’s peak”, “wicked pass”, “vicious hell”.
In the nineteenth century, Giacomo Leopardi wrote about the Monti Sibillini in his Ricordanze, referring to them as Those blue mountains…
arcane worlds – a few evocative words that well describe the mysterious atmosphere of this chain of diverse peaks that fade into blue in the distance.
Here, places and nature are timeless: the villages in the Sibillini are tourist destinations all year round, and every season brings new colours to their timeless landscapes.
The personality who permeates the entire area is the legendary Sibyl, the mysterious clairvoyant who lived in a cave on the bare mountain named after her.
In the Middle Ages, another story was added to the legend: it was that of a knight errant, Guerrin Meschino, in search of his own identity.
The story tells how a narrow passageway in the cave led to two enormous metal doors which slammed menacingly: this was the entrance to the realm of the Sibyl – a fairy and enchantress for some, creature of the Devil for others.
Many have since searched for the doors, which closed long ago.
The magical atmosphere of these places has however remained intact, and it is now possible to experience the mystery at Montemonaco, in the Museo della Grotta Sibilla.
The same timeless atmosphere can be felt when climbing up from Forca di Presta di Arquata del Tronto to Lago di Pilato (1940 m.), the lake which, according to tradition, swallowed up the body of Pontius Pilate after it was dragged in a madcap race of crazed buffaloes, and where, in the Middle Ages, necromancers used to go up to “consecrate” the book of command, signing a pact with the devil.
Amandola is an enchanting village that owes its name to a poetic legend.
Phyllis, the daughter of Lycurgus, King of Sparta, had married a warrior who departed for the Trojan wars.
Since her loved one failed to return, the girl ran off in desperation and arrived at Castel Leone, where she took her own life, turning into a majestic but leafless almond tree.
When her husband eventually returned from the war and failed to find Phyllis, he sought her everywhere and, in the end, reached the heights of Castel Leone.
Here he found the almond tree and realised what had happened.
As he embraced it, leaves and buds magically grew from its branches.
The almond tree gave its name to the mountain village.
The gateway to the Monti Sibillini National Park, Amandola retains many traces of the historic events it has witnessed.
This was the land of the Piceni, the Romans and the Longobards, but the most powerful mark was left in the Middle Ages by the Benedictines and the Farfa monks.
The old part of town has maintained its medieval layout, with fine buildings of various ages, including the Palazzo del Popolo, which was transformed into a Benedictine convent, and “La Fenice”, the municipal theatre that is the venue for the important International Theatre Festival.
The town hall, Palazzo Municipale, with its nineteenth-century portal, is in Piazza Risorgimento.
Next to it, steps lead down to the church of Sant’Agostino, with cloisters and a stunning sixteenth-century portal.
The nearby abbey of SS.
Rufino e Vitale (6th cent.), which was built over a Roman building, has a fine crypt and frescoes.
An interesting excursion takes the visitor through Castel Manardo and up to the Pizzo Tre Vescovi.
The name of the mountain recalls the age of the city republics and the struggle between Gaidulfo, Bishop of Fermo, and Count Mainardo, of the ancient Longobard aristocracy and one of the families of counts who tried to oppose the birth of the city republics.
The bishop supported and protected the creation of the city states, and his work helped lead to the foundation of Amandola and other nearby municipalities.
In an enchanting setting at the foot of Castel Mainardo stands the much-visited sanctuary of the Madonna dell’Ambro (rebuilt in the seventeenth century over an older building).
According to tradition, the Virgin appeared to a dumb shepherdesses girl, who acquired the ability to speak.
In front of Amandola lies the extensive and mysterious landscape of the Sibillini, a world of legends, wizards and Sibyls.
The route reaches Montefortino, one of the finest environmental and nature centres in the Parco Nazionale dei Monti Sibillini, a very popular destination in the summer.
Montefortino is the departure point for wonderful excursions into the Park.
One of the most memorable is the one that leads through the Gola dell’Infernaccio and to the Eremo di San Leonardo.
The village has the most lovely churches and the stunning Palazzo Leopardi, which contains the Pinacoteca Duranti.
The church of Sant’Angelo in Montespino is of remarkable architectural and historic interest.
This was one of the first outposts of the Farfa monks in the Piceno mountains, and an important site in an area that has some of the most beautiful Romanesque abbeys in the Marche.
In March, Montefortino celebrates the black truffle at the Festival del Tartufo Nero Pregiato dei Sibillini, and snails, at the Sagra delle Cucciole.
The itinerary goes through Montemonaco, one of the highest municipalities in the province of Ascoli Piceno.
The village was formerly known as Mons Daemoniacus for the pagan rites linked to the Sibyl’s cave and Pilate’s lake.
Then, in the early Middle Ages, the Benedictine monks of Farfa arrived in the area, bringing new impetus to the organisation of the territory and its activities.
The first settlements were built by farmers who worked the land entrusted to them by the monks, and a new form of land organisation, introduced by the Farfa monks, came about with the first share-cropping contracts.
Already in the tenth century, Montemonaco was showing the way for the mountainous areas of Piceno.
Before long, the small feudal leaders of the various villages came together in a free association and chose a place that would be easy to defend.
They called it Monte del Monaco, paying tribute to the followers of the Rule of Benedict, the patron saint of Norcia.
To defend themselves, they built strong defensive walls, which still stand today.
Later history was similar to that of many other villages, which later found their place in the Kingdom of Italy.
Montegallo is the “modern” name of the ancientMons Sanctae Mariae in Gallo.
An unusual mountain municipality, with a number of independent village areas and deep in the heart of an Alpine-like landscape of woods and valleys, a number of its villages have very interesting buildings, with historic palazzi, tower-houses, and doors and windows in carved stone from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, as well as the splendid church of Santa Maria in Lapide.
A scenic road leads to Arquata del Tronto, the municipal area of which stretches across two national parks, in an area of extraordinary scenic and natural beauty.
The Arquata district borders on areas with the most stunning natural wonders, such as the Lago di Pilato, the Piani di Castelluccio, the Pantani di Forca Canapine, and the nature reserve of Lago Secco.
Arquata and its outlying wards have seen famous and less well-known historic personalities, but it is mainly the common people who have made its history, with a complex series of events that have made it truly fascinating.
The artistic and architectural works in the area and the buildings that rise up out of the mists of time give a clear idea of these events, illustrating the rich cultural life of the territory.
In a dominant position on a small rise to the north of the built-up area, the Rocca di Arquata controlled the consular Via Salaria and access to the Galluccio pass, the only way to reach the Montegallo area and the transit route for Norcia.
The fortress is linked in folklore to Queen Giovanna, who is said to have rebuilt it when Arquata was a front-line stronghold of the Kingdom of Naples.
Legend has it that the queen enticed local shepherds into her room at the top of the highest tower, with the promise of a night of pleasure.
Their destiny, however, depended on the quality of their amorous performances: if she was not satisfied, the queen had the unfortunate wretch hanged from the tower.
The thirteenth-century wooden cross – the oldest religious wooden statue in the Marche – is a symbol of peace and yet it is linked to bellicose events between the people of Arquata and Ascoli.
In Borgo, there is a seventeenth-century copy of the Holy Shroud, the linen sheet that is said to have wrapped the body of Christ.
Just a few kilometres separate the historic centre from one of the most important roads of the ancient world – the Via Salaria.