Marche (märˈkā) [key] or the Marches, region (1991 pop. 1,429,205), 3,742 sq mi (9,692 sq km), E central Italy, extending from the eastern slopes of the Apennines to the Adriatic Sea. Ancona is the capital of the region, which is divided into the provinces of Ancona, Ascoli Piceno, Macerata, and Pesaro e Urbino (named after their chief cities). The Marche is mostly hilly or mountainous, except for a narrow coastal strip, and is drained by the Metauro, Potenza, Tronto, and Nera rivers. Farming is the chief occupation; cereals, olives, grapes, vegetables, and tobacco are the main products, and livestock is raised. Industry has expanded in the 20th cent. with the construction of hydroelectric facilities. Manufactures include ships, textiles, chemicals, musical instruments, and pottery. Commercial and fishing ports are located at Ancona, Pesaro, Fano, and Senigallia. The Umbri and the Picentes (Greek colonists for whom part of the region was called Picenum) lived in the region when it was colonized (3d cent. B.C.) by Rome. After the fall of Rome the area was invaded by the Goths. In the 6th cent. the northern section, including four of the cities of the Pentapolis (Ancona, Fano, Pesaro, and Senigallia) and adjoining territories, came under Byzantine rule; the southern section became a part of the Lombard duchy of Spoleto. In the 8th cent. the region passed, as part of the donations of Pepin the Short (754) and Charlemagne (774), under the nominal rule of the papacy, but later emperors granted fiefs in the area until the 13th cent. The name Marche [boundaries] originated around the 10th cent., because the fiefs of Ancona, Fermo, and Camerino were established at the border of the Holy Roman Empire. Despite the strength of the popes and the emperors, who contested for control of the region, some cities established free communes or were governed by noble families (including the Malatesta, the Varano, and the Montefeltro). From the 13th to the 16th cent. the popes gradually established their rule in the Marche and ended local autonomy. The region was occupied by the French from 1797 to 1815, when it was restored to the papacy. The Marche was united with the kingdom of Sardinia in 1860.
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