The region of the Marche
The Marche region has always been very important in central Italy because of its communication routes between northern and southern territories and domains; those who conquered in the course of the various eras passage over the lands of the Marche had free access to the territories of southern or northern Italy. Thus, especially in the medieval period, defensive walled villages perched on high hills or overlooking the sea sprang up from the north to the south of the Marche, defended by nature as well as by the buildings that today make these places legacies of a history rich in mystery, charm, and austerity.
The Mirabilia Box will tell about some of the towns and villages in this region, illustrating them through the artistic traditions that made them important in past eras and known to this day.
The journey with the Mirabilia Box begins in the northernmost part of this region. Perched on a hilltop, in one of the most beautiful panoramic settings in the province of Pesaro and Urbino, is the village of Fratte Rosa. Founded probably in the early Middle Ages, it is renowned for the ancient and noble craftsmanship of pottery. The founding of the Convent of Santa Vittoria dates back to this period(back in 1216!), in the wake of the engaging preaching of St. Francis, now home to the Museum of Terracotta. The ancient core of the town, with its typical spiral plan, is nestled, with its picturesque pink brick dwellings, within the medieval walls.
Fratte Rosa is worldwide famous for its handcrafted terracotta production, an activity practiced for centuries, rooted in the very history of the village. The terracottas are unique in their colors and shapes. The so-called "cocci di Fratte Rosa" are still skillfully manufactured today by a few local workshops that love tradition. I have selected for you something traditional often found in Italian kitchens.
Continuing southward, I stopped in Fabriano, the City of Paper.
Although paper was invented in China a thousand years before it reached Europe, in the late 13th century Fabrianese master papermakers began marking their paper with a trademark, the filigrana (Watermark), the mark of the paper imprinted by the screen inside the sheet. This element made Fabriano famous in the then-known world, and even today, in every banknote we handle, there is against the light the legacy of that product innovation.
Did you know it?
From now on, when you look at your banknotes you can turn your thoughts to Fabriano, which was the Silicon Valley of Italy in the Middle Ages.
The paper produced in Fabriano began to be exported throughout Europe, local workers set up workshops abroad, and paper gradually and completely replaced the expensive and scarcely available parchments.
Downtown, next to the Queen Margaret Gardens, we find the Paper and Watermark Museum, which is visited by thousands of people every year. In this museum, you have the chance to get your hands dirty in the "pulp" of raw materials that will make up the sheet of paper, just as the 13th-century master papermakers of Fabriano did. Using a screen and shaking it appropriately, you can create your own sheet filled with water and fiber to lay on wool felt: felt on felt, under the weight of a hydraulic press, magic is accomplished, and a handmade sheet of paper takes shape.
Moving east, through the hilly, green landscape dotted with villages that evoke the setting of a fairy tale, one of the mysterious objects chosen for this box will take you to Monte Conero, a promontory by the sea located on the coast of the Adriatic Sea. A place where a famous and fragrant Mediterranean plant thrives, lavender, caressed by the wind and kissed by the sun. Lavender cultivation is widespread throughout the Marche region where it creates striking patches of color; it is a niche crop that is becoming increasingly successful. Conero has the highest sea cliffs on the entire eastern Adriatic coast: more than 500 meters above sea level and is the most important Italian mountainous elevation in the Adriatic Sea after the Gargano in southern Italy. It fully deserves the name Mount because of the majestic appearance it offers to those who view it from the sea, its trails, towering overhangs, vast views, and the activities that take place there that are typical of the mountains, such as free climbing. The coastline of this mountain is called the Conero Riviera, and over the entire promontory, it outlines lies the Conero Regional Park.
Finally, I traveled to the province of Ascoli Piceno, full of quiet villages that are pleasant to visit. This area is again among the places that inspire Mirabilia, where I went to unearth ancient traditions. Mirabilia tells of Offida, a town located between the Tesino and Tronto river valleys. Many monuments tell the story of this ancient village, from the remains of the walls with their towers, or the 16th-century fortress of which a section of the walls and two cylindrical towers remain. Also, imposing in its austere seriousness is the Church of Santa Maria della Rocca built in 1330 in the Romanesque-Gothic style.
Offida's vocation for craftsmanship becomes clear at the sight of the bronze Monument to the Lacemakers, located in Largo delle Merlettaie behind the fountain at the entrance to the historic center: three women, a metaphor for the three ages of life (a child, a young woman, and an elderly woman) are depicted while busy working the lace. In fact, the art of bobbin lace has been handed down from generation to generation for the production of artifacts of rare value and beauty. The oldest known lace dates back to the fifteenth century. Offida is famous for the laborious and patient art of delicate bobbin lace-making.
Lace is used to decorate tablecloths and sheets, to make centerpieces, and to embellish handkerchiefs, dresses, shirts, and gloves. New ideas and insights into the application of the art of lace to local craft production are realized in the creation of small objects for home decor or more strictly personal use.
To bring you something truly unique, I sought out and tracked down a craftswoman who in the 1990s combined lace with the goldsmith's art by inventing the MerlettoGioiello (Lace Jewelry).
She stopped working as a lacemaker seven years ago and retired, leaving the shutter of her store down. I spent a rainy afternoon with her walking through the alleys of Offida, and visited her closed store, which currently houses stacks of books stalled for her son's move. I was fortunate enough to get to know her stories, see her precious creations collected in photo albums of important signed fashion shows, and jealously guarded in an archive of fashion history and memories. So from the simplicity of an exchange, my sincere interest once again did the magic. For us, for My Box from Italy, this extraordinary craftswoman and artist has decided to give birth to a limited number of creations that you will find in the Mirabilia box. I will tell you about her soon.
Finally, Montefortino. In the outback of the province of the city of Fermo, nestled in the Sibillini National Park and framed by high and fascinating peaks, lies a quiet and picturesque medieval village that stretches over a rocky ridge with alleys that develop on several concentric levels. Its location at the foot of the Sibillini Mountains offers a panorama that has few parallels.
Not far from here, I met a girl who, with her husband, chose a life of another time, and far from the city she started over in this very land, working on a dream that today is an incredible reality of high quality and environmentally friendly production. What does she make? You will find out in August with the Mirabilia Box.
Truly unique things await you in the fifth box from Italy, the luxury of niche products, literally sought after! You will be able to take a journey through time and touch the tale of a wonderful land.
In the coming weeks, I will reveal more about the artisans we met at these locations for box No. 5, which will be released in August.
Please, remember that MBFI's surprise boxes are in limited numbers, reserve your Mirabilia Box before they sell out.