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    Malatesta & Montefeltro

    Castles in lower Valmarecchia. An itinerary from Santarcangelo to San Leo

    Santarcangelo and its fortress


    The road to take for this route, which leads along the Valmarecchia up to San Leo, is via Emilia from Rimini. After a few kilometres it reaches Santarcangelo di Romagna, built on a hill between the rivers Marecchia and Uso and one of best preserved and most pleasant towns of the area thanks to its sober construction and picturesque little streets that climb up the hill and open onto silent squares.

    The old town is still largely enclosed by fifteenth century walls, restored and partly rebuilt under Sigismondo Malatesta in 1447, who ordered the addition of some marble epigraphs. The construction of the Rocca (the Fortress) is owed to him as well: built on one end of a hill next to a great tower ordered by Carlo Malatesta in 1386. This tower was extremely high; as a matter of fact it was one of the wonders of Italy for its height, according to the writers of the time. Even a century later,it still continued to amaze on lookers for its grandeur and beauty but, by this time, assaults were made mainly with bronze mortars instead of wooden catapults and Sigismondo did not hesitate to lower the tower.

    He used the bottom part as an angular keep for a new fortress, it has arectangular form with polygonal towers, apt to host a good garrison, as suggested and the need to guard continuously the lower course of the Marecchia and Uso rivers and via Emilia in the proximity of Rimini.

    Even this fortress, which unfortunately has completely lost its summit of brackets and merlons, is adorned with inscriptions in ancient language and Latin epigraphs according to a humanistic style that was just starting to establish itself at that time. The keep, the base of the great fourteenth century tower by Carlo Malatesta, is accessed from the courtyard, moving along a picturesque cobbled paving under whicht here is a medieval cistern that is still functioning. Part of the tower’s ancient winding staircase is hidden in the enormous masonry: it allowed in dependent communications between the various floors (four have survived today). Galeotto Roberto Malatesta, named the beato (the saint), nephew and successor of Carlo and brother of Sigismondo and Malatesta Novello, died in a room of this tower at the dawn of 10th October1432 when he was just 21 years of age. Some imaginative nineteenthcentury writers have set here the events that led to the “crime of honour” of Gianciotto who killed Paolo il Bello and Francesca da Rimini.

    The view onto the countryside from the terrace of the keepis stunning: the Marecchia valley opens up to the hills and San Marino onone side, and reaches Cesena and the sea on the other.

     

    Torriana and Montebello between landscapes and fortifications


    Moving along the Santarcangelo road, the itinerary first arrives at Poggio Berni where Palazzo Marcosanti stands as a valuable witness of the Malatesta period and a rare example of a fortified residence.

    After leaving Poggio Berni, just before Ponte Verucchio, on the right, we can take the steep road that leads to Torriana (formerly Scorticata) where the remains of a fortress stand out. This was a very strategic   location for the control of the territory and it explains the care with which Sigismondo formed and empowered the defences that are now peacefuland extraordinary balconies overlooking an extremely picturesque andenchanting landscape.

    Today we appreciate the landscape values of the position atthe time of the Malatesta family, the hill of Torriana, together with that ofVerucchio, on the opposite bank of the Marecchia river, constituted animportant fortified barrier: it was made, however, in order to be impassableand to send information to Rimini (by fire and smoke) on the vast territorythat it managed to control, both towards the sea and towards the hills ofRomagna and the Marches as well as San Marino.

    After leaving Torriana, Montebello is worth a visit, it is alovely fortified village with an interesting fortress, reworked several times(belonging to the marquises of Bagno). The views onto the valley ofMarecchia and the valley of Use are magnificent from the terraces. Thosevisitors who love legends can listen to the story of Azzurrina, the young girlwho died tragically in the fortress.

     

    Verucchio, one of the “cradles” of the Malatestas


    Moving down the valley we go over Ponte Verucchio to cross the river Marecchia. Our destination is Verucchio on the other bank,which contends with Pennabilli for the honour of being the cradle of the Malatesta family. In Rimini, already around the year 1220, Malatesta dallaPenna was coming forth as head of the family and, at his death, in 1247, hisson, Malatesta da Verucchio, took over. Probably Verucchio represented only a stage of the rapprochement to the town for this increasingly powerfuland rich family. However, their “cradle” is located here in the mid-valleyof Marecchia.

