Imagine a small hill-top town, its old buildings ringed by a defensive wall. The wall is threaded through with covered passageways, known as copertelle. In the past these afforded the residents a safe route around the town even at times of attack. Today they repay exploration by visitors who want to absorb some of the unique atmosphere of this pretty town.
This is Serra San Quirico in Italy’s Marche region. The Romans founded a settlement here to guard the strategic route through the Gola della Rossa; and it grew during medieval times to become the fortified town that we still see today. To wander its narrow streets and weave your way through the network of copertelle is to feel part of an earlier time. The occasional encounter with the twenty first century – maybe a local chatting on their mobile phone, or the inevitable cars that struggle to negotiate roads built for a slower form of transport – comes always as something of a surprise.
With several interesting churches and a sleepy piazza complete with 16th century fountain, Serra San Quirico is a very appealing town in which to while away an afternoon. So join me please on a walk through its streets for Jo’s Monday Walks.
Let’s start with a walk through those copertelle. For most of their length arched windows look out over the valley. Today these are often decorated with plant pots but they must originally have served as look-outs. Many of the town’s houses open directly into the copertelle; it seemed odd to come across a shiny new front-door here and there, or an umbrella left casually outside.
In places the copertelle emerge into the open for a stretch, only to dive back into the old stones of the walls. Near one such stretch I spotted a faded fresco of St Christopher; unfortunately I have been unable to determine its age or anything about it.
Within the walls we find a maze of narrow streets, many of them stepped.
Piazza della Libertà
Most of these streets lead to, or from, the Piazza della Libertà. This is fairly small and is uneven in shape, longer on its north-south axis than its west-east. In the centre is a lovely fountain dating from the 15th century (some sources say 16th), a popular gathering place for local people. At the southern end of the piazza is the town hall, in a building dating originally from the 15th century (although clearly with some more recent additions) and behind it the 13th century municipal tower.
In the north east corner of the piazza is a covered portico known as the Loggia Manin. From here you can get some great views of the surrounding countryside below and beyond the town.
Climbing some steps from one corner of the piazza brings us to one of the village’s most spectacular churches, dedicated to Santa Lucia. Its unprepossessing exterior gives little clue as to the riches inside this little church. The Baroque decoration is ornate but being largely white and gold is not too overpowering for this relatively small space. There are a number of paintings, many of them by Pasqualino Rossi (164-1718). He was responsible for an Assumption and the Virgin of Carmel, as well as all the paintings of the martyrdom of Santa Lucia in the apse. Rossi is only relatively recently being recognised as one of the greats of his era.
But I was more taken to discover that another of the church’s paintings, of the Madonna and Child with Saints Joseph and Sylvester, was done by the so-called Cavalier d’Arpino, Giuseppe Cesari. Arpino, in Frosinone, is the small town from which my husband’s mother’s family originated.
The organ is magnificent and was made by Giuseppe Testa in 1676, while the ceiling dates back to 1694. And I loved all the little cherubs that clustered around the arches of the side chapels.
The church was closed when we arrived in the town (around lunch-time) but a sign promised that it would open at 4.00 pm. The friendly guy in the tourist information office checked with a passing woman when we asked about visiting it; whether she was on her way to open up anyway, or did so just for us, I’m not sure. If you find it closed when you think it should be open, do go and ask at the information office as you may be able to get admittance. It is well worth it!
This has been a very brief visit to Serra San Quirico. I hope however that it’s given you a taste of this lovely Marche village. I’ll finish with a few more images of the little details I love to photograph in such places, to further whet your appetite for a walk through its streets.
I visited Serra San Quirico in 2013 and 2014; all but one of these photos date from the first visit