Itinerary for visiting the historical town centre of Sarnano
There are two main routes for visiting the historical town centre of Sarnano.
The first route is to enter through Porta Brunforte, stop to take a photo from the panoramic terrace in Piazza Perfetti, then walk uphill along via Leopardi. Turn onto via dell Costa, complain about the tough climb, and catch your breath in Piazza Alta. Visit the Cathedral of Santa Maria, take a quick look at the surrounding buildings, and go down the flight of steps at via di Piazza Alta. This time, grumbling about the unusual size of the steps. Then return to your car.
Alternatively, take your time on the following route and spend two hours discovering the true essence of this place. The choice is yours.
Via degli Orti
Begin your walk from the Loggiato di via Roma, an exhibition gallery built on part of what once was the sixth ringed wall in the second half of the sixteenth century. Follow the alley, the Loggiato to your left and, after around fifty metres, take via San Filippo on your right. A little further ahead, on the left, you will cross a “piaggia”: this is where Porta Poggio once stood, a gate set in the fifth wall dating back to the end of the XVI century. So how many ringed walls and gates were built over the centuries? We discuss this here. Continue along via San Filippo, where on your left you will find the church bearing the same name, secured by a glass door that allows you to take a peek inside. A few steps past the church, look below to your left and you will see the “orti” area. This part of the ancient deep-set was destroyed by an earthquake in 1730 and was never rebuilt. The areas on which the collapsed houses once stood have been transformed over the centuries into characteristic urban “orti” or vegetable gardens, and are still in use today.
At the edge of the vegetable garden area, you can see the remains of the four, ringed walls and a polygonal watchtower. Just before arriving at the end of the alley, on your right you will find a tall, narrow opening: the Barbican. The Barbican was a typical medieval defence structure, characterised by a gate smaller than the main one, which made it easier to protect in the event of an attack. It is flanked by battlements, a series of narrow openings from where arrows were shot and stones thrown at the assailants. Nowadays, the battlements are bricked over, but their shape is still clearly visible in the wall.
Porta Castelvecchio e Porta Pesa
Walk past the Barbican and turn into a steep, narrow alley called via Rismondo. On your right, you will see Porta di Castelvecchio set in the second ringed wall, also bricked over but still visible. Walk towards the steps in via della Costa and follow them downhill to cross the point corresponding with Porta Castelvecchio set in the third city wall. The third city wall dates back to the first half of the sixteenth century and consists of the section that connects Porta Poggio, Porta Castelvecchio, Porta Pesa and Porta Bisio. As you continue downhill, on your right you will see what once was a Jewish ghetto, and on your left the church of Madonna del Carmine. Keep walking downhill, passing through via Buozzi until it crosses via della Vittoria where Porta Castelvecchio once stood in the fourth city wall. Take a few steps to your right along via della Vittoria and on your right, embedded in the walls of the current buildings you will see the remains of the four walls where the crenellations are still visible.
Go back to via Buozzi and turn to your left, passing Palazzo del Monte di Pietà, evidence of the widespread presence of Franciscan monks in these areas. A few steps more and you will arrive at Largo Decio Filipponi where, on your right, you will be able to see Porta Bisio set in the third city wall. Turn right into via Cairoli. Here you will find Porta Pesa, better known to the people of Sarnano as Arco del Trecento (arch of the 14th century), again set in the third city wall. Grains grown in the surrounding countryside were brought to this gate to be weighed and taxed. Beside the Loggia, you can see an example of cantilevered houses, a peculiar type of building whose origins are still unclear.
Walk uphill on your left along via Mazzini, passing in front of the Chiesa dell’Annunziata, a deconsecrated church. Continue on this street for a few metres, turn right and continue uphill on your left, taking a short flight of steps that will lead you to via Baracca. Follow this street to your right, and you will return on the steps of via della Costa. Keep left until you cross via Leopardi. Walk down the alley on your right. After a few steps, on your left, on the wall of a building, you will see evidence of what was once the Porta Castelvecchio gate set in the first city walls in the thirteenth century. Why do we insist on pointing out the position of a gate that no longer exists? Because Porta Castelvecchio is the only gate that has been built into each of the four city walls and the distance between these gates gives us a clear indication of how the old city was progressively extended.
The ancient cloister and the Arch of the Assassin (Arco dell’Assassino)
Go back and walk along the flat section of via Leopardi. On your left, you will find the church of Santa Chiara, and on the square behind it, you will see the entrance to the art gallery. The art gallery and museums are definitely worth visiting. A few dozen metres further ahead, on your left, you will find the Church of San Francesco and the Palazzo Comunale, which also houses the library where rare books and manuscripts of historical and cultural interest are kept. Originally, these sites were a twin monastery: one for the Poor Clares (nowadays a Museum) and one for the Franciscan monks (City Hall today). Retrace your footsteps in via Leopardi and have a look at the very visible traces left by the Porta Brunforte in the first city wall, on your left, right where the first steps to Piazza Alta ascend. Continue onto via Leopardi and after a few steps, walk up the steps on your left and under the Arco dell’Assassino (Arch of the Assassin), named after a murder, the details of which are long forgotten.
