The historic Italian town of Tolentino is situated on a round hill above the Chienti River. Although best known and usually visited for its basilica, 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.
Explore Tolentino: tourism and travel guide
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 of the basilica dates from the 17th-18th centuries and has a Gothic style portal with numerous reliefs and statues. It was designed 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”.
The highlight inside the basilica is 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 renaissance style tomb containing the body of Saint Nicholas. From here you can 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 Saint Nicholas" by Giovanni Anastasi (1653-1704).
The most interesting museum in Tolentino is the Archaeology Museum. Among the artifacts of particular interest is 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). Also noteworthy is the “Lapidarium”, which houses a remarkable collection of Latin inscriptions, mostly dating 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.
There are some other notable museums in Tolentino such as 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.
See also history of Tolentino
Other Tolentino highlights
Nearby you can also see the 13th century Gothic style Church of Saint 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) and date from around 1348.
Also close by you can see the medieval city walls and tower. Not far from the tower there is the 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 you allow time to visit the Old Town of Tolentino which has a typically medieval structure, with narrow streets filled with shops of all kinds, and a market.
Abbey of Chiaravalle de Fiastra and Castello della Rancia
The Abbey of Chiaravalle de Fiastra stands outside the town walls. The church, a mix of Romanesque and Gothic styles, is impressive in size at 72 meters long, 20 metres wide and 25 metres high. The Fiastra Abbey, over the centuries, became one of the largest in central Italy.
As well as the abbey church you can see the other buildings that were part of the monastic structure such as the Chapter room, auditorium, dormitory, scriptorium and refectory.
Originallya 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 meeting place.
A short distance to the east of Tolentino, the Castello della Rancia started life in the 12th century as a grain store for the abbey, then was transformed into a fortress in the 14th century.
Tolentino and regional cuisine
Your trip outside the walls of Tolentino to visit 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”.
Where is Tolentino?
Tolentino is situated in the Marche region of eastern Italy to the south-west of Macerata.
Selected places to visit near Tolentino
See the Marche guide for more travel ideas...