We’ll probably never know exactly who laid the first stone of that which would become Mondolfo, ranked among ‘Italy’s most beautiful villages’ (according to the list compiled by the namesake club), yet no mystery surrounds the origins of this walled town perched atop a hill. Far enough from the sea—so its first inhabitants were protected against incursions— yet sufficiently close for guarding the coast, Mondolfo is situated a few kilometres inland on the left bank of the Cesano Sea. Its hill-top location was strategic for controlling the coastal route linking Senigallia to Fano and Ancona to Rimini, as well as the road—flanking the river—that once led to Rome through the Furlo Gorge near Cagli, a renowned detour of the Via Flaminia consular road. Moreover, the surrounding territory was well-suited to farming, animal grazing and hunting: an abundant natural spring at the foot of the town guaranteed ample water supplies. The hills were littered with woodlands and their gradient ensured they could be easily defended. Such a location, therefore, offered the town’s first inhabitants adequate protection against natural calamities and hostile invaders. The Romans of the late empire period were quick to pounce on these advantages and built a byzantine fortification (castrum) around the 6th century. It was this fortified structure, erected to defend a small existing settlement, which was later encastellated.
The oldest records refer to this first urban nucleus by the name Castrum Marchi (presumably deriving from a temple dedicated to the god Mars, probably located on the hill’s summit). The economic recovery starting in the 9th-10th centuries continued throughout the Middle Ages and gave the walled town its typical appearance and character still noticeable today. Similarly to other Italian towns in the 11th century, the original nucleus of Castel Marco quickly became too cramped, and a further settlement gradually began to develop around the original fortified structure. Between the 13th and 14th centuries, new walls were built and the boundaries of Castel Marco came to incorporate the newer settlement. It was during this phase that the town acquired its definitive name of Mondolfo, which probably derives from Monte Offi — namely ‘Mount of Offo’, the forefather of the family who would rule over the town until the late 14th century, when the Malatesta and later the Della Rovere families came to power. It was under the reign of the Della Rovere family that Mondolfo— by then part of the Duchy of Urbino—underwent significant urban development fostered by the wealthy merchant class and aided by its strategic position guarding the coast and the Cesano River mouth. In the 16th century, works were begun to enlarge the church and convent dedicated to St Augustine, an unrivalled monument complex currently located near the main gateway to the walled town. The noble families of Mondolfo vied one another in decorating their altars within the church laded with art and history, and summoned the leading artists of the Marches between the late 16th and early 17th centuries. During the same period, several aristocratic families embellished their palaces, such as the Giraldi Della Rovere and Peruzzi families within the outer ring, or the dei Beliardi family within the inner ring. In 1615, reconstruction works began on the Parish Church of St Justine, later promoted to Major Collegiate Church status in 1635 by Pope Urban VIII; the church—containing several altarpieces and a fine historical organ by Gaetano Callido—was substantially altered during the 18th century, when Mondolfo underwent extensive renovation works. These lasted well into the 19th century, when the rural and artisan bourgeoisie rose to prominence and would eventually become the town’s dominant social class.
Mondolfo’s territory remained predominantly rural up to the first post-war period, until a flourishing beach tourism industry began developing in the early 20th century in the nearby Marotta, then inhabited by a few fishermen grouped around the Vecchia Osteria (‘Old Tavern’) coaching inn. The town also had a thriving artisan class specialising in the manufacture of farm carts (birocci), which spread Mondolfo’s fame beyond the region’s boundaries. Another dynamic sector was the accordion manufacturing industry, especially in the first post-war period, when the instruments were exported worldwide—particularly to South America—before the advent of electronics stunted the industry’s growth. Mondolfo also played an important role during the first and second Italian unification movements (Risorgimento), as highlighted by the construction of the Remembrance Park and War Memorial; the latter was recently restored and constitutes a fine example of monument architecture from that period.
Nowadays, Mondolfo’s economy relies on the shipyard industry, which produces luxury yachts, and the tertiary, horticulture and tourism sectors. Thanks to the seaside resort of Marotta (an FEE Blue Flag beach) and the walled town classified among ‘Italy’s most beautiful villages’ (according to the namesake club’s list), Mondolfo allows for enjoying ‘two holidays in one’.