10/15/2003 Italy in Fall 2003 Day 8 - Macerata
Jim and Diana write:
The weather is really terrible when we wake up....foggy and damp; it has rained during the night. It is hard to see even the outline of the first ridge of hills from our balcony. We decide to take it slowly this morning and hope for a break in the weather.

By 10 am, it has brightened somewhat and we decide to head out....Fabriano is about 35 miles west and north of Macerata but, according to my maps, there don't appear to be any alternatives to the main roads. The trip is slow....lots of traffic and construction. But the scenery is quite dramatic....the rolling hills changing into deep-green forested mountains, dotted with hill towns and castles.

It takes over an hour to reach the approach to Fabriano.....and from there it is another 15 minutes to the centro storico, down a long straight approach road, lined with factories and shopping centers. One of the large factories is Maliani, which is the last remaining large paper making company in Fabriano.

We park right in the main square...actually a triangle surrounded by the public buildings all dating back to the 14th and 15th century--a very attractive piazza. Our first destination is the Museum of Paper and Watermarks, set in an old abbey. We first watch a video (in English) about Fabriano and how papermaking developed in this area. Paper had come from China to Spain and then to Italy around 1250 AD. The Fabriano area had two factors that contributed to its success in the paper abundance of water and a strong guild system. Fabriano became the major supplier of fine paper for most of Europe....this continued until the 17th century when new technologies were developed. But Fabriano's paper industry was revived in the mid-19th century by adopting modern production techniques and it still maintains a prominent position in the manufacture of fine paper and paper goods. In the museum, they have reconstructed the old machinery and demonstrate the process of paper making.....taking rags and scraps, mashing them to pulp, making a solution of the pulp and water, then putting the solution on a fine mesh screen, which allows the water to drain off, leaving the pulp on the screen which forms a wet rectangle. The rectangle is peeled off in a sheet, dried on felt, and then the excess water is pressed out and it gets a final drying.

The museum also has exhibits on the development of the watermark, which was a major feature of Fabriano paper, first as a "brand" for the paper maker and later as a custom design for the consumer. Today, Fabriano not only makes paper for consumer use, but supplies a number of countries with the paper for its banknotes.

We walk back through the town and notice that a lot of the buildings are still covered with scaffolding; Fabriano had been hit by the same earthquake that devastated Assisi and Umbria, and many churches and public buildings are still being restored. There is not much open in town, so we get in the car to drive to an osteria that we had walked past near the Museum...only to find that it is closed on Wednesdays. We then follow a sign for another restaurant--the Osteria del Fortino--in the same neighborhood...which also looks closed up but in fact is open.

In fact, the trattoria is quite crowded; there is a pleasant back room filled with a young crowd seeming to be having a good time. We both have the pasta of the day....rigatoni all'amatriciana....which is very nicely cooked, followed by a plate of salumi and cheese for Diana and sauteed spinach for me. A successful lunch.....and no wait for the check; just take the order slip that is left on your table directly to the cash register.

We have about 45 minutes before the paper shop in the centro opens up, so we hop in the car and drive north towards the Gola di Frassassi, a deep gorge where there are also spectacular caves. It is a scenic drive and the gorge is narrow and dramatic. The caves appear to be a big tourist draw....there is a gigantic parking lot in the town of Genga Scalo where they sell tickets and run shuttle buses to the entrance. We take the limited access highway back to Fabriano (lots of tunnels and lots of trucks--this is the main road from Rome to Ancona) and are back in town in about an hour.

The more attractive paper store is closed (although it was supposed to reopen at 3:30 pm) so we head to the other recommended store. Diana buys a number of items and the proprietor wraps the gift items with flair. We are back at our hotel for a pre-dinner rest and short stroll around town. We explore some of the areas of town we had missed before and take a walk in the public gardens outside the walls. I had expected to take the elevator from the parking lot back up to the center....but it is out of service--the sign says extraordinary repairs--so we have to take the stairs....about 10 flights up.

We have dinner at a nice little trattoria called Osteria dei Fiori, a short distance from the hotel but down one of the steep sets of stairs that pass for streets in Macerata. It has an eclectic menu....mostly traditional Marchigiani dishes, but with some creative touches. Diana has a cheese plate followed by a nicely cooked dish of risotto ......I have a dish of baked polenta served with cabbage and guanciale (I thought it would be cooked together, but it is served as three separate elements) and a very rich lentil soup which I like very much. I have the panna cotta for dessert, not as good as at da Secondo. We have a red wine from Santa Barbara that is very robust.

We make it slowly up the stairs and back to the hotel....this is our last night in Macerata.