The abbey of San Vittore alle Chiuse sits in a beautiful setting a few miles north east of Fabriano, while its own beauty lies in its simplicity, set against the mountains behind. It dates back to the year 1011, and is a noteworthy example of Byzantine-influenced architecture in Italy. It is quite plain and very solid looking – easy to believe that it has stood here for all those centuries. From outside, the only immediately obvious decorative elements are on the Armenian style lantern, with its relatively delicate arches framing the brickwork. Look more closely though and you will see that the northernmost apse (on the left in my main photo) and the western side are topped with a scalloped frieze.
The entrance is more like that of a fortress, adding to this impression of solidity. Inside it is only a little more ornate, but I loved its peaceful simplicity. Four columns support the lantern in the centre of the church, with a thin line of red brick at the top their only decoration (see photo three). Arched vaulting at the top forms a square to frame the octagonal lantern, and more vaulting throughout is ornamented equally simply through the careful placing of bricks at angles to each other.
Next to the church is a small museum of palaeontology, featuring ichthyosaur fossils found during the construction of a tunnel along the SS 76, but we didn’t go inside so I don’t know how good it is. Worth a look though for anyone travelling with children I imagine.
~~ next tip ~~
Directions: At the southern end of the Frasassi Gorge – see Google maps location
The deep wooded Frasassi Gorge winds its way through the Apennines on the western side of the Parco Naturale Regionale Gola della Rossa e di Frasassi, not far from Fabriano. It is a classic example of a karst landscape excavated by water erosion over millennia; the river has shaped this land, creating its dramatic rocky cliffs and majestic caves. We drove through here on one of our days out in the Marche region. There wasn’t time unfortunately to visit the famous caves, the Grotte di Frasassi (see Ingrid’s tip – I would love to do this another time), nor to climb up to the small sanctuary known variously as the Eremo Santa Maria infra Saxa or the Santuario Madonna di Frasassi), though I caught a glimpse of this from the road.
But we did stop briefly to see the site of the annual Presepe vivente or “living nativity”, when local people (from nearby Genga) dress in biblical costume and take part in demonstrations of life in the time of the birth of Christ (grinding grain, baking bread, fishing, spinning and weaving, etc). They line the path that climbs to the sanctuary, where presumably the Christmas scene itself is depicted. Of course in May there was no Presepe vivente to be seen, though we could easily see some of the props used (it is held only on two days, 26th December and 6th January, from 15.30 to 19.00). But I did notice that the same path was lined with Stations of the Cross (photo two), meaning that there is something there for pilgrims visiting the sanctuary at whatever time of year they come.
Our stop was also a good opportunity to take some photos of the gorge (stopping places are very limited elsewhere) and to stroll down to the river Sentino on the opposite side of the road. Be careful if you do this as the bends make traffic hard to see and the locals drive pretty quickly!
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