The Marche (at one time "The Marches of Ancona") sit on the east coast of Italy fronting the Adriatic Sea, with Umbria to the west, Emilia Romagna and the independent Republic of San Marino to the north, Abruzzo to the south, and a small corner of Lazio Roma to the south west.
At one time settled by the early italic tribe, the Umbrians, and considered part of Umbria by the neighboring Etruscans, and later the Romans, the Marche were absorbed into the Papal States and more or less remained there, an undesignated area, until the area was incorporated into the modern country of Italy in 1861 and the modern Region and its provinces created.
The coastal areas of The Marche are flat and relatively fertile, but the western reaches of The Marches, are ribbed with the Appenines. So, except along the coastal highway (A14) from Brindisi to Bologna, north-south travel is restricted to a myriad of secondary and tertiary highways and local roads, on which you will encounter - pleasantly - a countless number of small villages and towns, sitting at the edges of rivers, nestled in valleys or perched improbably on the sides, and sometimes the top of mountains.
The coast drive, coming either from the north or south is one of Italy's most picturesque, and chances are you will look for lay-bys where you can pull over and take a few snaps as you gather in the gorgeous sea views across the Adriatic and up and down the littoral.
Ancona is the only really sizeable commercial harbor along the Adriatic coast, although there are other smaller ports, especially Fano, that are the homes to small fishing fleets. Ancona is also an important Italian naval station, and The Marche have long been supplying sailors to the Italian navy.
Because Ancona is so busy, and because it is heavily industrialized and because a chaotic modern dreariness has risen out of the destruction wreaked on the place during World War II (the well dug-in Nazis and Canadian liberators fought a ferocious house-to-house action here) travelers and tourists tend to avoid the City. But, those who do will miss some of the architectural and artistic treasures that are found throughout the city, particularly in the old medieval core from which the modern city emanates.
In Ancona, Ascoli, Fano, Fermo, Urbisaglia and Macerata, there are numerous ruins from the era of the Roman empire. Architectural styles for churches, public buildings and the palaces of the wealthy range from Romanesque to Byzantine and Gothic. The Renaissance style also reached The Marche, and one will encounter both Renaissance buildings, and art works by Raphael (born at Urbino) and Bramante (born near Urbino).
Camerino, a hill-side city now home to a small university, and Matelica, a walled valley-town, in the central southern part of the Region also have a few architectural gems worth going out of the way to see. Fabriano, on the SS76 from Rome, is also a sizeable medieval city, surrounded by industrial plants, but strangely devoid of architectural and artistic merit. However, just to the east and north of the city is the Grotto di Frasassi, an extraordinary cave system high in the mountains. Access is somewhat pricey, but wow!
The agricultural lands in The Marche, like those in Umbria are, to the modern traveler, a delightful checkerboard of small vineyards, olive groves and fields ranging across the valley floors, up the gentler slopes of the mountains, and even on small plateaus and other level (and not so level) areas higher up. The checkerboard effect, however, was the result of an oppressive near-feudal land use system - mezzadria - that broke the land up into small holdings and tied peasant farmers to lands owned in large part by the aristocracy, the church and city dwellers.
The Marche, like other out of the way places in Italy, have a long, interesting and complicated history, and holds its own pleasures and treasures. Getting to know them takes more time than a passing glance. Now is a good time to make a plan to visit The Marches, another area of Italy that English-speaking travelers have yet to "discover", and so it has the feel, for us, of a new and different Italian experience.