Francesco De Marchi

*1504 Bologna - ✝15-FEB-1576 L'Aquilla

Francesco De Marchi. Public Domain.

The Italian courtier, architect, engineer and author of the Renaissance, gained posthumous fame for the first ascent of Corno Grande (2912 m asl), the highest peak of the Gran Sasso massif. However, the first ascent was not officially recognised until 1938. He is famous as a speleologist because on the following day he also explored a more than 80 m deep cave at the foot of the massif and documented this exploration in detail in the best Renaissance manner. This is considered the first speleological cave exploration in Italy, probably the first ever. He was 69 years old at the time.

De Marchi came from a family of woodcarvers from Crema who lived in Bologna. Little is known about his life before 1531, the year in which he entered the service of the Florentine regent Alessandro de'Medici called "il Moro". In 1535, he went to Rome on behalf of the Medici and studied architecture and fortress architecture. In the same year, he discovered at the bottom of Lake Nemi the relics of two ostentatious ships of the Roman Emperor Caligula. He used an open diving helmet to do so, and although he was unable to recover them, he became famous for his detailed notes, which were later published. In 1536, the Moro married the illegitimate daughter of Charles V, Margaret of Parma. After the Moro's assassination, she married Ottavio Farnese and he transferred to his service. On his behalf, he travelled extensively, making observations and taking notes. From 1542 until his death, he worked on an extensive work on architecture, which remained unfinished. He is famous among historians for the eight years he spent in Flanders in Margaret's retinue. His letters to the secretary of the Duke of Parma contain much information about the conflict between Protestants and Catholics that was openly swelling in Flanders.

In 1568, Margarethe returned to Italy and retreated with her court to her lands in Abruzzo. De Marchi suffered from the seclusion and therefore made several excursions into the surrounding area. Among them were the first ascent of Corno Grande and the cave tour mentioned above.


1504 born in Bologna.
19-AUG-1573 first ascent of Corno Grande.
20-AUG-1573 first speleological cave exploration in Italy of Grotta a Male.
15-FEB-1576 died in L'Aquilla.