Penna San Giovanni, located at 672m above sea level, is a centre of considerable interest for both its salt-bromide-iodine-sulphurous waters and its landscape and climatic characteristics. It was the home of Blessed John of Penna, follower of Saint Francis, mentioned in the “Fioretti”; by the historian Giuseppe Colucci (18th century), author of the monumental work “Piceno antiquity”; by the painter Mario Nuzzi better known as Mario dè Fiori (17th century). The name derives from a pre-Latin term meaning rough and acute rocky peak and from the current name with that of Castle of Penna or Castle Saint John. On the basis of some archaeological finds, its origins can be traced back to Roman times when, according to folklore, there was a village linked to the nearby Faleria (the roman settlement at Falerone). The place was fortified in medieval times and was the residence of local lords. In 1259, at the time of the occupation of Manfredi, the inhabitants rose up and destroyed the Rocca (fortress) on the hilltop. The fortress was then rebuilt in the mid-14th century by the Varanos who had taken possession of the town on behalf of Cardinal Albornoz who sought to bring the order of the Marca in the name of the Pope; in the middle of the 15th century it was conquered and held for two decades by Francesco Sforza together with many other nearby castles, and then passed definitively under the dominion of the Church. From the medieval period, Penna retained the section of the primitive walls of the 13th century, the reconstructions of the 15th century with the protruding quadrangular tower and the doors of the 13th and 14th centuries: Porta della Pesa (14th century), the Portarella (13th century), Porta del Forno (14th century) and Porta S. Maria del Piano or Porta Marina (14th century). On the top of the hill, the remains of a tower of the original Rocca (fortress) where a narrow passage opens and legend says is hidden a golden hen with her chicks. Among the most important monuments, the Church of Saint Francis built in 1457 by Salino Lombardo but remodeled in the 17th and 18th centuries, retains the portal of the original construction and the terracotta floor. Inside, canvases from the 15th and 18th centuries. The ancient adjacent convent with cloister and porch has undergone various transformations in past centuries and has been used as a school. In the Town Hall building, built at the end of the 18th century by the architect Pietro Maggi, are secured artifacts from the Roman era and an interesting ceiling, almost certainly a private triptych of paintings, depicting the Madonna among St. Rocco, St. Sebastian, St. Apollonia and St. John, attributed by some to the Crivelli style. The clock tower is within the projecting part of the facade. The parish church of Saint John The Baptist was built between 1251 and 1256 by Giorgio da Como, known for the construction of the cathedrals of Fermo and Jesi; In the form of a Latin cross and a single nave, reformed in 1736, it preserves the wooden statue of the Baptist, a work of considerable artistic importance (16th century), perhaps the work of Desiderio Confini, and an interesting Crucifix from the same period. Of the original church of Saint Anthony The Abbot remains the robust bell tower built, perhaps, on the base of an ancient medieval tower house. In the Priorale palace, dating back to the 13th century, but much altered, there is the elegant municipal theatre built in wood and painted by Antonio Liozzi (18th century). Of interest is also what remains of the monastery of St. Philomena: the church, with a single nave, retains the now walled “women’s gallery” and the original, recently restored, terracotta floor. Inside there is a Holy Family attributed to Sassoferrato (17th century). Outside the centre of the village, surrounded by greenery, there are two small churches, among the oldest in Penna: the church of St. Bartholomew and the Romanesque church of St. Blaise. A few kilometres outside the village, on the banks of the Salino stream, are the springs of salt-chlorine-iodine-sulphurous mineral waters of “Villa Saline” used in the treatment of metabolic and skin diseases. The use of the water is documented from at least as early as the end of the 13th century when the stream was purchased by Penna for salt extraction.
At the height of the municipal era the town was garrisoned peripherally by four castles, of which unfortunately no traces remain today. They were:
THE CASTLE OF PLAROMALDO
Along with connected rights and land, it was purchased by the Pennese community in 1248. Plaromaldo was soon destroyed in 1249 and was probably to be built in the area of the Fosso di Saint Lawrence, towards the Tennacola.
THE CASTLE OF COLMERLO
It belonged to the Lornano family, whose relations held dominion over the stronghold of the same name located in the Macerata area, close to the banks of the Chiente river. Half of the Colmerlo, or Colmerulo, castle passed into the ownership of the Pennese community, while the remaining part was purchased by the community of Monte San Martino. No trace remains of this structure either, although the same-named district on the border with Monte San Martino is further evidence of its ancient existence.
THE CASTLE OF THE AGELLO
Located in the area of today’s Villa Aiello, it was the principal one of the four. Due to its location, right on the top of a hill hence its use to aid defences against enemy raids, it is often named in scrolls as the ‘Podium Agelli’. The residing family was that of Count Aldobrandino, a member of the nobles of Penna San Giovanni. The castle church was that of Saint Peter.
THE CASTLE OF THE HOLY CROSS
Its site was naturally on the hill of The Holy Cross, where there was a church dedicated to the sacred symbol. The ruin of the building, according to Colucci, dates back, probably to the beginning of the eighteenth century.