    In Verucchio a convent is located in one of two fortresses (called “del Passerello”), which is practically destroyed; but the other one,called “del Sasso”, is solid and visible and still towers over the town andterritory. Regardless of its many adjustments and restoration work thistower is, together with those of Montebello, San Leo and Santarcangelo, one of the most interesting in the whole valley.

    From the information ontwo beautiful inscriptions we gather that Sigismondo fortified it in 1449, adding a great scarp and reorganizing the buildings around the central formwork. Some excavations have revealed large hypogea and imposing structures dating back, perhaps, to the twelfth century, however muchprior to the interventions made under Sigismondo. Even the beautifulsquare-shaped stone tower dates back to earlier times, the face isextraordinarily precise and partly complete. In 1975, an ancient path wasreconstructed that, protected by the keep, falls steep from the side of thecliff: it was used to connect the territory during emergencies. The halls ofthis fortress have undergone many changes and transformations in orderto adapt it to the needs of the small court of Zenobio de’ Medici, Ippolita Comnena, Leonello and Alberto Pio from Carpi, who held the feud of Verucchio from 1518 to 1580, and to the needs of a small theatre builtinside it during the eighteenth century.

    Verucchio was lost by Sigismondo in 1462 after a wearingsiege. The “Rocca del Sasso”, it was well equipped and defended by the troops and refused to surrender to Federico da Montefeltro, whowas forced to resort to one of his stratagems of which he was an expert:a letter with the false signature of Malatesta Novello anticipating thearrival of reinforcements. Indeed, the reinforcements arrived, but it wastoo late. The castellan noticed that they were soldiers of Federico indisguise.

     

    The impregnable Fortress of San Leo


    After leaving Verucchio by going left on the Marecchiese road,we reach San Leo. The ancient Mons Feretri, is, in a certain sense the “historical” capital of Montefeltro, to which it gave its name, and perhapsthis is the place of origin of the Montefeltro dynasty, that, throughout thefourteenth and fifteenth centuries, have contended it with the Malatesta. Of course, this is a place with a great strategic importance for the domainof the hinterland, and for this reason, it was already at the centre of a longconflict between Lombards and Byzantines.

    We must remember that thefight of Berengarius II against Emperor Otto I ended here in San Leo aftera long siege with the conquest of the city by the latter and the capture ofhis opponent on 26 December 963.The view of the landscape is understandably famous: SanLeo, built on a limestone cliff with steep sides, is dominated by a fortresswhich was almost impregnable and rebuilt by Francesco di GiorgioMartini for Federico da Montefeltro. We are before one of mostcomplete and well-preserved military buildings of Renaissance.The construction of a first small fortress in masonry isascribed to Desiderio, King of the Lombards (eighteenth century), afterthat, for some centuries, at least since the ostrogothic invasion, the stoneof San Leo, thus shaped, had been a natural fortress.

    The Fortress has two sufficiently distinct parts, despite theuniformity that Francesco di Giorgio had tried to give to the array ofbuildings dating back to different periods. The Renaissance architect hadadded, ex-novo, the residential wing and the round towers connected by ahuge hull-shaped wall with brackets.

    The view becomes breathtaking in “Piazza d’Armi” (the Square of Weapons), bounded by the two towers, by the perimeter fenceand the keep walls. Looking out, one has a view onto the built-up area withits grid of streets converging to the square in the centre. We are only at sixhundredand fifty metres above sea level, and yet, so isolated and separatefrom the hills arranged around like a crown, the Fortress seems suspendedbetween heaven and earth.During the visit, the “pozzetto”, a small well, arouses somecuriosity, as well as the narrow cell where the legendary occultist andadventurer famous throughout Europe, Giuseppe Balsamo, betterknown as Cagliostro was imprisoned from 1791 to 1795, the year of hisdeath.

     

    Taken from Castles and Fortresses in the Rimini area

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    Last update: 16/03/2017