Km 55 – Altitude range m. 1441 – Start and finish: Serra S. Quirico railway station
Starting from the train station at Serra San Quirico, ride out towards Rome, at the traffic lights leave the provincial road SP76 bearing left and a short way afterwards right, heading towards Castelletta. The road climbs up with regular hairpin bends until reaching Castelletta (alt.606), then continues to rise on tarmac up to the pass towards Fabriano. At this point bear left along a forest road, uphill along the crest until Monte Pietroso. Finally the trail descends through woods and pastures to Poggio San Romualdo. Once on the asphalt road, bear left and freewheel downhill to the junction for Valdicastro (km.2.7), thus arriving to the ancient abbey with the same name. Today the buildings and lands are owned by the business farm “Val di Castro” (restaurant and sale of farm produce). Continue along the gravel road towards San Vicino, along the north-side of Val di Castro, through pastures and woods until discovering a wide scenery on the northern face of Monte Moscosi, where at the altitude of 893 m, the route goes out of the gravel path (S. Urbano signpost) and downwards on the left, along a forest unsurfaced track that has some very steep and bumpy stretches. The route goes through the narrow Val di Castro, along the course of the stream; there are three possible detours, but it is necessary to keep the main trail and continue downhill to the stream floor. Continue straight ahead until a signpost on the left indicating a manganese mine, km.6 (alt.390). Bear right along the slight ascent and after a short while the trail meets an asphalt road. Turn left towards Palazzo. Having reached the last houses of the hamlet, take the first road on the right – it starts off on tarmac, then becomes a gravel track – downhill into the valley of the Esinante stream up to the provincial road which runs along the valley floor. Bear left again until reaching the Abbazia di Sant’Urbano. Right in front of the church a gravel road perpendicular to the provincial road breaks off and goes uphill to Domo (km.2.6), another attractive walled village, and onwards to Castello di Precicchie, still intact since the XII century when it was built by the Revellone earls. Today it is a centre for cultural and folk events. From Precicchie the route descends onto the provincial road towards Sant’Elia and then retraces back to Serra San Quirico.
The Abbeys in the Appenines
The Monastic settlements
This is an interesting Apennine route with a considerable variety in scenery and all sorts of mountain roads. It is very challenging in terms of distance and altitude. It explores a considerable part of the pre-Apennine area around Fabriano, linking mediaeval castles, ancient hermitages and abbeys that still keep a charming and timeless atmosphere. The environment encountered is quite integral; here man has always interacted with nature in a balanced manner from time immemorial. The long climb at the start, the hard descent down Val di Castro and the last uphill from Sant’Urbano to Precicchie make it a route only for trained bikers.
The Esino Valley has a symbolic role in the spiritual history of the Marches: border area (in the Early Middle Ages, the river represented the boundary between Byzantine and Lombard’s lands) and, at the same time, an area open to cultural contamination thanks to its being a passageway from the mountains to the sea, home to the greater concentration of monastic settlements. Some of these settlements are of great importance not only to religious history but also to the social, economic, and cultural identity of the area. The history of western monasticism is complex. In short, we can recall San Benedetto from Norcia, whom is attributed the first rule of monasticism, ora et labora. In the Early Middle Ages such practice (and Marches valleys are not an exception) held a complete hegemony throughout Europe which saw the Benedictine monasteries becoming important commercial centres. A situation that also fostered a sort of political power, thus watering down the original moral rigour. Around the year 1000, right at the time of the crisis which had ensnared the Benedictines, an unexpected revival in monasticism brought about by the Camaldolese and Cistercian monks occurred. The first – depository of the rule of San Romualdo – were actively present in our territory and founded various hermitages and abbeys. Among these, along our routes, particularly relevant is San Salvatore di Valdicastro. Situated in a valley of the same name in typical Apennine countryside (chestnut, beach and oak trees alternating with pastures), this monastery was built in 1006 by San Romualdo degli Onesti (952 – 1027), after receiving the land from Count Farolfo. San Romualdo died there and his body was preserved there until 1481, when his remains were moved to the church of San Biagio in Fabriano. As long as the saint’s remains stayed in Valdicastro (in the altar made of a Roman sarcophagus dating back to the third century A.C. and still there today), the abbey experienced a strong religious growth and importance due to the non-stop pilgrimages of believers. In the fourteenth century, following different political upheavals and natural disasters, it fell into decline. In 1652 it was passed to the town council of Fabriano only to be used as a farm. Since the end of the nineteenth century it has become a private property. It was built with blocks of stone in Romanesque-Gothic style, and has been restored and enlarged many times. In 1741 it was damaged by an earthquake. Today, the original building has kept only the crypt covered by barrel vaults in Romanesque style and some capitals in the cloister.