Dwight Peck's personal website

San Marino and the Romagna region

Two weeks mostly checking the weather reports hourly

You may not find this terribly rewarding unless you're included here, so this is a good time for casual and random browsers to turn back before they get too caught up in the sweep and majesty of the proceedings and can't let go.

A walk round Cesena

We've transported ourselves from San Marino to Longiano for a few days, and we're bound for some sightseeing in the Forlì-Cesena province.

Cesena is an ancient town, presently with roughly 100,000 inhabitants, along the old Via Emilia line -- Piacenza (going southeast along the modern autostrada) past Parma, Modena, Bologna, Imola, Faenza, Forlì, Cesena, to Rimini on the Adriatic -- skirting the northern side of the Apennine range of mountains. The city is only 15km from Cesenatico on the Adriatic coast.

We're conveniently parked along the surviving northern walls of the old city -- this is the Municipal Art Gallery in a former Benedictine monastery, but it was closed up tight while we were there. The banners indicate opposition to violence against women.

Along the Via Aldini to the town centre. Cesena was taken over by the Romans in the 3rd century BC and suffered during the 7th century AD as it was located on the border between Lombard territory and the Byzantine Exarchate of Ravenna. It was included in the Franks' donations to the Papacy, first in 754, and was contested for years between the popes and the ruling archbishops of Ravenna, out of which it got a 15-year vacation as a republic ending in 1198.

Onto the main east-west drag, the Corso Giuseppe Garibaldi. During the 14th century, Cesena was taken over by the Ordelaffi lords of nearby Forlì, a Ghibelline dynasty that had been made signori of Forlì by the Emperor Frederick II a century earlier. The Ordelaffi had aligned with the Montefeltros against the Malatestas of Rimini and experienced a rapid period of territorial growth in the region, being made lords of Cesena and Faenz amongst other smaller towns in the 1330s, but Francesco II Ordelaffi was defeated by a Papal army commanded by the Spanish hitman of the Avignon papacy, Cardinal Gil de Albornoz, with Malatesta support, and in June 1357 Cesena fell after a long siege despite a strong defense by Francesco's wife Cia degli Ubaldini.

The mid-17th century Sanctuary of Our Lady of Sorrows, getting those Christmas decorations up in good time

We'll just have a quick look in, why not?

All right. Moving along now . . .

The Teatro Comunale Alessandro Bonci, inaugurated in 1846. Even in an action-packed medieval era of Italian intercity warfare, the so-called 'Cesena Bloodbath' shocked all of western Europe. In the 'War of the Eight Saints' (1375-1378), Florence, Milan, and other northern towns rebelled against the efforts of papal enforcer Cardinal Albornoz to re-papalize the many towns of the Papal States that had pursued various degrees of independence during the Avignon Papacy (1309-1377), and Florence fomented rebellions against Pope Gregory XI and got itself excommunicated. The commander John Hawkwood, in Florence's employ, felt that his lucrative contract with Florence allowed him to freelance outside of Tuscany, so he and his private army were hired by Robert, Cardinal and Bishop of Geneva, to join his Breton mercenaries in suppressing these insurrections.

Dog and accordion. In January 1377 Cardinal Robert set up his HQ in the rocca of Cesena, which had remained loyal to the papacy, with his Bretons camped outside of town; when several Bretons were killed by a mob angry at their theft of a butcher's meat, Robert summoned Hawkwood from his conquest of Faenza and ordered him to massacre the Cesenate population. Hawkwood tried to talk him out of it, but the troops got out of control and, over three days, murdered up to 8,000 citizens and sacked the town. Italian public opinion went crazy, the Pope's return to Rome from Avignon became still more complicated, Hawkwood's reputation earned its only real blemish, and in the next year Bishop Robert, called the 'Butcher of Cesena', was elected Pope Clement VII (later judged to have been an Antipope in the Great Schism) (F. Stonor Saunders, Hawkwood: Diabolical Englishman, 2004; S. Cooper, Sir John Hawkwood, 2008).

