Matelica and the Ottoni
Matelica is a very ancient city founded on a fluvial terrace in the form of an oppidum or fortified centre around the 5th century B.C. that has been destroyed several times over the centuries. Around 1160, it became one of the first towns in the Marche region to become a free Commune. Matelica was conquered and sacked by the militia of Christian I of Mainz, sent by Frederick Barbarossa, and then razed to the ground between 1198 and 1199 by a coalition of towns and nobles of the Marche region. It was only a decade later, on 12 October 1209, that its inhabitants, by then nomads, obtained a decree from Emperor Otto IV of Brunswick, in exchange for political and military support, allowing them to re-found the city and build a new castle with a palace 50 feet long and 30 feet wide. The resulting city gave up the appetite for conquest and devoted itself to the more profitable entrepreneurial and commercial activities, becoming a famous centre in Europe for the production of woollen cloth.
Besides the struggles between Swabians and Popes, Matelica always competed with the noble Lombard feudal lords Ottoni who indirectly, for centuries and then directly, from 1350 to 1578 held the power through schemes, deception, wars and territorial alliances with the nearby towns of Camerino (link), Fabriano (link) and San Severino (link).
The community did not like the family, which was initially forced with Attone di Morico, in 1162, to recognise the authority of the commune and to surrender part of its possessions. However, over time they obtained all the commune's political offices.
The city swore loyalty to Emperor Frederick II, and Captain Alberto di Attone led the city's army to the reconquest of Camerino together with the Swabian militia.
After the emperor's death, the town returned to the Pope, but with the arrival of Manfred's troops, Frederick II's son, the town sent a large contingent of men to fight again against the pro-papal Camerino, which ruthlessly fell in the hands of the Swabians.
In 1262, the inhabitants of Matelica helped Conrad of Antioch, vicar of Manfred in the Marca, in the reconquest of the Castle of Santa Maria.
Just a few years later, the relationship with the Swabian family was officially sanctioned with a public ceremony that also saw the participation of San Severino (link), Tolentino and Montemilone (now Pollenza). An alliance that Manfred awarded with privileges on 1 September 1265.
A journey through Matelica’s history and art
Of very ancient origins, as recent archaeological findings show, Matelica's history is chronicled in the rooms of the Piersanti Museum, where the mysterious Globe of Matelica is temporarily kept. It is a one-of-a-kind, spherical sundial from the 1st-2nd century A.D. with engravings in Greek. It can calculate time, day, month and zodiac sign. The nearby Governor Palace, in the square dedicated to Matelica's most distinguished citizen, Enrico Mattei (the town hosts his family palace-museum and his tomb), was built in 1271 along with the Civic Tower, while the loggia below was built in 1511, commissioned by Ascanio Ottoni. The well-known Ottoni family also owns the palace of the same name that brought together all town governors and has a sky loggia that connected it to an outbuilding where there may have been a small hanging garden. The building, before the 2016 earthquake, housed the Raffaele Fidanza Art Gallery with the beautiful Supper at Emmaus, Salvator Rosa's St. Onuphrius and paintings by Matelica's own Raffaele Fidanza.
Close to the square is the distinctive church of S. Maria Assunta, which has been Matelica Cathedral since 1785. The only remaining part of the original structure, which was on the square facing it, is the beautiful 32-metre bell tower, built in 1475 by abbot Bartolomeo Colonna, which marks the facade. The building has been restored several times over the centuries and only acquired its original external layout in 1886, while the interiors were expanded and remodeled between 1924 and 1927 by Florentine architect Giuseppe Castellucci, with a simple and austere style inspired by Brunelleschi's architectural lines in Florence's church of S. Lorenzo. Inside, besides the carved ambo (15th-16th century) and the beautiful 17th century wooden choir, the baroque church left two side chapels and several sacred objects in the old sacristy. The Piersanti Museum is located along Via Umberto I. It was born from the rich collection of Venanzio Filippo Piersanti, a very high prelate of the seventeenth century papal court, who left to the town many artworks by Giovanni and Gentile Bellini, Luca di Paolo and Lorenzo D'Alessandro, Antonio di Fabriano, Salvator Rosa, Eusebio da San Giorgio, Cavaliere d'Arpino from Maratta's studio, valuable silverware, rare furniture and fine ornaments.
The Municipal Theatre is in front of the Piersanti Museum. It was designed by architect Giuseppe Piermarini between 1805 and 1812 based on his design of la Scala in Milan. Inside, during its restoration, a hut dating back to the 5th century B.C. and Roman Imperial Age thermal bath structures (tepidarium, calidarium, frigidarium) were found. These can be visited under the stage. Today, the theatre’s hall houses the municipal winery, where visitors can taste and sample Matelica's fine wine. Moving along via Umberto I we arrive at the former monastery of the Santissima Annunziata and St. Adrian, built in 1615 and once owned by the Benedictine nuns. It is still accessible to the public, with the small church completely renovated in 1769 with a fairly sober style. Just few meters away, we find the church of Santa Maria Maddalena, better known as the sanctuary of the Blessed Mattia de Nazzarei. It takes its name from the abbess who lived between 1253 and 1320, known for the mysterious phenomenon of her corpse sweating over the centuries (her canonisation is currently underway and in December 2019, among solemn celebrations, the church was reopened for worship on the 700th anniversary of her death). The structure was founded around 1225 and expanded and restored several times. The facade adopted its current appearance in 1920, after Antonio Ugolini's restoration. Among many artworks kept in the church there is a 13th century painted Crucifix and interesting altarpieces, such as the Madonna della Culla (Madonna of the crib - 15th century) and the Madonna con Bambino (Madonna with Child - 13th century).
We recommend an original, surprising tour between art and nature in the Frazione Braccano. It is a village at the foot of Mount San Vicino, where houses are decorated with colourful murals made by students of the Brera, Urbino and Macerata Academy, with the participation of artists from all over the world. Braccano is also the starting point to reach the fairy-tale Gorge of Jana, through a lush trail that winds along a bristling stream (waterproof boots or shoes are of the essence) up to the lively waterfall that for centuries has cut the white limestone rocks marking the surrounding landscape. Not far away, embedded in a beautiful mountain landscape, is the ancient Benedictine Roti Abbey, founded or reformed by St. Romuald around the year 1000.
The IME - The Marches Food and Wine Institute (logo più + https://www.istitutomarchigianodienogastronomia.it/) recommends:
Verdicchio di Matelica Docg
If Verdicchio Docg di Matelica already holds a prominent position among the wines, with its pale straw colour, brilliant clarity and unique greenish reflections, Verdicchio di Matelica DOC is even more peculiar. It is produced in the only north-oriented, land-locked Valley of the Marche region, with a continental microclimate and calcareous soil, that give greater finesse and taste-nose quality to the wine. It received the controlled designation of origin certification as early as 1967, further improved as "guaranteed" in 2009. One cannot help but indulge in the temptation of its intense aroma with pineapple, apple, almond and hawthorn hints.
Honey is another highlight in local produce. Its production has reached such levels that a real project has been developed: Salomone 1 (Solomon 1); and while the world loses 50% of its bee population, with the resulting heavy damage to beekeeping, biodiversity and agriculture, Matelica’s bee population is increasing.
We must not forget a recent production, started in 2016 by three young men aged between 18 and 27: saffron, which is being grown once again as it was in the fourth-fifth century, according to notary sources.