This itinerary is dedicated to a peculiar area of our peninsula. In fact, we have reserved a long way to the Republic of San Marino. As we know it is geographically outside from our national borders, but being surrounded entirely by the italian territory. That’s why considering the wonders the place offers we could not help but visit it. Another destination of this itinerary, no less important and suggestive, was San Leo: a delightful hamlet "lying down" on a Valmarecchia rock spur in the province of Rimini in Emilia Romagna.
As soon as we entered in San Marino, it was literally impossible not to be taken aback by the charm of this delightful hamlet that stands out "perched" on top of Monte Titano, a mountainous relief of the Tuscany-Romagna Apennines. An ancient residential complex that features spectacular monuments and places of historical interest.
And on the top of Mount Titano are the three rocks, also called three towers: the first is called Rocca or Guaita, the second Cesta or Fratta and the third is named Montale.
Tip: dedicate a whole day to the visit of the Three Towers, you will not be disappointed!
The first Tower (also known as Rocca or Guaita) is the largest, and also the oldest of the three rocks dominating the City of San Marino. The tower is protected by an outer wall and an inner wall: the outer wall, crowned by impressive merlature and reinforced by large corner angular towers was already part of the first section of walls built to defend the city; the interior is the oldest and is accessible through a lovely raised entrance.
The latter encloses within it the Torre Campanaria, the Tower of the Pen and the lodges of the legions, later converted into prisons. All places are to be visited!
The peculiarity of this beautiful tower, with pentagonal planes, is that it has no foundation as it rests directly on the rock of the mountain. A Baroque emblem of the Republic, taken from the old Public Palace, adorns the front door while in the courtyard are placed some pieces of artillery, two mortars donated by King Vittorio Emanuele II and two cannons with which the Guard of Rocca shoots during holiday days, gift of Vittorio Emanuele III. A real journey into history!
The second, Tower Cesta, also known as Cesta or Fratta, rises on the highest summit of Mount Titano and its primeval nucleus was used as a watch tower since roman times.
IIn 1320 it was equipped with another wall and a series of fortifications that constitute the second defensive line of the city. The door through which it is possible to access inside, was opened in the 16th century and rebuilt in 1596 as is evident from the engraving present on the sides of the emblem of the Republic.
This tower still has the appearance that distinguishes the medieval towers with opening where men were pushed down the walls in case of attack and the typical balestriere. For lovers of medieval times this could be compared to a corner of paradise!
The Cesta Tower, moreover, is the home of an interesting museum of ancient weapons, where about 700 specimens of weapons belonging to different typologies and times of construction are exposed.
Exposition spreads among four different halls and houses some important specimens of armors, guns weapons, firearms, spades, flints or experimental weapons of the nineteenth century. Very interesting.
The third Tower, or the Montale, is characterized by a slender shape with a pentagonal plant. Until the 13th century, the Third Tower was a fortress detached from the other two rocks and was connected to them in 1320 by a mighty wall. About this wall remains traces, and along its landscape path you will be able to admire absolutely exceptional views.
The third tower was of great importance in the battles against the Malatesta, which owned the nearby castle of Fiorentina. A bell signaled to the people the dangers and the arrival of travellers, who were asked for a toll. With the destruction of the Malatesta castle of Fiorentino in 1479, the Montale was abandoned. And still today, in fact, it is the less visited building among all of the towers, but worthy of so much attention.
Within the Tower there is a prison, called Fondo della torre, six meters deep and accessible from above. This tower (unlike the other two) is not accessible to the public but offers, among other things, a striking view.
In the spectacular naturalistic trail that connects the Three Towers, you will come across the picturesque walks of the Passo delle streghe, open to other fantastic views. Absolutely recommended to visit, this is a wonderful, outstanding place!
Just a few minutes walk from the First Tower (in a convenient downhill path) you will find yourself in the picturesque Piazza della libertà.
In the heart of the historic center, this square hosts the Palazzo Pubblico (current municipality hall) as well as numerous and characteristic panoramic bars with outdoor tables from which you can admire a breathtaking panorama of the countryside surrounding San Marino.
The peculiarity of this square consists of being built upon a series of ancient cisterns, which once supplied the entire city with water.