We're still on the Corso Garibaldi and coming up on the Piazza della Libertà, now undergoing a facelift.

The apse end of the Cesena Cathedral

The Cattedrale di San Giovanni Battista or Duomo di Cesena. The Romanesque-Gothic original was authorized by Pope Urban VI, to replace an earlier one, in 1378, following the devastation visited on Cesena the previous year. Work began in 1385 and was completed in about 1405. The belltower was completed in 1457, ordered up by a Malatesta bishop who also got himself a Bishop's Palace alongside. A thorough renovation took place in the 1960s, however, altering the building very considerably.

The interior is not terribly interesting, unfortunately.

Except for this Altar of St John, dating from ca. 1500, brightened up by a recumbent St Mauro

St Mauro was elected Bishop of Cesena by his uncle Pope John X in the early 10th century, died in about 946, and was buried at his little private hermitage on Mount Spaziano. As miracles began to accumulate around his burial place, people were coming from everywhere to get healed, and the local bishops renamed the hill after him and built a Benedictine monastery, the Abbey of Santa Maria del Monte, on the site just a kilometre south of Cesena, by 1042. Francesco II Ordelaffi of Forlì seized the monastery in 1356 and used it as barracks for his troops watching over Cesena, and repairs begun in the next year took over a century to complete. During the military turmoils of the late 15th century, most of St Mauro's remains were removed into the cathedral downtown. Cardinal Peter Damian wrote a life of Mauro, but it doesn't appear that he was ever formally canonized.

In the cathedral

We continue our westward march along Garibaldi Street; that's looking back at the Duomo.

The festive Piazza Almerici

'Spare change?'

We're returning to the Cassa di Risparmio di Cesena, a savings bank, which owns a fabulous collection of regional Renaissance and Baroque paintings that's available for viewing on request. So we requested, and they sent us away for half an hour whilst they rustled up the extremely knowledgeable curator of the collection. Her tour was brilliant; no photos were permitted, but she presented us with a handsome catalogue raisonné as we left.

The workyard of the Piazza della Libertà at the back of the cathedral

North on the Corso Sozzi to the line of the old city walls, still intact in some places, this is the Barriera Cavour, two Neoclassical pavilions with pilasters, formerly closed by a tollgate. They were built in 1864 to replace the ancient Porta Cervese, which guarded the city where the Roman Via del Sale, or Salt Road, now the Via Cavour, led out northeastward to Cervia on the coast.

And now eastward along Garibaldi Street again, this is the Giardino Pubblico, built in 1830 and restored in 2008, sporting the tollgate taken from the Cavour Barrier.

A poignant memorial to the Italian soldiers stationed on the Greek island of Cephalonia as part of the Axis occupation; when Italy left the war in September 1943, they waited to be evacuated back to Italy but were not. German reinforcements arrived to ensure that their armaments were not turned over to the Allies, but distrusting the Germans, the Italians voted to hold out. When their ammunition ran out, they surrendered, and of the 9,000 surviving Italian soldiers, the Germans executed 5,000 of them; the rest were shipped to prison in Germany but 3,000 more were lost when their ship hit a mine. Louis de Bernières' book Captain Corelli's Mandolin (1994) and its film, and the Italian film Cefalonia (2005), starring Luca Zingaretti (of Inspector Montalbano fame), tell the story.

Racing to catch up with the rest of our party

The Palazzo del Ridotto was begun in 1401 on the site of the Palazzo del Podestà and enlarged in the late 15th century; it was in effect the city hall until the administrative functions were removed to the Albornoz palace in the Piazza del Popolo. The façade was added in 1782-1787 to honor the Cesena favorite son Pope Pius VI when he was visiting.

The statue of Pius VI in the niche wasn't finished until 1792 (six years before the Pope refused to endorse the Napoleonic takeover of Rome and was kidnapped by the French and carried off to France, where he died in 1799).

Alongside the Ridotto Palace, in the background is the huge Malatesta Library (Biblioteca Malatestiana), opened in 1454; commissioned by Malatesta Novello, with 400,000 items, it's considered to be the first public library in Europe (i.e., owned by the city, rather than by a family or religious group, and open to the citizens), and is included in UNESCO's Memory of the World Register in 2005.

