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** NEW: Five of Le Marche's Most Unusual Museums (Free Italy Travel Advice) **
Duncan Campbell,

There are generally two problems most people (other than Italophiles)

have with Le Marche – the first is simply associating it with

Italy, and the second is pronouncing its name.  Bordered by


Adriatic in the east and the Apennine range in the west, “Leh

Markay” is Italy's secret gem – some of


country's best-preserved medieval and Renaissance towns, a

treasure-chest of art, culture and cuisine rich in tradition, and

landscapes to rival anywhere in Italy. 

But there's a lot

more too – it's a region full of surprises,

inviting you

around the next corner in quest of those special serendipitous

discoveries that make experiences so personal and memorable. 


are just a few – five unusual museums that rub shoulders with

their more traditional cousins, offering an affable complement to the

ample variety of more “classical” museums that

permeate the



della Carta e della


While paper was invented in China in the second century AD and brought

to the Middle East in the ninth century by the Arabs, it was in


that the first paper manufacturing plant in Europe was

established in the 12th century.  After flourishing in the


century, the industry went into decline until the 18th century, when it

was resurrected by style="font-style: italic;">Pietro Miliani,

who introduced efficiency, new techniques, and commercial acumen to

once again raise the town to its place as Italy's most


paper-making centre.

The Fabriano craftsmen introduced a revolutionary new coating made from

animal by-products to prevent the paper from going moldy; adapted a

hydraulic hammer mill to replace the Arab's hand-operated


piston and stone mortar; and invented the watermark. Their expertise

resulted in Fabriano being selected to make bank notes in 1780, not

just in Italy but also beyond its borders, a function it still fulfills

today in the printing of euro currency.  It was also the first


produce fine quality tissue paper, and today still produces

high-quality handmade paper using the same techniques as 700 years ago.

The Paper and Watermark Museum traces the town's fascinating

history of this important craft, with centuries-old machinery and

well-preserved manuscripts illustrating its prominence over the

ages.  The museum is housed in the magnificent 14th century


church of San


target="_blank">Paper and

Watermark Museum href="" target="_blank">

Largo Fratelli Spacca, 2


(39) 0732 709297

Open Tuesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Closed Monday.

Entrance fee: 5.50 euros for regular entrance, discounts available.


Internazionale della


The medieval town of style="font-style: italic;">Tolentino

counts a number of significant events

and figures in its history.  Most notable among them are the

mystic Saint Nicholas, the signing of the treaty between Napoleon and

the Pope in 1797 (handing over all papal territory and its assets to

the French emperor), and the crucial battle in 1815 in which Austrian

forces defeated Napoleon's brother-in-law, Joachim Murat,

King of

Naples (and would-be unifier of Italy).  But it's


the International Caricature Museum that's most unique, being


only one of its kind in Italy, and one of only a handful

worldwide. In a country where medieval and Renaissance art

predominate, it's a refreshing step off the mainstream path


the world created by native style="font-style: italic;">Luigi Mari

in 1970.

The museum is housed in the 16th-century style="font-style: italic;">Palazzo Sangallo,

and is home

to over 3,000 caricatures from all over the world – including

drawings, statuettes, and puppets –dating as far back as the

1800s.  The idea grew from a competition arranged by Mari in


which has since turned into a Tolentino tradition – the


International Competition for Humor in Art.  Winning


from previous editions of the competition are amongst the permanent

displays.  The 2009 event is entitled "The children are

watching us

(… and laughing at us)", and the entries can be seen in the


building as the museum from July 11th – October 25th, 2009.


target="_blank">International Caricature Museum

Palazzo Sangallo


(39) 0733 969797

Open Tuesday through Sunday 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. to

6:30 p.m. Closed Monday. 

Entrance fee: 3 euros


Museo Internazionale della


China once again features in the invention of a product that Italy

helped to make popular worldwide, this time the accordion. In a

town perhaps better known as the site of the last major battle for

Italy's unification in 1861, style="font-style: italic;">Castelfidardo

just two years later

saw the establishment of the country's first initiative to

manufacture these instruments on a commercial scale.  After

receiving an accordion as a gift from an Austrian pilgrim on his way to

the Holy House in nearby style="font-style: italic;">Loreto,

young Paolo

Soprani disassembled the

instrument and realized that he could easily create similar

versions.  So started a thriving industry that ultimately made

local folk music more accessible due to the portability of the

accordion.  Over the years it has become synonymous with


emigrants, whose most immediate connection with their homeland was

often their trusty accordion.