In the center of the square is the Statue of Liberty, a white carving of Carrara made by Italian artist Stefano Galletti. The statue depicts a warrior advancing with a forward-facing hand and the other holding a flag. The three towers on the warrior's crown represents the ancient fortifications of San Marino. The base of the statue is a drinking water fountain.
Not far from the square is also the cable car that connects the historic center to the underlying Borgo Maggiore. For those who want to enjoy a unique panorama it is definitely advisable, even if for a very short time!
On the north side of the square is the town hall, the so-called Palazzo Pubblico, an impressive and fascinating 19th century building designed in its present form by roman architect Francesco Azzurri. This fascinating "command headquarter" is inspired by the sumptuous style of the Italian palaces of the 13th and 14th centuries as well as the civic buildings of the Renaissance Italian cities (its façade, in fact, recalls the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence).
The palace is currently the seat of the city government, where all ceremonies and official receptions take place. The lavishly decorated rooms of the palace, which were used for state meetings, include pictorial works of immense value and antique furnishings. The Grand and General Council Room hosts a painting depicting San Marino's appearance to the people.
It is useful to point out the highlights when you visit the palace. As soon as you enter the palace you will find yourself in the large lobby dominated by a huge and striking stone staircase that leads to the upper floors. The walls are decorated with a emblem and insignia of nineteen states and personalities that have been generous to San Marino. Among these, note the bust of the poet Giosuè Carducci, a baroque emblem and two spectacular crossbows of the sixteenth century.
Once the stairway is reached, it will be on the mezzanine floor, right in front of a marvelous painting showing San Marino's liberation from the occupation of Cardinal Giulio Alberoni in 1740. From there you can visit the room of the Scrutinio where two eighteenth-century paintings by Giovanni Lanfranco depicts San Giovanni Battista and San Marino.
The Council Hall “of the twelve councilors” is decorated with a painting depicting San Marino in the act of blessing its city. Following the guided tour, we will find ourselves in the most beautiful hall of the Great and General Council where the 60 sculptures of the Councilors of the Republic and the throne of the regent captains are placed. On the front wall you will face a huge painting by Emilio Retrosi depicting San Marino's appearance to his people. An exciting journey between history and later days!
The Public Palace is open every day for entrance and a fee is charged. Remember, from your first day in San Marino, you can purchase a cumulative ticket including San Marino museums and the three Towrs. If you then organize your visit from June to September, you can watch the change of the Guard that takes place every hour at half an hour.
After visiting the Palazzo Pubblico, you can enjoy a journey through time in the historic alleys of San Marino. San Marino with its small street rich in history, stores specially inserted in the historic context. The old town of the ancient city spreads in the upper part of San Marino. The mighty medieval stone walls enclose the great old town, all of which is stone build and absolutely banned from cars.
The historic part is a small mosaic of contradas and streets overlooking the palaces and monuments.
Just in the intersection of those streets we found ourselves in front of the Basilica of San Marino, the main church of the Republic, characterized by the imposing neoclassical façade and which houses inside the relics of the saint, founder of the State.
The Basilica of San Marino is an architectural wonder of bolognese Antonio Serra. The building required thirteen years of work and was completed in 1825. The basilica stands on the foundations of a former 5th century church.
Outside the Basilica, the eight corinthian columns on the portal recall the image of an ancient temple. The Latin inscription over the columns reports the following statement: "Divo. Marino. Patrono. Et Libertatis. Avctori. Sen. PQ "that means: San Marino, patron of the state and protector of the liberty of the senate and the people.”
Inside, the church has three aisles flanked by a series of corinthian columns and statues representing Christ the Redeemer and the twelve apostles. You can admire beautiful mosaic floors and a decorated dome ceiling. Always in its interior it is impossible not to notice the 17th century throne dedicated to the Captain Regents, the leaders of the Republic of San Marino. The church is divided between its seven wonderful altars, one of which is dedicated to Mary Magdalene. On the main altar there is an urn containing the relics of San Marino, the founder and the patron saint of the Republic.
Next to the basilica is the church of St. Peter, built in the 16th century. Inside you can see a splendid marble altar and a statue of St. Peter made by sculptor Enrico Saroldi. You also definitely have to visit!
Our impressions on the stay in San Marino were very positive.
We stayed in the Hotel Rosa in the middle of the old town of San Marino. The Hotel is located in a strategic and panoramic position, at the foot of the first Tower between the ancient walls and overlooking the splendid Montefeltro valleys. An hotel that we absolutely recommend.
