The National Park of the Sibillini Mountains protects an area of approximately 70,000 ha, straddling the Marches and Umbria, in which natural features alternate with extraordinarily beautiful landscapes and historical architecture, evidence of man’s occupation dating back to prehistoric times, capable of leaving the equilibrium of the places unaltered.
Evidence of a stable anthropisation in this area can be seen in the discoveries of surface artefacts, such as rabbles, rough splinters, flint heads and blades, already dating back to the Middle Palaeolithic Period. The Lower Palaeolithic Period, on the other hand, is documented by the discovery of roughly hewn flints from a stone industry (from Campo dell’Ara in Sigliano, north of the Park) and a pebble depicting a naked female figure with a dog’s head (Cesolone, in the Tolentino area).
The Apennine civilisation, which lasted for a long time throughout the Sibillini Mountains, developed in the Bronze Age. Examples have been found in Pievetorina, where crescent-shaped handles, arrow heads and pottery have been discovered, and on Mount Primo at Pioraco, where the famous hoard of bronze artefacts was discovered inside a tiny cave.
Commencing with the Iron Age, the most conspicuous finds reveal a new cultural facies: Picena civilisation, originating or coming from the Balkans. This period saw a social structure divided into aristocratic groups, dedicated to agriculture and sheep-farming, which increased its economy by imposing tolls on trading that crossed the obligatory points between the Tyrrhenian and the Adriatic Sea. The necropoli in the orientalising stage (7th century – early 6th century BC) were scattered in bands inland, near the Apennine passes, such as Tolentino.
Although the inland territories of Sabina tightened their cultural links with the area of Ascoli Picena, as documented in particular in Norcia and Cascia, elements of Umbrian cultural tradition can also be traced, as shown by the Apennine deposit of bronze, stereometric human figures. The place name of Rasenna proves the Etruscans were also present in the area of Visso.
From the end of the 4th century BC, the region gradually became increasingly involved in the Roman expansion and was occupied for the first time after the defeat in the battle of Sentino (295 BC) of the Senone Gauls. This was followed by the submission in 290 BC of the Praetutii, garrisoned in the ager Praetuttianus (near today’s Teramo). This change in the situation made life between the Roans and the Piceni difficult and led the latter to rebel. As a result, one part of the territory was annexed to Rome and the inhabitants were granted citizenship without the vote, another was confiscated and the inhabitants deported to the area between Campania and Lucania on the Gulf of Salerno.
Later, during the social war, the Piceni took up arms once again against Rome, but their territory was soon occupied by Caesar’s troops and subsequently assigned to the veterans. Signs of land division are present along the Sibillini Chain, together with Roman evidence throughout the Park, proof that during this period the territory was profoundly reorganised with a larger road network and the foundation of several major towns, such as Urbs Salvia and Tolentium. The Augustan regional order placed the area in the Regio V Picenum and the Italic communes kept their autonomy.
After the crisis of the Empire, first the invasions by Alaric followed by the Greek-Gothic war destroyed the town and decimated the inhabitants, forcing the survivors to seek shelter on the hills, which led to the creation of small villages. Under Longobard rule the area was fragmented by numerous monastic and clerical figures throughout the territory, representing that phenomenon defined as monasticism. The Foglio al Tronto founded monasteries which were often a day’s walk one from the other.
From the 10th century onwards, the name Marca used to identify the area bordering the Empire (e.g. Marca di Camerino, Marca di Fermo) appears for the first time under the Ottoni. Gradually during the 12th century, the free Communes were established, together with the so-called “Comunanze”, rural communities which exploited the area and organised it into indivisible and inalienable properties, over which they had the right of sowing, grazing and forestage. Over the centuries this enabled the exploitation of the woods and pastures to be preserved.
The entire Park is characterised by numerous mediaeval towns, often in a strategic position along the main communication roads. This was the period in which settlements were established with fortified walls and access gates around the square, church and noble palace. Nowadays, some of these towns are considered the most beautiful villages in Italy and they maintain their original structure and preserve examples of considerable historic and architectural interest.
During the brief Napoleonic digression, the liberal ideas of the Enlightenment also spread throughout this area. Following the Treaty of Tolentino signed with Pope Pius VI, the French Emperor obtained the right to occupy Ancona and proclaim the Roman Republic, which also absorbed Fano, Senigallia and Ascoli. This experience was short-lived and the entire area returned once again under the control of the Church in 1816.
In 1860 with the battle of Castelfidardo, the area was occupied by the Piedmont troops and definitely annexed to the Kingdom of Italy.