The 22-km itinerary passes through the first Benedictine settlements in Piceno (Santa Vittoria in Matenano, Montelparo, Montefalcone Appennino and Force).
The history of the important Benedictine abbey of Farfa in Sabina is closely linked to that of the one in Piceno, for after the long Saracen siege endured by the abbey in AD 890, which lasted a full seven years, the monks, led by Abott Piero, sought refuge in Rome, Rieti and in Piceno, in the lands of Fermo.
The Farfa monks settled on Colle Matenano, where they founded Santa Vittoria, in honour of their patron saint, whose relics were brought here.
Together with the other centres mentioned, a defence system was created, forming a stronghold that stretched from the Monti Sibillini down to the Adriatic.
It later expanded both north and south.
It was from this initial nucleus that the economic and social revival of the entire area started out, for the monks introduced important initiatives to encourage the development of farming and the community, with a new form of farm management: share-cropping.
According to the Passio, Saints Victoria and Anatolia refused to wed two patricians as they were devoted to God.
They were thus forced, with the Emperor’s support, into exile in Sabina, where Victoria was confined to the city of Trebula Mutuesca(Monteleone Sabino).
There was a dragon in the area which, with its foul-smelling breath, caused the death of people and animals.
Upon the insistence of Domitian, the lord of the land, Victoria chased away the dragon in the name of Christ and converted the Sabine people.
She was martyred in the year 253 and since then a spring has gushed forth from what was originally the dragon’s cave.
The present-day town of Montelparo, which was founded by the Longobard Elprando, appears to date back to the early Middle Ages.
A few stretches of the walls, with their defensive towers – one of which is now part of the town hall – still remain in the town, which was a fief of the abbey of Farfa from the eighth to the thirteenth century.
There are some interesting churches, including the fifteenth-century San Michele Arcangelo, which dominates the town, and Santa Maria Novella, which contains a painting by Pagani.
The church of Sant’Agostino has preserved an ultra-centennial organ known as the “Cioccolani”.
In the former convent of Sant’Agostino, there is a museum of sacred objects and, in the Chiostro Agostiniano, there is a permanent exhibition ofMestieri Ambulanti su Biciclette (bicycle-mounted street trades).
This unusual exhibition, the only one of its kind in Europe, consists of over forty original bicycles – in excellent condition and complete with objects and utensils from the early 1900s – which were made or converted for use by travelling craftsmen (knife-grinders, cobblers, ice-cream sellers, dairymen, umbrella makers, etc) whose professions have long since disappeared.
Just a few minutes away is Santa Maria in Matenano, from where the Farfa monks spread out into Piceno and the Macerata area.
Colle Matenano was chosen for its strategic position, high up between the valleys of the Aso and the Tenna, and defended on the southern side by a precipitous cliff.
Originally settled in the early tenth century, it started to decline in the twelfth, when its lands came under the direct control of the Papal States.
The monastery and the church of Santa Vittoria collapsed in the eighteenth century after a series of landslides.
The Farfa oratory, known as the Cappellone degli Innocenti and decorated with fifteenth-century frescoes and with an urn containing the mortal remains of the saint, is in the late-eighteenth-century church of La Resurrezione.
Aristocratic residences and the church of Sant’Agostino and the monastery, now the town hall, form Corso Matteotti.
Montefalcone Appennino occupies a strategic position high up on a sandstone cliff which contains countless fossils.
The first stronghold and fortified village was located here.
The town itself lies below the fortifications, around the churches of San Pietro and of San Michele Arcangelo, dedicated to the town’s patron saint.
On the road that rises from the Valle dell’Aso, a 47-metre tunnel was chiselled through the rock, with the church of the Madonna delle Scalette above.
Palazzo Felici houses a museum complex and the Centro di Educazione Ambientale, for environmental education.
The village, which is known as the “balcony over the Sibyllines” is famous for its silent, tortuous alleyways with the most spectacular views.
A short way off, Smerillo is another Farfa settlement that was built in the tenth century.
It became one of the defensive castles of Santa Vittoria and later entered the sphere of influence of Fermo.
A pathway leads to the Fessa fossilifera, a narrow passage through sandstone rock filled with Pliocene fossils.
Another characteristic site is the Bosco di Smerillo, a protected wood area.
Force is located astride the valleys of the Aso, Tesino and Tronto (the name comes from “fork”, or place of transit).
The village is very ancient, and it was a free municipality, with charters of its own to guarantee its freedom.
It is famous for the art of its “ramai“, who are skilled in forging and working copper.
It appears that the technique was introduced by the Farfa monks, though some scholars trace it back to unidentified tribes of gypsies.
The Force coppersmiths, who are well known throughout the markets of central Italy for the quality of their work, use a distinctive slang, which is virtually a language for initiates, and which has been studied for its singularity.