For eating out, we always raccommend, in San Marino, the "Il Beccafico", a restaurant that offers the best dishes of the San Marino and Romagna traditional cooking as well as the specialties of the house: from salami nostrani to the traditional hand-made pasta dishes, meat, high quality fish and pizzas.
Absolutely excellent staff ... not to mention Mrs Donatella who continued to spoil us with all her delicacy throughout the whole of our stay!
Once at San Leo we suddenly found ourselves in the heart of the splendid medieval village, characterized by the square around which the main buildings of the town stretch. In the center of the square is an ancient fountain built in 1893 right in the place where, at the medieval age, there was probably the elm of the community or the olmo of St. Francis. Immediately behind the fountain you can see the oldest monument of the Christianity of Leontina: the Pieve di Santa Maria Assunta. Medieval building among the most fascinating of Central Italy!
Pieve is the first testimony of the christianization of this area and sorroundings, operated by St. Leonis between the 3rd and 4th centuries: the primitive cell of a story that blends and confuses with tradition. It is, in fact, the oldest building of worship of this charming town and Montefeltro.
According to tradition, it was the dalmatian saint who, by practicing the cutter profession, built the first church dedicated to the Assumption of Mary, the Virgin Dormitory.
During the Middle Ages, not only the sacraments were celebrated in the church, nor the solemn masses, but the meetings of the chief of state for the discussion of community-related issues.
A very interesting peculiarity: the Pieve di San Leo is often described metaphorically as a ship stranded on a rock. A stone ship anchored to the rock that supports it and is composed of it. The building is in fact placed as a knight of a rocky protuberance of the Leontonian boulder, so that both east and west there is room for two environments underneath the aisles: the crypt or confessional and the so-called Sacello di San Leone that shows the traces of a sort of apse digging directly into the rock, which is accessed from an outside door near the façade. That one at Pieve was an exciting historical visit!
On the right of the little piazza that welcomed us, along a small alley of a dozen of meters, we found ourselves in front of a building also firmly anchored to the rock that supports it: the cathedral of San Leone. The Duomo stands on a protrusion of the Leontonian burial, in a place consecrated since the prehistoric era of divinity.
An outstanding example of medieval architecture preserved in Montefeltro is one of the most important testimonies of Romanesque-Lombard architecture. The present building overlooks the remains of an older religious foundation, the Early Medieval Cathedral, built near the 7th century when San Leo, elevated as 'civitas', became the seat of a new diocese.
Of this first church there are numerous sculptural fragments, such as the eloquent remains of ciborium devoted to San Leone, some capitals with characteristic motifs and winged lions of the proti (halved and assembled to support a column of the nave).
In the 12th century was build a new cathedral, an impressive work of romanesque craftsmen led by architects (or other workers) from Emilia and Lombardia.
Even here, as in the adjacent Pieve, there is no entrance to the façade but the portal is open on one side and is topped with carved sculptures of St. Leonard and Valentine, also coming from the ancient church.
In the apse of the crypt was placed the sarcophagus with the remains of San Leone, that is actually confirmed on the cover with the inscription, dated 6th century: it was certainly destination of the pilgrims who abandoning the coast were dug in the Apennines passing through San Leo towards Rome.
The church preserves an exceptional sculptural collection that includes, in addition to the corinthian capitals of the 3rd century A.C., numerous Romanesque capitals, the most ancient of which symbolize the symbols of early christianity. This is history!
The Civic Tower is San Leo's most hidden monument, made by a massive and impressive mole, located in an impregnable area.
The bell-tower is a building of innate beauty, an emblematic example of romanesque architectural style, which becomes one with the same rock on which it rests.
Its square perimeter ingloba and occult within a circular plant building, high to the bell tower. From what is being handed down, this is probably an earlier, older tower, in some respects similar to the Pieve of the Assumption (IX-XI century). In fact, there is the same type of some monofore with a plant similar to that of the apses in the same Pieve.
A peculiarity of the Civic Tower: in the strombo of a window there is a capitoline and its fragmented pillow, coming from the presbyteral enclosure of the Pieve, together with those reusable in the pseudo-loggette and the plates of the plutei, preserved in the Sacred Art Museum of San Leo.
