The historic Italian town of Tolentino is situated in the Marche region of eastern Italy to the south-west of Macerata, on a round hill at the foot of which the Chienti River flows.
Although best known for its basilca, Tolentino also has an interesting old town and some highly regarded museums, and is also in close proximity to the popular abbey of Chiaravalle de Fiastra.
Your visit to Tolentino can start with the Basilica of San Nicola da Tolentino, built between the 13th and 14th centuries, but largely restored and modified later.
The Baroque style façade dates from the 17th-18th centuries and has a Gothic style portal with numerous reliefs and statues, by Nanni di Bartolo.
The interior of the basilica has a nave with a coffered ceiling. In the chapel on the right is a work by Giovanni Francesco Barbieri (1591-1666) called the “Guercino”.
From here you will be attracted by the so-called "Cappellone of St. Nicholas”, in Gothic style and decorated with a 14th century fresco cycle, a work by the so-called “Master of Tolentino”.
In the middle of the chapel there is a tomb in renaissance style containing the body of Saint Nicholas. From here we enter the cloister, probably dating from the 14th century, although the actual date is uncertain. It contains various paintings such as the "Madonna and Child", and others such as "Stories of St. Nicholas" by Giovanni Anastasi (1653-1704).
Museums worth visiting in Tolentino are the Ceramics Museum, the Gallery of “Ex-voto” and the Sanctuary Museum, with fine works in silver, wood, and various paintings from the 16th-18th centuries, and the archaeology museum.
Among the artifacts in the Archaeological Museum note particularly an “amygdale” red flint, dating from the Palaeolithic era, Neolithic arrowheads and several polished stone axes. Among the most striking items are a war chariot; some Etruscan bronze vessels and potteries decorated with black and red-figures, buckles and various ornaments.
From the Roman period there are several lamps, weights, and a large statue of the Flavian age (thought to represent Julia (64-91 AD), daughter of Emperor Titus (39-81 AD), and found in the 16th century. Particularly noteworthy is the “Lapidarium”, which houses a remarkable collection of Latin inscriptions, especially from the 1st century BC.
There are also many late-ancient and medieval inscriptions from the area around Tolentino. These include an inscription from the Devil's Bridge*, built in 1268 and designed by “Master Bentivegna”, with five arches supported by massive pillars and a square tower with battlements.
* The name Devil's Bridge comes from the legend of an agreement between St. Nicholas and the devil for construction of this bridge, in exchange for the delivery of the first soul that would pass across. It is said that the Saint was able to cheat the devil, throwing a cheese on the bridge and making sure that the first to go over was an animal.
Other Tolentino highlights
Nearby there is the 13th century Gothic style Church of St. Francis. The apse is just below the watch tower and has several 14th century frescoes. According to art critics many of these paintings are by Allegretto Nucci da Fabriano (1315-1373), hence date from around 1348.
Near here you can also see the medieval city walls and tower. Not far from the tower there is a Gothic style Church of San Catervo attached to an ancient Benedictine abbey, and famous for works in the style of Andrea di Cione di Arcangelo (aka Orcagna, 1320 ca.-1368). The church houses the sarcophagus of Saints Catervo and Settimia, dating from the fourth century.
Leaving the church, we recommend a visit to the Old Town of Tolentino, with its typically medieval structure, with narrow streets filled with shops of all kinds, and a market.
Abbey of Chiaravalle de Fiastra
Outside the town walls stands the Abbey of Chiaravalle de Fiastra. The Church, a mix of Romanesque and Gothic styles, is impressive in size at 72 meters long, 20 wide and 25 high. The Fiastra Abbey, over the centuries, became one of the largest in central Italy.
As well as the abbey there are buildings that completed the monastic structure such as the Chapter room, auditorium, dormitory, scriptorium and refectory.
A hospital for pilgrims, over the centuries the abbey was a centre not just of great economic importance but also a cultural and religious centre.
Then a slow decline began, and in the early 15th century it suffered serious damage when it was sacked by “Braccio di Montone”, a famous Soldier of Fortune (born in 1368), but also a patron of artists.
Today, after restoration, the old building is used as a place of meeting.
Tolentino and regional cuisine
Your visit outside the walls of Tolentino and to the ancient abbey is a perfect opportunity to try one of the local restaurants and the traditional cuisine of Tolentino, of which the so-called "vinciagrassi" is the most famous dish, along with typical “ciauscolo”, a pork sausage seasoned with garlic paste and fine pepper.
Among the wines to be tasted is the traditional white wine of “Colli di Macerata”.
See also history of Tolentino