The regional capital is Ancona. The region is divided into four provinces: Ancona, Ascoli Piceno, Macerata, all part of the ancient territory of Picenum, and Pesaro-Urbino which is composed of the traditionally separate provinces of Pesaro and Urbino, that were part of ancient Umbria. The provinces of the Marche have distinct histories, largely owing to the geography of the region: except for the river valleys and the often very narrow coastal strip, the land is hilly. In the 19th century a railroad from Bologna to Brindisi linked Le Marche along the coast-line of the entire territory, which otherwise had little communication north and south, owing to the mountainous nature of the country, except by rough roads over the passes.
In a traditional mezzadria system, under which products are equally divided between the owners and the cultivators of the land, the rather unproductive soil and difficult terrain was fairly highly cultivated. The port of Ancona was the only really good harbor, the other small harbors were used by fishing fleets: the Marche furnished a large contingent of sailors to the Italian navy.