Only the Tower is closed to the public, but open during festivities or on events, we were lucky to visit it!
Not far from the downtown of the village it is absolutely impossible not to notice the vigorous renaissance Fort. The mighty limestone boulder of San Leo, whose summit rises in the “Forte”, with its perpendicular and parallel to the ground walls, is in itself a natural fortress. It is impossible to describe it in its majesty!
The Romans, aware of this extraordinary aptitude, were building a first fortification at the top of the mountain.
During the Middle Ages, the fortress was bitterly controversial by Byzantines, Goths, Franks and Longobards.
Berengario II, king the last lombard kingdom of Italy, was here as a siege from Ottone I, the Saxon, between 961 and 963. It was during this period that the fortress assumed the role of capitol of Italy.
In the middle of the XI century, the counts of Montecopiolo from Carpegna went to San Leo (at that time called Montefeltro); From this very important feud, they drew the name and title of Counts of Montefeltro.
In the second half of the fourteenth century, the fortress was conquered by the Malatesta which alternated in its dominion to the Montefeltro until the middle of the next century.
In 1441, the young Frederick of Montefeltro was the protagonist of a rock climbing rope. Meanwhile, the art of war had known decisive innovations, and the fortress with its medieval structure, made up of simple quadrangular towers, lying in a central fence, was no longer able to support the advent of firearms.
It was then that Federico entrusted the great architect and engineer from Siena Francesco di Giorgio Martini the task of redesigning the fortress and adapting it to the new demands of war.
The new form, which completely redesigned the architecture of the fort, provided a fire response according to the charges of a dynamic counter-offensive that could guarantee cross-strait directions. For this reason the sides of the fort were equipped with artillery and access routes were protected by military outposts.
The fortress was thus the culmination of a guerrilla system extending over the whole boulder.
The Saint Leo fortress thus assumed such an emblematic meaning that Bembo had called it "a very strong propugnacle and admirable warfare", admirable meeting point of encounter between nature and art.
In 1502, Cesare Borgia, supported by Pope Alexander VI, managed to capture the fortress. However, at the death of the Pope (1503), Guidobaldo da Montefeltro returned to possession of his domains until 1516, when Florentine troops headed by Antonio Ricasoli, backed by the papal court by Leo X de' Medici, entered the city and capitulated the fortress.
Della Rovere resumed San Leo in 1527 and held it until the devolution of the Duchy of Urbino to the direct domination of the Pontifical State in 1631.
Since 1631 the fort was adapted into a prison in whose close cells, obtained from the original military housing, were imprisoned the Risorgimento patriots of which the most celebrated was Felice Orsini and free thinkers such as Cagliostro from Palermo. We can assure you that visiting this place will stir up mixed, unified emotions, however, from an underlying charm!
Even after the unity of Italy, the fortress continued to serve as prison until 1906.
At present, the Rocca, cleansed from the nineteenth-century superstructures changed its elegant renaissance lines and returned to its architectural splendor making it one of the most celebrated testimonies of military art, in a frame of history and art among the most beautiful of Italy.
Landscapes that inspired renaissance painters such as Piero della Francesca, Raffaello, Leonardo da Vinci are hidden within the hills of Montefeltro.
Still today, San Leo, especially in its most interior, offers a unique dive in the splendor of its landscape.
Right between the peaks and the limestone cliffs of Valmarecchia, and the gentle hills of the valley of Metauro, which have been crafted the masterpieces of Piero della Francesca and other great artists. A land that still today is a masterpiece of natural landscapes, almost intact.
Conservation of the forms and profiles of a territory is one of the key elements for identifying a historical landscape, a "place of art".
Now, the Montefeltro has become a fortunate heir to a landscape not only extraordinarily beautiful but above all an immense cultural heritage.
After being immersed in art, history, landscapes and culture, we greet this splendid medieval village.
Arrived on a huge rocky plain around the corner, this delightful little town managed to impress us with all its charm, we must not forget that San Leo hosted Dante and St. Francis of Assisi.
The wonderful panorama that we have admired from San Leo is one of the most beautiful and typical of the area, the view spans the surrounding mountains by crossing the Marecchia valley to reach the sea.
Let’s walk through the road cut into the rock that leads to San Leo to address our greeting to this wonderful hamlet!
Our preferred restaurants and hotels in San Marino: