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Culture: Curious Facts, Anecdotes & Legends

Laghi di Pilato_Inverno.jpg

There is a very special lake in the beautiful, Sibillini Mountains:  For there in an obscure, quasi-backwater, rare species of flowers grow.  Likewise, there is an exceedingly rare fairy shrimp endemic to the lake – the widely-held belief being that the very existence of these crustaceans is due to the lake’s specific, climatic properties. The lake - which eerily changes shape continuously - also phenomenally changes colour, at times turning pink. There is a climatic reason purported by experts in the field of ecological diversity for the pink waters. However, such a theory is scoffed at by others, significantly those who wish to believe the legend of the lake. For over the years, the lake has become known as a strange, mysterious place where once many feared to go. 

As to why, one must go back to the very first century and to the Governorship of Pontius Pilate (c. 26/27 to 36/37 AD). Pilate was the Governor of the Roman Province of Judea serving under the Emperor Tiberius, so it was to him that the Passion of the Christ judgement fell, swayed by the mighty outcry of the crowd. For Pontius Pilate, the truth was that Jesus was

innocent.  However, despite his misgivings, he condemned Jesus to death on the cross. In all “fairness” he publicly washed his hands of the matter; an act portrayed evermore as one of Pilate absolving himself from the condemnation. The role of Pontius Pilate, inextricably linked to this judgement, is very important in modern Christianity, as is underscored by his inclusion in both the Apostles and Nicene Creed.

However, Pontius Pilate was not so highly regarded in Rome, with a death order some time afterwards being decreed for himself.  This was widely believed to be as a punishment imposed by Emperor Caligula for his absolution in the Passion of the Christ ruling, or even, his conversion to Christianity subsequently (both a source of contention amongst historians). Whatever was levied against him, the story goes that the oxen-driven cart carrying his corpse back to his Abruzzo homeland toppled enroute, taking the driver, oxen, and Pilate's body with it, all to be submerged at the bottom of the deep, dark lake.  Weirdly, this ultimately led to the absorption of pagan traditions being entwined with Christianity itself – and to the name by which the lake became known. Legend also has it that over a thousand magicians and soothsayers visited the lake subsequently seeking the supernatural powers it was said to have possessed. After all, why did the lake start turning pink? Surely, it was the blood of Pontius Pilate himself!

Folklore aside, the lake ‘magically’ glistens, twinkling in the morning mist.  It now attracts visitors, climate change enthusiast and spiritualists who are entranced by the enduring lake and its bewitching presence. This alpine, glacier lake is a breathtakingly beautiful spot with enormous naturalistic interest. Just imagine the Apennine Edelweiss, Saxifraga and the beautiful yellow Apennine poppy (rare species in themselves) flowering amidst this glorious setting! There is also the exceedingly rare Chirocephalus Marchesonii, a fairy shrimp which is endemic to the lake.  Both legend and facts attest to Lago di Pilato being the only known place where these crustaceans can be found.  A testament to its special climatic conditions, perhaps, and (as the spiritualists would have us believe) its enduring, spiritual properties. (Source:

Lake of Pontius Pilate
Lucius Flavius Silva & the Siege of Masada


Under the command of Lucius Flavius Silva, the 10th legion of the Roman army surrounded Masada and began constructing a massive siege ramp to breach the fortress walls.The siege lastedfor several months, during which the Romans faced numerous challenges due to the impregnable nature of Masada's defences. Eventually, in 74 AD, the Romans breached the walls and stormed the fortress. However, upon entering Masada, they discovered that the Sicarii had chosen mass suicide rather than surrender to the Romans. According to historical accounts, the defenders of Masada, led by their leader Eleazar ben Jair, decided to take their own lives instead of falling into Roman captivity.

