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From Fonte Avellana to the summit of Monte Catria

Eight walks inspired by The Divine Comedy

After having scaled the mountain of Purgatory, the poet reaches Paradise, which lies at the summit of the mountain. Here the poet finds several beatified individuals of high moral virtue, including S. Francesco - the saint who nel crudo sasso intra Tevero e Arno/da Cristo prese l'ultimo sigillo -, and S. Pier Damiani, the famous Camaldolese monk who struggled to reform the clergy by fighting the practice of simony. Pier Damiani spent part of his contemplative life in the Hermitage of S. Croce at Fonte Avellana, located beneath Monte Catria in the Apennine section of the Marches. In Dante's description, the mountain appears to be a tall hump put there to separate the Adriatic and the Tyrrhenian coasts. Its relative height means that its summit is often shrouded in cloud, from which rumbling thunder is not infrequently heard.

« Tra' due liti d'Italia surgon sassi,
e non molto distanti a la tua patria,
tanto che' troni assai suonan più bassi,
e fanno un gibbo che si chiama Catria,
di sotto al quale è consecrato un ermo,
che suole esser disposto a sola latria.»

" A rocky pile, 'tween each Italian shore,
Thy country near, so stretches to the skies,
That far beneath is heard the thunder's roar.
It forms a ridge, Catria by name, where lies
A shrine, beneath, in a religious shade,
Whence prayers were wont to the true God to rise."

(Paradiso, Canto XXI, 106/111)

Monte Catria is one of the most interesting points from a walking point of view in the Apennines of Umbria and the Marches. This walk links the two locations mentioned by Dante; it starts from the Hermitage of Fonte Avellana and goes up - by means of an easy route, but one which involves lots of uphill walking - to the top of Monte Catria. Here, on a clear day, you can see the shining reflection of the sea on both the west and east coasts of the Italian peninsula.
The walk starts from the Hermitage of Fonte Avellana. Beato Lodolfo built an oratory here in the year 977 near the spring, and the building was added to over the centuries under the guidance of San Romualdo and San Pier Damiani, becoming an abbey in the 14th century; you can get an idea of its current imposing appearance by looking down on it from above as it nestles in the green Val Grassa.

Walk past the ancient spring and here, looking right, you can see an unsurfaced road that begins to climb the north-east slope of Monte Catria. Fortunately, after thirty or forty metres there's a bar to keep out traffic, so although it's a long climb, you can do it in absolute peace and quiet. The road climbs gradually from the valley bottom, going deeper and deeper into a thick wood of beech trees and rising gently with lots of U-bends. After about two hours' walk, you come to a junction with some large beeches that are hundreds of years old. While the track to the left leads off towards Pian d'Ortica, the main track, which is the one to follow, goes sharp right and continues to climb amidst beech trees. Soon after, however, you emerge from the wood and here you get a wonderful view of the whole valley and the large monastic building of Fonte Avellana. When you come to another important junction, go left (there's a side gate which is always open). This path climbs steeply to the Rifugio della Vernosa (with spring); behind the refuge, get onto a cattle-track running alongside the wood. This goes uphill and gradually turns into a well-marked footpath. The path is very clear and climbs steeply to the summit plateau, where there are no further problems in orientation. From here, in fact, you can see the metal cross on the summit of Monte Catria. This should be climbed in order to admire the 360-degree view and to enjoy, in season, the beautiful spring flowers on the grassy summit. The route now goes downhill. Take care, however, that you don't take either the footpath to the left, which goes down to the road for Fonte Avellana, nor the one to the right, that descends along a steep ridge. From the cross, go straight on, downhill towards the already-visible path of the unsurfaced road coming up from Pian d'Ortica. There are a number of faded and infrequent red signs indicating path number 103 which can help guide you. When you get to the car park (with a guard-rail), follow the bumpy cart-track that takes some wide bends, goes past the Rifugio Spicchi, and eventually ends up in Pian d'Ortica. Here you need to be careful because there's a fork in the road. Go left, walking through a beech wood and soon you come to the unsurfaced road used at the beginning of the walk. Go downhill along this, which takes you back to the Hermitage of Fonte Avellana.

Time required 7 hours
Vertical height 1110 m
Maps   L.A.C. 1:25.000, "Monte Catria"
How to get there The Hermitage of Fonte Avellana can be reached from Pesaro and Ancona by taking the SS. 16 to Marotta, where you get onto SS. 424 for Pergola. At Pergola, drive towards Sassoferrato and Fabriano and after about 7km, go right, following signs for Fonte Avellana.

 

Text and picture: Cinzia Pezzani & Sergio Grillo
Translation: Jeremy Carden


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