Rimini and its hinterland
The old town centre
Let us begin with the city itself and the old historic town centre, which has regained so much of its former beauty in recent years: large green areas in place of parking spaces (although this has created quite a few difficulties for those arriving by car), the decentralised weekly market, the reconstructed 19th-century theatre, corners that were anonymous crossing points are now small, delightful routes for short walks. Rimini is a continuous discovery of archaeological treasures that come to light and become new points of interest. Think that in this city the DNA of the ancient Romans is even more present here, relatively speaking, than in Rome itself. If we then add two centuries of Malatesta rule (1300-1500), it is easy to understand why, wherever you dig, a wall, an arch, a piece of furniture emerges that is at least 500 years old.
The entrance to the city is signalled by the Arch of Augustus (built in 27 BC), the oldest preserved Roman arch. Continuing along the avenue that bears the same name, one arrives at the Vecchia Pescheria (Old Fish Market), a loggia built in the mid 18th century that preserves the long marble counters which displayed the fish and ‘poveracce’, or clams, the food of the poor in the past. Today the mainstay of many dishes in this area, which have retained their traditional name.
A few steps further on and you will reach the Malatesta Temple, commissioned by Sigismondo Pandofo Malatesta and which houses a crucifix by Giotto and a fresco by Piero della Francesca.
Don’t miss the guided tour of the diffused museum dedicated to Federico Fellini, born in Rimini, where ‘everything is imagined’. The visit focuses on three historical elements:
- Castel Sismondo, the 15th-century Malatesta fortress which involved the contribution of Filippo Brunelleschi in the design.
- il Palazzo del Fulgor, an 18th-century building housing the legendary cinema immortalised in ‘Amarcord’
- Piazza Malatesta, with green spaces, arenas for performances, art installations and an immense veil of water to recall the castle’s ancient moat.
The imposing rock on which the village is perched makes it very picturesque: from here the view is truly breathtaking, your gaze will wander from the Marecchia Valley along the entire Rimini coastline.
The village is full of history: the oldest finds date back to between the 10th and 7th centuries B.C., where there is evidence of the settlement of the Etruscan civilisation.
Dante himself mentions it in a canticle of the Divine Comedy (inf. XXVII, 46-48): XXVII, 46-48):Verrucchio’s Old Mastiff and its New One, who both were bad custodians of Montagna, still sink their fangs into their people’s flesh..
With the advent of the Malatesta family, this place experienced its period of greatest splendour: the Rocca del Sasso, one of the largest and best-preserved Malatesta fortifications, is the greatest testimony to this.
A member of the I Borghi più Belli d’Italia (the Most Beautiful Villages in Italy) association thanks to its charm deriving from the extraordinary layout of the town and the ensemble of buildings of which it is composed.
The village stands on an imposing rocky outcrop with sheer walls overlooking the valley, a feature that made it an important military post. The Count of Cagliostro would spend his final days in the fortress here.
The view from San Leo ranges from the surrounding hills to the sea, in an unforgettable setting.
Santarcangelo di Romagna
The entrance to this village, undoubtedly one of the most picturesque in Romagna, is marked by the Triumphal Arch, built in 1777, where a pair of enormous horns are erected during the annual Fiera dei becchi fair held in November. According to village belief, if the horns swing, it means that whoever is crossing the arch has been betrayed.
Tonino Guerra was from Santarcangelo and the three fountains of La Pigna, delle Farfalle and Il Prato Sommerso speak of him (‘Stop and listen to what the water has to tell you’ suggests the great poet and screenwriter), as well as the Museum that collects his films, paintings and books.
In addition to being an enchanting village, with its narrow streets, colourful houses and many characteristic restaurants and cafés, Santarcangelo is also home to a true underground city made up of man-made tunnels and underground passages dug in the sandstone and clay and used as shelters for the locals during World War II.
Santarcangelo, too, has its Malatesta fortress at the top of the town. And then, there is the Bell Tower, symbol of the town: 25 metres high and a clock that strikes the time every quarter of an hour.
To the south of Romagna, a few kilometres from the border with the Marche region, we find Gradara, a small fortress also of Malatesta origin, guarded by imposing walls.
It is one of the best-preserved medieval structures in Italy and was the setting for one of the most beautiful love stories in Italian literature: that of Paolo and Francesca, which Dante placed in the circle of the Lustful in the Fifth Canto of the Inferno and which made the Rocca famous, giving it an aura of mystery and legend.
It is worth visiting both the castle and the walkways of the walls, for the spectacular view that starts from the roofs of the village and stretches all the way to the sea.
The Republic of San Marino
Twenty kilometres from Rimini appears San Marino, the smallest and oldest republic in the world. According to legend, San Marino was founded in 301 A.D. by a stone cutter of Dalmatian origin, Marinus, who took refuge on Mount Titan to escape the persecution of Christians by Emperor Diocletian.
Perched on Mount Titan, San Marino can be made out even before you arrive, because of the three towers that rise up imposingly in the distance, the symbol of this city. From the courtyard of one of these towers, the Rocca, the tower guard fires blanks into the air on festive days.
But now let’s move on a little further afield to the region of Le Marche, because just a few kilometres away is Urbino, the city of Raphael. A UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to one of the oldest universities in Europe (founded in 1506), it was one of the most important centres of theItalian Renaissance.
As you walk along its steep and narrow streets, you will come across the period buildings: the former Monastery of Santa Chiara, the Church of San Domenico, the Mausoleum of the Dukes in the Church of San Bernardino, Palazzo Boghi and the Ducal Palace, a small fortified city the construction of which was begun in 1444 at the behest of Federico da Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino, who wanted to create the Ideal City. And the Ducal Palace was supposed to be the most beautiful aristocratic residence in Italy.
The palace is also home to the Galleria Nazionale delle Marche, which houses one of the most beautiful and important art collections covering the Italian Renaissance.
There are works by Raphael, Piero della Francesca, with the famous Flagellation of Christ, Paolo Uccello, Tiziano and Melozzo da Forlì.
Not to be missed is a visit to the Cathedral, built between the 18th and 19th centuries, which houses several canvases by Federico Barocci, considered one of the precursors of the Baroque.
‘When I want to understand Italian history, I catch a train and go to Ravenna’.
Known as the capital of Byzantine mosaics, Ravenna is so much more. Here we can admire centuries of history preserved in its monuments, 8 of which are on the Unesco World Heritage List: the Basilica of San Vitale, the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, the Orthodox Baptistery, the Arian Baptistery, the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, the Chapel of Sant’Andrea, the Mausoleum of Theodoric and the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare in Classe.
The best known are the Basilica of San Vitale and the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia where the only advice we can give you is to admire the beauty that surrounds you in rapture. Just think that between the 5th and 6th century A.D. the city was one of the world’s leading centres. A history that starts from the Roman Empire through the reign of the Ostrogoths and the Byzantine exarchate. Ravenna was the capital of all three.
Mosaic art is still alive and evolving. This is showcased by the MAR, the city’s Art Museum, which not only houses a collection of works ranging from the 14th century to the present day, but also organises exhibitions throughout the year. Not to be missed. And finally, visit the splendid Classense Library, one of the most prestigious in Italy, which houses 750 ancient manuscripts, half of which are codices dating from the 10th to the 16th century. What will impress you most is the Aula Magna, built in the early 18th century, with extremely refined wooden shelves decorated with festoons and fruit, and the splendid globes.