San Ginesio: From International Law to Porchetta Gelato
On our Marches motorcycle trip a few years ago, we stopped in San Ginesio, once a fortified medieval castle (as were many of the marchigiani hilltop towns). The golden tones of sandstone and redbrick of the houses, fortified towers and circuit of fourteenth-century protective walls contrast with the hazy blue tones of the Sibillini mountain range off in the distance. Easy to see why San Ginesio is called “il balcone dei sibillini“.
We rode into San Ginesio through one of the four remaining medieval city gates (there were once eight) and parked the motorcycle near the thirteenth-century Ospedale dei Pellegrini di San Paolo (“hospice for the Pilgrims of St. Paul”), a domus hospitales which hosted the tired pilgrims enroute to Rome from the north (or on their way to the shrine of Loreto on the Adriatic seacoast).
The upper level of the Ospedale façade is graced with a thirteenth-century arched portico, where pilgrims once slept and now only a lonely spaniel leans out over the wall, gazing forlornly at visitors. As I photographed the graceful portico of low robust columns, a woman joined her spaniel and leaned over the wall of the loggia to ask us if we would like to come in to see her house. Recently-widowed, Signora Mirella (who lives in Rome) and her husband had lovingly transformed the interior into a splendid getaway home, fully respecting the medieval architecture as strict building permits would have required – and their own fine taste had evidently dictated. She showed us the house with pride but sadness: it was evident that the loss of her husband had taken the joy out of her escapes to San Ginesio.
We walked up winding narrow streets to the main piazza of San Ginesio where the statue of Alberico Gentili stands in the center of the main piazza in front of the cathedral. Born in San Ginesio in the 16th-century, Gentili received his doctorate in law at the Università di Perugia, soon after laying out the foundations for the study of international law. He ended his years teaching international law at Oxford as Regius Professor of Civil Law. The main piazza was once the forum area for the Romans and as I looked at the Gentili statue, I wondered if a Roman figure in toga in similar pose might not have once stood there…?
Behind the statue of a reflective Gentili rises the gothic Collegiata, main church of San Ginesio, curiously evidencing the influence of German gothic in the terracotta decoration on the door flanked by an in inscription of 1421 indicating Enrico Alemanno as the maestro builder (his name means literally “Henry, the German”). Inside, a group of local teen-agers were enthusiastically singing their hearts out – practicing for Sunday Mass – a stunning 15th-c. painted terracotta Pietà backdropping them.
Time for a gelato stop – and the locals recommended the Bar Centrale where the owners make their own ice-creams and I have to admit, never in Italy had I run into such curious flavors: specialties that day were porchetta gelato and fave e pecorino gelato! Porchetta (roast suckling pig), spit-roasted all night after being seasoned with rosemary, sage and wild fennel seed, is a specialty dish of both Le Marche and Umbria and Pino said the flavor was reminiscent of sage and fennel seed. Pecorino (sheep’s milk cheese) is enjoyed in the springtime in both regions with fresh fava beans. I tried a small taste of that flavor with trepidation – but settled for pinenut and white hazelnut, in the end.
Signora Mirella was there at the bar/gelateria with her spaniel, sipping a liqueur and in teary conversation with the owner’s wife. I don’t think she noticed us as we headed off towards our motorcycle…
Read about October 2016 earthquake damage in San Ginesio
Read about a favorite Marches seaside spot
Read about a favorite Marches region food festival
Click here to read about the Marches region “underground”
Read about San Giusto, our Marches stop before Tolentino
Read about Tolentino, another stop on this trip
Read about October 2016 earthquake damage in Tolentino
Read about Visso, another Marches gem damaged in the October 2016 earthquake