From as far away as Rimini, a massive fortress can be seen crouched on the horizon, a solid and perhaps even sinister tower fet among the splendid greenery of the surrounding hills. This is the castle of Montefiore, one of the most interesting medieval towns of the Rimini area. Behind its ancient walls, in its churches and narrow streets, precious works of art can be discovered, and traditional crafts such as pottery can be observed. Looking out from the highest point of the castle, the view stretches away down to the sea, so close that it could almost be touched, and all around, groves of oaks and olives invite us to venture out in their midst for relaxing country rambles.
A visit to Montefiore is indeed a memorable experience.
Strolling through the quiet streets of Montefiore Conca, it may seem difficult to imagine just how varied and important the history of the town has been. For many centuries, it was perhaps the most influential community of the lower part of the Conca Valley, and occupied a prominent position in the military, economic, religious and culturallife of the region. The signs of this momentous past are evident in the sheer scale of the fortressand in the typically medieval lay-out of the streets and alleys.
However, the territory of Montefiore,stretching from the summit of Mount Auro at a height of 480 metres down to the fertile terraces by the River Conca, was inhabited long beforethe period.
Several prehistoric flint and bone artefacts bave been found in the area, and on a hill overlooking the valley a number of Iron Age tombs have been discovered.
Roman statues, vases, inscriptions, coins and columns have been unearthed in virtually the whole territory, but the mostinteresting archeological site is that of San Pietro in Cotti, known as Pian di San Pietro, where foundations, floors, columns and pottery dating back as far as the 5th century BC and covering all the various Roman periods show that there was a large and particularly important agricultural and religious settlement bere. The site has still to be excavated fully, but will doubtless tell us much about the early history of the area. Montefiore was dominated by the lords of Rimini as far back as the early Middle Ages.1n 1302, the inhabitants attempted to gain their independence, but the threat of a long and difficult siege put an end to the rebellion.
The town saw its period of bighest splendour under the rule of the Malatesta family, when this powerful clan chose to build one of its most massive and impregnable fortresses bere, to serve both as a prestigious residence and as a fundamental military bulwark against the incursions of their enemies from the neighbouring territory of Montefeltro.
The castle was built somewhere around 1350, and was controlled by the Malatesta famiIy far more than a century.1n 1377, Galeotto Novello Malatesta was born bere, and he was popularly known as ‘Belfiore’ on account of bis place of birth. The castle was strengthened around 1432 by Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta, who made it one of its key strongholds. In this period, a number of civil and religious institutions were established in the town, including monasteries, hospitals and even a pawnshop, a valuable help far the poor of the town.
After the defeat of the Malatesta family,Montefiore, lite the other towns of this part of Romagna, changed hands many times, and was ruled far brief intervals by the Counts Guidi di Bagno, Cesare Borgia, the Venetian Republic and by Borgia, the Venetian Republic and by Constantine Comneno, Prince of Macedonia, who died here in 1530. The castle then passed definitively under the rule of the Papal State, being incorporated for a short lime into the Cisalpine Republic in 1797. Montefiore maintained its important position throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, although many of the nearby towns, especially those in the lowland plain, were beginning to grow in size and econornic significance in this period.
In the early years of the 20th century the inhabitants of Montefiore were increasingly attracted to the valley, even though bill farrning remained an important activity. During the 1950’s and 1960’s this process of migration caused the population to decline even further, and the trend has been reversed only in recent years, perhaps due to the attractiveness of the town and its countryside, and to the ease with which the coastal towns can now be reached with modem means of transport.
Montefiore regards tourism as one of its best prospects for future development, and has all the attributes to make this possible.
Places and events
As soon as you arrive in Montefiore you will notice Porta Curina, an archway from the 14th and 15th centuries set into the fortified walls of the town and bearing the coat of arms of the Piccolomini family. On the left there are the Town Hall and a number of medieval houses. Walking up towards the castle, the San Paolo Church is on the left, a little before the pottery shop, the workshop of the Franchetti family. Inside there are two foot-driven pottery wheels of the kind used for many centuries, and the family produces an interesting range of jugs, plates and vases in traditional forms and colours. At this point the castle can be seen most clearly, silhouetted huge and threatening against the sky, and the entrance path leads round the walls until it reaches the courtyard, where there is a decorated well from the end of the 14th century.
Inside the castle there is a cross-vaulted hall where several rare frescoes from the same century, by Jacopo Avanzi, afe on display, and there afe other frescoes by the same artist in the Imperatore Room, at present closed for restorations. Right at the top of the castle there is a broad terrace which offers a brea~taking view over the town, the nearby hills and valleys, and an ampIe stretch of the Romagna coastline. The castle appears to bave been built in 1340, by Galeotto Malatesta, although it was probably erected on the site of a previous fortification. Famous visitors in the past bave included Louis the Great, King of Hungary, King Sigismund of Bohemia, Holy Roman Emperor, Pope Gregory XII and Pope Julius II.
The castle fell into disrepair at the end of the 16th century, and the restoration work carried out in recent decades has not always succeeded in maintaining the originai structure. Leaving the castle, turn right and follow the Ghirlanda street round to the San Paolo Church, in Gothic style, which has a precious painted wooden cross of the 14th century Rimini School. After passing through Porta Cucina once more, a street leads round the outer walls of the castle. In the main street of Montefiore, Via XX Settembre, there is the Ospedale Church, also known as Santa Croce, with several 15th century frescoes of the Marche School. Other interesting places to visit include the Cappuccini Monastery, near the summit of Mount Auro, and the Madonna di Bonora Sanctuary, one of the oldest and most well-known of its kind in the Rimini area. The countryside around Montefiore deserves particular attention, and perhaps the best place to appreciate this natural beauty is in the Ventena Valley, situated between Montefiore and Gemmano. Annual events include the Good Friday Procession, in full costume, and the Chestnut Fair, held on Sundays in October.
The Summer Arts Season enlivens the castle during the month of July with exhibitions and art courses. At Christmas, the Nativity is represented in a pageant featuring local residents in costume as the principal characters.
Area: 22.41 sq. kilometres
Height: 385 metres above sea level
Dialling code: 0541
Town Council: Via Roma – Tel. 980035/980206
Tourist Informatìon: 50 Via XX Settembre – Tel. 782790
Montefiore Castle: Via Roma – Tel. 980035 (council)
(Summer opening: 10am-12prn/3pm-7pm; visitsfromNovember to March by request)
Museum of Fossils and Minerals: Montefiore Castle (Spring opening: Sundays and
holidays only, 3pm-7pm. Summer opening: 10am-12prn/3pm-7pm;)
Gothic Line Museum: 3 Via Xl February – Tel. 980045 (visits by request; Custodian, 93
Via Monte Auro)
4 Via Europa – Tel. 980042
Serbadone: Tel. 988329
Police: Via Caserma – Tel. 980037
A Guide to Rimini Countryside 1992
Rimini Area Tourist Authority