The Via Zeffirino Re (named for a local poet)

The same, on the way to the Piazza del Popolo

The Piazza del Popolo, and the city hall in the Palazzo Comunale or Palazzo Albornoz, built in ca. 1359-1362 by the Spanish Cardinal Gil Albornoz, the papal enforcer; the neoclassical look came from restorations in the 18th century.

The Rocchetta di Piazza, 'little fortress' (from 1466), which can be seen as part of the fortifications of the Rocca Malatestiana up the hill, now houses the Museum of Natural Sciences.

The Fontana Masini was designed by architect Francesco Masini of Cesena to adorn what was then called the Piazza Maggiore, and the water was turned on in 1591.

The north side of the Piazza del Popolo, so renamed after World War Two, found its present form under the condottiere Andrea Malatesta (called 'Malatesta da Cesena') in about 1400; the baroque Church of Saints Anna and Gioacchino was built in 1663. Who's that peeking down from the adjacent building?


That's the Rocca Malatestiana, built over a late Roman fortification on the Colle Garampo, the little hill at the centre of Cesena. Let's hope it's open today.

There is no horde of eager tourists with us today. It's not promising.

Closed up tight! There was a late Roman fort nearby that was destroyed by a landslide in about 1000, and its successor, called the 'Emperor' because Frederick Barbarossa stayed in it during one of his 12th century Italian forays, was destroyed by Robert of Geneva's Bretons in 1377. The present fortress was begun in 1380 on the orders of Galeotto I Malatesta, Lord of Rimini and much of the region at that time -- subsequently Malatesta Novello, who succeeded as Lord of Cesena in 1429, at the age of 11, and in 1431, at 13, suppressed rebellion in the city fomented by the Malatestas of Pesaro, strengthened the Rocca significantly and enlarged the city walls in 1441 (and founded the Biblioteca Malatestiana for the city in 1452).

A plan of the fortress with its citadel, called La Rocchetta, and its 'male' and 'female' towers, which (we're told) host a wealth of museum facilities as well as concerts, shows, medieval festivals, and exhibitions.

The present entrance gate (far right in the drawing above). After Novello's death in Cesena in 1465, the papal administrators renovated the fortress again to update the defenses to the age of firearms, and when Cesare Borgia captured the town in 1500 and made Cesena the capital of his short-lived Duchy of Romagna, he brought along Leonardo da Vinci in 1502 to survey the fortress and city defenses and carry out further updated structures against artillery attacks.

It's a bit tragic that we can't get in today, and circumambulating the external walls doesn't really compensate.

The Rocca remained in military use through the late 18th century, but in the time of Napoleon it was turned into a prison, ending only in 1969. Parts of the fortress were restored and opened to the public in 1974 incrementally in projects that were only completed in 2008 with help from funds from the national lottery.

The view of the downtown from the Colle Garampo

Part of the Piazza del Popolo from a path down the northern side of the hill

The Parco della Rimenbranza runs along the hillside halfway round the hill -- the huge plaque that Kristin is surveying records the names of all of the young people of Cesena killed or missing in World War One.

The Chiesa di San Domenico at the foot of the fortress hill on the northwest side, with a large convent backing towards the Savio River.

Built throughout the 18th century, with a single nave and three chapels on either side

So, no harm done.

So, moving along, one is trying to walk all the way round the Colle Garampo back into the city centre, and it turns out that that's not going to be possible. So it's up and over the hill again.

Coming back down the hill into town near the cathedral. That's it for Cesena for us today, alas.

But driving home, we can't pass up the supermercato with its Conad (which of course we call Gonad), stocking up on Italian stuff for the way home a few days hence.

Next: Brisighella and its Street of the Donkeys

Feedback and suggestions are welcome if positive, resented if negative, . All rights reserved, all wrongs avenged. Posted 15 February 2018.

San Marino
trip, Dec. 2017