Italy has produced some of the greatest art in the Western world. Le Marche has these artistic treasures in abundance. From world renowned works by artists such as Piero della Francesca to the lesser known paintings of artists such as Lorenzo Lotto that are dotted across the region, here you can witness close-up the results of the great cultural explosion that was the Renaissance.
Unlike some of the busier areas of Italy, in Le Marche culture comes in more digestible portions. Instead of endless museum corridors stuffed full of works, here many of the noble works still stand in the places for which they were first created. For example, many paintings by Carlo Crivelli are scattered throughout small parish churches in the southern stretches of the region. As well as the many great figures of the Renaissance who spent large parts of their working lives in Le Marche such as Piero della Francesca, Lotto and Crivelli, the region was also the birthplace of numerous leading artists, the greatest of whom was Raphael, born in Urbino in 1483. Others include the architect Bramante and Gentile da Fabriano.
From monumental works of ancient Roman engineering to the Late Renaissance flourishes of the Basilica of Loreto, Le Marche also has some of central Italy's finest architectural monuments. Perhaps the greatest of them all is Urbino's Ducal Palace, the model of the Renaissance princely palace - later copied but never equalled in its elegant beauty.
Amongst the architects who helped Duke Federico da Montefeltro build his palazzo at Urbino was Francesco di Giorgio Martini. It is this Renaissance genius of both civil and military architecture who has left his mark on many of the area's finest buildings - the impregnable fortress at San Leo in the north to Jesi's perfect Palazzo della Signoria are just two examples of his work.
But centuries before the Renaissance, builders were creating splendid monuments, mostly to the glory of God rather than local princes. The greatest of these were the Romanesque churches built between the 11th and 13th centuries. Of the many to be found today, the most outstanding include Ancona's Cathedral of San Ciriaco, the "double-decker" church of Santa Maria a Pič di Chienti near Macerata, and the beautifully-sited church of Santa Maria on the beach at Portonovo on the Conero Peninsula.
Art and architecture are by no means the region's only cultural achievements. The region boasts a rich musical heritage and was the birthplace of the great operatic composer Rossini. The annual Rossini Opera Festival in the composer's home town of Pesaro celebrates his genius with world-class productions from his extensive repertory. The region was also the birthplace of the Baroque composers Pergolesi and Gaspare Spontini.
Other musical highlights in the area include the annual open-air opera
season in the massive arena known as the Sferisterio in Macerata, second
only to Verona in Italy's summer open-air opera calendar.