The way to Piazza Alta
Cross the passage under the arch and you will arrive in Via Trento. Turn left and keep walking until you reach the steps in via di Piazza Alta again. Start climbing up the steps and, you will see a small square on your left, known as Piazzetta dei Tigli (but officially named Piazzale Vittorio Veneto). This is one of the rare but alluring little squares in the historical town centre. If you feel tired, now would be the best time to take a rest: there is still a lot that deserves to be seen! When you feel ready to get back on your feet again, cross the square and turn into the small alley on your right; this route will lead you to the top of the historical town centre. You now are in Piazza Alta, framed by the majestic buildings that were once the symbols of the civil and religious authorities: the Palazzo del Podestà; the Palazzo del Popolo, formerly City Hall and now the Teatro della Vittoria, which dates back to 1834; the Palazzo dei Priori; and the Romanesque church of Santa Maria di Piazza Alta with its rectory.
A window to the Sibillini
Walking past the Palazzo del Popolo, take a glance inside the frame-like walls of the church and its rectory, and there it is, right in front of you, just like a painting: Monte Sibilla, the Pizzo Tre Vescovi, the Monta Castel Manardo and Pizzo Meta. Those are the Sibillini Mountains, the “blue mountains” (Monti Azzurri) praised by the poet Giacomo Leopardi. They are the fairy mountains of which medieval artists used to write incredible, magical tales. Learn every detail, silently listen, ignite your imagination: don’t you see the goat-legged fairies fluttering around the highlands? Can’t you imagine the Sybil of the Apennines, majestic and wise, gazing into the valley from the entrance of her cave? But that’s another story.
Turn to face the Chiesa di Santa Maria di Piazza and survey the wooded hills in front of you, including the Colle di Valcajano di Roccabruna. This is where the Franciscan hermitage of the same name was located and it is also mentioned in Saint Francis’s book “Fioretti”. Complete the tour of the square, but don’t leave by taking the steps you came from or by using the main street. Right next to Palazzo del Popolo, you will find some steps that lead into a narrow street. Take this one. After a few steps, on your right, you will find the Taverna della Luna overlooking the hills of Le Marche fading into the Adriatic sea on one side, and climbing up on the Apennines reaching the Gran Sasso, Maiella and Monti della Laga on the other side.
Catch your breath and go down the alley on your left, crossing what was once Porta Poggio set in the first city wall. Walk down along the slope of Via della Montagnola until you arrive in what is probably the most alluring square of the historical town centre of Sarnano. If you refer to the official map of the town centre, this spot is referred to as via XX Settembre, but if you try to find it by asking any of the inhabitants of Sarnano, they will probably tell you that you are in the wrong village. To the Sarnanese, this square is known as the Picassera: a quiet square in the winter, and a meeting place in the summer.
There are two theories about the origin of this name. The first one, of greater historical rigour, claims that Picassera hails from the expression “at the foot of the tower”, in Italian “ai piedi del cassero”, as this little square opens up on the edge of the first fortified village, as well as at the beginning of a slope that takes its wayfarer straight to Piazza Alta. The second, more popular theory, can be traced back to the colloquialism “piche”, a word that in local dialect means both a magpie and a loose-tongued gossip, who we can imagine hanging out of the window or sitting and gossiping on the low walls in the square. Sit on a bench and enjoy the peace of the Picassera or the cheerfulness of its inhabitants.
Return to the street and turn left into via XX Settembre and keep walking until you reach Piazza Perfetti, right under the current City Hall. Rest for a while on the panoramic terrace and enjoy the view of the Sibillini Mountains that are like guardians, protecting the village of Sarnano as it spreads out at their feet. Continue downhill on your right, crossing Porta Brunforte set in the second city wall, and keep walking straight until you get to the Borgo that marks the passage from the historical centre to the new part of the town.
That is it: our walk has ended. If you have walked this route in the right frame of mind, you probably want to do it again, going even more slowly so that you can drink in the details, the faces of old men as they sit placidly in front of their doors or the cats as they mysteriously inspect you from the window sills… But above all, now that your urge as a tourist has been satisfied, stop and listen to the silence of these ancient city walls: they will whisper unbelievable yet familiar stories to you, like things you didn’t know you had lost, but suddenly realise you have found again.