The International Accordion Museum is housed in a 16th-century

building, and has over 350 examples of the instrument, including a

replica of the first known example from China dating back 4,500

years.  There are actually three distinct types of accordion

– the diatonic, the chromatic, and the piano – and

the list

of their constituent parts is quite remarkable, including cashmere,

lambskin, rubber, and virgin wax.  Every year in October the


holds an accordion festival attracting artists from all over the globe,

their dexterous wizardry producing sounds you'd never have

believed could come from this humble instrument.

target="_blank">International Accordion Museum

Via C. Mordini, 1


(39) 071 7808288

Open Tuesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and Monday through

Sunday, 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. 

Entrance fee: 3 euros, with special discounts available.


Malacologico Piceno 


Marittima's history

is a world away from its current

profile as a quiet seaside town sandwiched between the serried rows of

striped umbrellas that define the quintessential Adriatic


But even the thriving Roman center of its past as well as its

predecessor – an ancient religious centre of the Picene


who worshipped the goddess Cupra in a temple on a nearby hill

pales age-wise when compared with some of the relics contained in one

of the town's main attractions, the Malacological


Home to one of the world's largest shell collections, it also


an impressive array of fossils, many dating back over 500 million

years.  The 3,000 square-meter museum has over 900,000 shells

– not all of them on display – organized into


categories: religion and art, mother-of-pearl, cameos, buttons, tiles,

and masks, for example.  Naturally there's also an


display of the colorful and unusually-shaped shells in their original

state, as well as a curious section dedicated to sharks.

target="_blank">Picene Malacological Museum

Via Adriatica Nord, 240

Cupra Marittima

(39) 0735 777550

Opening times – June: Daily 4 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.; July and


4 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.; April, May, September:  Tuesday,

Thursday, Saturday, Sunday

3:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.; October through March: Thursday, Saturday,

Sunday  3 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.

Entrance fee:  7.50 euros with special discounts



delle Ceramiche

Like Cupra Marittima, style="font-style: italic;">Pesaro

has ancient Roman origins, but its

development into the modern age has been starkly different –

today it's Le Marche's second largest city with a

flourishing industry and tourist trade.  Among its attractions


the Ceramics Museum with one of the richest collections in

Europe.  Once a thriving industry in these parts as far back


the thirteenth century, the city was known for its brightly-decorated

earthenware known as style="font-style: italic;">majolica.

 Each of the museum's six

display rooms showcases a specific era of the industry's

development, providing rich examples of the workmanship and artistic

designs of its craftsmen.  You'll find exquisite


depicting historic scenes, floral motifs – in particular the


rose, symbol of Pesaro – and the more modern artwork of the

twentieth century.  The museum was founded in 1857, and today


over 3,400 pieces.  Also housed in the same 17th-century style="font-style: italic;">Palazzo

Toschi Mosca is the art

gallery, containing Giovanni Bellini's

masterpiece, style="font-style: italic;">The Coronation of the


Ceramics Museum 

target="_blank">Civic Museum

Piazza Toschi Mosca, 29


(39) 0721 387474

Open Tuesday through Sunday, 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., also Thursday

through Sunday, 

4 p.m. to 7 p.m.; from July 1 through September 13, open until 10p.m.

on Friday. Closed Monday.

Entrance fee: 4 euros with special  discounts available. Some

days are free, see Web site. Combined tickets available for other




Campbell, a regular contributor to

Dream of Italy, style="font-style: italic;"> now operates


Marche Tours, style="font-size: 12pt; font-family: "Times New Roman","serif";"> style="font-style: italic;">specializing in

small-group cultural, historic, nature, and curiosity tours of

Italy's best-kept secret, Le Marche.  He shares his

discoveries as he roams around the region on his blog,

href="" target="_blank">Uncommon

travel in authentic Italy style="font-style: italic;">.

Photo credits (top to bottom):




della Carta e della Filigrana

3. Duncan Campbell

4. Civico Museo Internazionale della Fisarmonica




Gratification of the Gauls on Caesar's victory over the


End 16th century

Inscription on the back: VR/BI/NI, VRBINI

Collection of Domenico Mazza

Diameter max 63 cm

Used by permission of Municipality of Pesaro, Civic Museum (Inv. 4138)

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