Lucius Flavius Silva Nonius Bassus was born in the Roman town of Urbs Salvia circa 43 AD (modern Urbisaglia), in what is now the Province of Macerata, in Le Marche. He was a Roman General, governor and Consul of the province of Judea (modern-day Israel). He is best known for his role in the Siege of Masada, which took place in Judea 72-73 AD. The Siege of Masada was a significant event during the first Jewish-Roman War. Masada was a fortress located on top of a rocky plateau near the Dead Sea. It was occupied by a group of Jewish rebels known as the Sicarii. The Sicarii had seized Masada and used it as a base to conduct raids against Roman forces.

Lucius Flavius Silva & the Siege of Masada

The Lake of Pontius Pilate (Lago di Pilato)

The Siege of Masada has become a symbol of Jewish resistance and perseverance in the face of overwhelming odds. It is a significant event in Jewish history and has been widely studied and commemorated. Lucius Flavius Silva's role as the Roman general in the siege is often mentioned in historical accounts of the event. Lucius Flavius commissioned the building of the amphitheatre in Urbs Salvia in 81 AD, one of the best preserved examples in the Marche region. He was also patron of his hometown Urbs Salvia, where he twice held the honorary position of praetor quinquennalis.

Charlemagne: an Alternative History

He was King of the Franks from 768, King of the Lombards from 774 and Emperor of Romans from 800. The currently accepted wisdom is that Charlemagne was buried in Aachen, under the chapel which pre-existed the current Cathedral. A local historian in Le Marche, Professor Giovanni Carnevale, a Salesian priest, after decades of systematic research in several European countries and the Middle East, has come up with a theory casting doubt on this 

belief and suggesting that the real site of his initial burial was a church in the countryside near Macerata, the church of San Claudio al Chienti. He also believes he has evidence to prove that the site of Aquisgrana, which was Charlemagne´s ‘Rome’, was not Aachen, but in fact the ancient Roman city of Urbs Salvia, the modern Urbisaglia near Macerata in the Marche region.

Source: Domenico Antognozzi, President of Centro Studi Giovanni Carnevale.

Charlemagne (747 - 814)

Thomas Becket's Chasuble

Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury (1162 - 1170)

The Thomas Becket chasuble is a sacred bell-shaped garment that belonged to Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury from 1162 to 1170, the year of his assassination. It is kept at the Diocesan Museum of Fermo, Marche, donated to the Cathedral of Fermo by Presbitero, Bishop of Fermo (1184-1201), who had received it from Thomas Becket himself, his friend and companion at the University of Bologna. The extraordinarily beautiful medieval artifact was embroidered in Islamic Spain around 1000-1030. It is believed to be the most important and oldest known example of Islamic embroidery used for a Christian purpose in the world.

Dante's Love Story in Gradara Castle

Where Dante’s Tragic Lovers met their end. (Canto V Dante’s Divine Comedy)

Upon seeing the walled, fairytale-like fortress, you will know that are approaching Gradara Castle (Castello di Gradara). Nestled in the hills of northern Le Marche where it brushes up to Emiglia Romagna, this imposing structure is one of the best preserved and striking castles in the whole of Italy.

Situated at 142 metres above sea level, with the Republic of San Marino, Rimini and Carpegna in the background, Gradara Castle and surrounding village represents an extraordinary urban and architectural combination. Furthermore, its imposing 14th century walls are some of the best-preserved, medieval, defensive walls within the region; the walls, themselves forming a walkway, where one can see the interesting structure and take in the pretty panoramas.

This eponymous and noble castle is also one of Italy’s most magical and fascinating; a visit will transport you back to the Middle Ages and Dante’s Divine Comedy.  For as classical scholars may recall, it was within these castle walls that the star-crossed lovers of Paolo and Francesca met their tragic end; Paolo and Francesca themselves becoming immortalised by the fifth canto of the Divine Comedy, with their tale, to some, turning the castle into a symbol of love.

In fact, beyond this love-lorn tale, long-told centuries of history can be experienced in the stunning walled hamlet of Gradara itself, the castle being at its peak with its skyline enhanced by the age-old battlements. Particularly enchanting is the view of fortress and underlying, historical village at night. (Source:

Attempted Murder of the Medici Brothers

Attempted Murder of the Medici Brothers, April 26 1478

The most infamous murder of the Renaissance was the attempted public assassination of the two Medici brothers in the Duomo in Florence on April 26, 1478, on Easter Sunday in front of an audience of 10,000. Giuliano was brutally murdered but Lorenzo managed to escape. The assailants were said to be the Medici’s rivals, the Pazzi family, and this murder has come to be known as the Pazzi Conspiracy. More than five hundred years later Professor Marcello Simonetta, a scholar in Italian and Medieval studies managed to break the code of an encrypted letter found in previously closed archive. The letter was written by Federico da Montefeltro (Duke of Urbino and one of the most successful Condottiere of the Italian Renaissance), to Pope Sixtus IV. Simonetta has unearthed compelling evidence to suggest that the Federico da Montefeltro and the Pope were the real conspirators in a plot to assassinate the Medicis and end their rule in Florence. 

(Source: "The Montefeltro Conspiracy" by Professor Marcello Simonetta)

Giuliano de' Medici (1453 – 26 April 1478), portrait by Sandro Botticelli

English & Urbino Courts

The Important Relationship Between the English and the Urbino Courts

The first Italian painting to become part of the English Royal Collection was that of  Raphael’s St. George killing the dragon with his sword, the artwork being a gift to Henry VII by the powerful Duke of Urbino (Guidobaldo da Montefeltro) in 1506.  The King had previously bestowed the honour of the   English Order of the Garter to the Duke, an honour reflected by the depiction of St. George in the picture wearing the blue garter. Raphael’s painting itself reflects Henry VII’s appreciation of the Urbino court as well as the cultural prestige of Renaissance Italy.  Importantly, it remains to this day the most tangible evidence of the relationship between the English and the Urbino court. (Source: "The Relations Between the English and Urbino Courts, 1474-1508" by Cecil H. Clough)

St. George and the dragon by Raphael (c. 1505)

Ascanio Condivi

Ascanio Condivi (1525 - 1574)

He was born in Ripatransone in the Marche. He was a painter, writer, student, close friend and fellow painter of Michelangelo Buonarroti. Condivi’s biography of Michelangelo “Vita di Michelangelo Buonarroti” is a reliable and unparalleled description of Michelangelo’s life, work and personality. Condivi’s biography put pressure on Giorgio Vasari to revise his biography of Michelangelo in his publication ‘Lives of the most excellent painters, sculptors and architects’ in 1550.

Title page of Vita di Michelagnolo Buonarroti written by Ascanio Condivi, 1553


Michelangelo (1475 - 1564)

Michelangelo’s favourite cheese was Casciotta di Urbino and never ran short of this cheese during his artwork. He was so fond of Casciotta that he bought several pastures in the municipality of Urbania (province of Pesaro and Urbino) in order to secure a fresh supply of sheep and cow milk to produce the cheese.

Queen Christina of Sweden & Cardinal Azzolino

Queen Christina of Sweden (1632 - 1689)

Cardinal Decio Azzolino from Fermo, Marche was appointed Queen Christina’s representative within the Catholic Church and became her adviser and confidant. Queen Christina grew fond of Azzolino and it was rumoured he became her lover. A classic historical drama film (1974) directed by Anthony Harvey starring Peter Finch and Liv Ulmann is based on this romantic relationship. Queen Cristina died in 1689 having named Cardinal Azzolino her sole heir. She was given the honour of being buried within the Grotte Vaticane in St. Peter’s Basilica.

Sir Moses Monefiore

Sir Moses Haim Montefiore (1784 - 1885)

He was the most famous British Jew of his time, a true philanthropist, successful financier, stockbroker and banker of the 19th century. His Italian origins with the Marche region are firmly established. In 1563 the Montefiore family moved to Ancona, capital of the Marche region and a main trading port on the Adriatic Sea. Ancona was the oldest and the most important centre for the Jewish community in Italy dating as far back as the 10th century. From Ancona the Montefiore family migrated to Livorno (Leghorn, Tuscany) where Sir Moses Montefiore was born in 1784. As a young man he moved with his family to London. According to Simon Sebag Montefiore, a direct descendant of the Montefiore family, historian and author Sir Moses came from an ancient Sephardic Jewish family by the name of Carvajal which fled to Italy from Spain in the 14th century. In the late 16th century, the family moved from Spain to colonial Mexico in the false hope that it would provide safety from the Spanish inquisition. The only survivor of the Carvajal family who managed to escape the Spanish inquisition in Mexico was called Joseph Leon. Joseph Leon sailed by boat to Italy from Mexico, to a small town called Montefiore in central Italy (possibly in Tuscany or Le Marche) from whence originates the name. Joseph Leon is the first member of the Carvajal family to adopt the name of Montefiore. We have two artefacts connecting Sir Moses with the Marche region. The first is his family coat of arms, based on an embroidered Torah ark curtain made for the synagogue in Ancona in 1620 by Rachel Olivetti of Pesaro for her husband Judah Leon Montefiore. This ark curtain is exhibited in the Umberto Nahon Museum in Jerusalem together with other interesting artefacts from the Montefiore family.

The second is a 1741 manuscript, naming its original owner as, ‘Joseph, the son of the old sage Jacob Montefiore of Pesaro (born in Pesaro, Le Marche 1677), son-in-law of Isaac Alconstantin, Ancona's Chief Rabbi at the time.

Joseph Stalin

Joseph Stalin (1879 - 1953)

In 1907 he left his country hidden in a cargo ship carrying grain from the port of Odessa to Ancona to escape from the Tsarist police. He worked in Ancona, Marche as a night porter at the Rome and Peace Hotel in exchange for food and lodging. He lost his job because the owners of the hotel felt he was too timid with clients and not entrepreneurial enough. Young Joseph then moved to Venice where he temporarily took on the job of a bell-ringer on the island of San Lazzaro of the Armenians, a small island in the Venetian lagoon.

(Source: "L' acqua alta e i denti del lupo. Josif Dzugasvili a Venezia" by Emanuele Termini)

Legends of Sibillini Mountains
Sibillini Mountains 640px-South_Ridge_-_Monte_Vettore.jpg

​Legends of the Sibillini Mountains

The Sibillini Mountains are steeped in folklore and ancient legends. Long ago, there were hushed whispers that in the caves within the mountains, dark characters, said to be allies of the devil himself, were hidden.  These rumours were further fuelled by the tales of the Sibyls/’old hags’ - legends of the mountains capturing both chivalric and medieval imaginations.

It was from these Sibyls that the Sibillini mountain range is said to have derived its name. Rumour has it that the Sibyls abided in the mountains after Christianity had driven them out of their grottoes close to Naples - the very existence of these hags spawning many a legend.

Then there was another group of mystical-driven folk.  These folk were heading to the mountains with a specific ritual in mind.

There, in-between the two pools the lake at times comprises, they would lay out a circle of stones before spending the night within them under the starry skies. Who knows what magical powers they set store by this archaic ritual?   However, such pilgrimages aroused fear in some of the local inhabitants, and legend has it that the Franciscan Friars walked from one Sibillini mountain village to another fearful of the lake. However, such legends should not let us detract from the sheer beauty of the mountains.  Straddling the provinces of Le Marche and Umbria, the mountains in central Italy - which incorporate the Sibillini National Park – are a serious challenge for any keen hiker. Despite the challenges, though, the mountains have unexpected delights.  These include the Pulsatilla anemone together with the poppies growing alongside the lentils in the wild and rugged mountain peaks. Then there are the Eurasian eagle owls, roe deer and peregrine falcons

being amongst the wildlife that inhabit them. The legendary lake, especially when retreating into two smaller, almond-shaped pools, glistens in the morning sunshine. Just take a moment. Inhale the fresh morning air and fall under the magical spell for the mountains are captivating – a stunning combination of mystical folklore and natural, geological beauty. (Source:

From the Holy Land to Loreto, Marche

From the Holy Land to Loreto, Marche

According to the tradition, the Loreto Holy House, that is to say three walls of the building where the Virgin grew up, received the Annunciation and where the Holy Family later lived, was picked up in Nazareth, then flown by Angels and landed where it still lies, in Loreto, the night between Dec the 9th and the 10th, 1294.

Put this way, it is obviously a legend. But the three walls are genuinely from Nazareth, and it was really transported by Angels. The original, simple and poor construction had been built against a rock, that, carved, provided an extra room – actually a cave- without needing a fourth wall. It was a common habit, in Palestine. The house was comprehensibly renowned since the early years of Christian age and it was straight away considered a sacred place. It was later taken care of, in turn by the Byzantines and Crusaders, who protected it with a further church built to contain it. In 1291, when it was clear that the Holy land was soon to be lost by the Crusaders, it came to Europe as well as numerous other Christian relics. Those three walls in particular, were a marriage dowry for Ithamar, daughter to Nicephorus Angelos (hence the “Angels”), tyrant of Epirus, who had them transported with one of his ships. Ithamar was to marry Philip, son to Chrles II of Anjou, king of Naples. Due to a chain of events the disassembled walls stayed 3 years in the present Croatia, not far from the town of Rijeka, then were moved again and reassembled in the territory of Recanati, Marche. Around it, after quickly becoming a popular shrine for all Europeans, about three centuries later the town of Loreto (from lauretum = bay trees wood) would grow as an independent town. Archaeological studies carried out between 1955 and 1965 both in Palestine and in Loreto, confirmed the real origin of the stones, which were then integrated with local bricks, to complete the roof and add the fourth wall. That is how the Holy House of Loreto

got its present look, embellished by a stunning marble covering, masterfully sculpted to tell Virgin Mary’s life, together with figures of prophets and sibyls. Along with millions of devoted pilgrims, kings, emperors and internationally famous people (too many to name them) have visited till present time, the Shrine of Loreto, the most important one dedicated to the Holy Virgin. The shrine itself has been enriched with masterworks by great architects and other artists from 1400’s to 1800’s, such as Donato Bramante, Andrea Sansovino, Francesco di Giorgio Martini, Baccio Pontelli, Luigi Vanvitelli, Giuliano da Maiano, Giuliano da Sangallo, Lorenzo Lotto, Luca Signorelli, Melozzo Da Forlì and quite a few others. (Source: Marco Rotunno)


Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam, son of Gerard of Rotterdam

Erasmus of Rotterdam & Le Marche Connection

In the recent biography of Erasmus of Rotterdam, written by Sandra Langereis and published in 2021, revelations emerge about the lineage of this esteemed figure. Erasmus's father, Gerard of Rotterdam, was a priest, and his mother, Margaretha, hailed from a family with a medical background in Zevenbergen. Erasmus, born on October 28, 1466 (the exact year remains somewhat uncertain), was deemed illegitimate—a circumstance not uncommon during that era, especially for priests.

In an era where it was not uncommon for priests to have children, Gerard assumed responsibility for Erasmus's education. The unique connection between Erasmus's father and the region of le Marche, particularly, adds an intriguing dimension to their family history.

During the years 1457 and 1458, Gerard played a significant role as a manuscript copyist in the Monastery of the Benedictines atop Monte Fano, in proximity to the renowned city of Fabriano in the Marche region. Fabriano was already distinguished at that time for producing the finest quality paper. Gerard's professional pursuits and academic endeavors led him to work and study in Fabriano during this period. Additionally, he undertook studies in Rome, a city of great intellectual and cultural significance.


This connection with Fabriano is not merely historical; it is a noteworthy facet of Erasmus's family background. Later, Erasmus, following in his father's footsteps, pursued studies in Turin, visited Rome, and conceivably may have explored the Monastery where his father had once held a position of considerable importance. The intersection of Erasmus's familial legacy with the intellectual and cultural milieu of le Marche provides a richer understanding of the roots of this influential figure in European history.

Erasmus of Rotterdam & Le Marche Connection
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