[Emilia-Romagna Villages] San Leo, the fortified hamlet
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
A fortified village perched on a calcareous arenaceous spur in the heart of Montefeltro, a land of boundaries, a theater of ecclesiastical and cultural history. This is San Leo in a few words. A timeless charm so much to boast the title of the most beautiful village of Italy and Borgo Bandiera Orange. It is located in Upper Valmarecchia, inland of Rimini, and is set between Tuscany, Marche and Republic of San Marino. Visiting it means traveling in history and culture: from San Leone’s time, from the passage of St. Francis to the illustrious prisons of Cagliostro and Orsini, from the inspiration of Dante to the landscapes of Piero della Francesca.
The village of San Leo stands out for its cultural and environmental richness and empties its charm at any time of the year, even more at sunrise or sunset. The extraordinary shape of the place, with its overhanging walls has always led to double military and religious value. Today San Leo still retains its inaccessible nature, in a perpetual balance between the nature surrounding it and the human footprint that characterizes it with the unmistakable shape of the fortress. The numerous bends, among hills dotted with small habitats, are accessed by a single road cut into the rock, which seems to be an extension of the boulder supporting the village. After passing the ancient entrance door, the village is paved with clear stone and pervading a relaxing atmosphere of other times with alleys and angles full of poetry…
The fortress that rises over a cliff, in a panorama of woods and rocky peaks to the sea, in a few days resembles a boat lying on a rocky sea and a fairy castle rising among the mists. From its nearly 600 meters high it is a perfect destination for anyone in Romagna looking for a viable and relaxing alternative to the Riviera.
The first time I visited it was with my parents, on a visit from Florence, then came back a few years later to visit the Balconi di Piero. Just a goal not to be missed…
The village is named after San Leone, the founder. The mountain on which it rests and gives its name to the entire territory, the Montefeltro, would be derived from the Latin Mons Feretri, a Roman settlement, built around a temple consecrated to Giove Feretrio (according to tradition located below today’s cathedral). In the Middle Ages it was contended by Byzantines, Goths, Franks and Longobards, becoming also the capital of the Berengar II Kingdom. Between XIII and XIV sec. Malatesta di Rimini alternate in the domination of the village with their aggressive enemies, the Montefeltro of Urbino, who finally conquered the fortress in 1441 with Duke Federico. San Leo was part of the Marche (another Italian region different from Emilia-Romagna) until August 15, 2009, when, following the referendum, together with six other municipalities in the High Valmarecchia, passed under the Province of Rimini.
The first stage is without a doubt the impressive fortress, located at the highest point of San Leo at 639 m above sea level, overlooking the impressive rock walls that made it inaccessible. Inside, the Museum collects paintings, prints, furniture, ceramics and extensive documentation on the protagonists of San Leo’s history, from Berengario to Montefeltro; You can also visit an exhibition of weapons and armor from the XIV to the XIX sec. And the cells of the detainees, including that of Cagliostro. The pieve, the oldest building in the village, built in the Carolingian era and remodeled in Romanesque stone stones, would have arisen on the original cell in which San Leone resigned in prayer and where the last few years had come from a hermit. A basilical plant with three aisles separated by pillars and columns, is built using Roman-age retrieval material. The nearby Cathedral, consecrated to the cult of the Holy Lion, was erected close to the cliff of the cliff in the 7th century and completely renovated in 1173 with sandstone and Romanesque-Lombardy forms. From the mighty bell tower of probable Byzantine origin with quadrangular base you can enjoy an incomparable view of San Leo’s inhabited area.
The Medicean Palace, built to host the governor of San Leo and Montefeltro on behalf of the Republic of Florence, now houses the Museum of Sacred Art and the Pinacoteca. In the first, you can admire art objects and furnishings from various churches from the 9th to the 18th century, while the pinacoteca houses, among other things, works by Guercino and Caravaggio. To admire externally Palazzo Della Rovere, home of the Town Hall, which in 1213 hosted St. Francis who here received the montain de La Verna. The heart of the village, the central square dedicated to the great poet, gathers around itself the nucleus of the medieval city. The convent of Sant’Igne is located about two kilometers from the hamlet, whose foundation is attributed to St. Francis. It dates back to the 13th century and contains in its cloister a piece of the trunk of the oak under which the saint preached.
Spring – Discover the territory of San Leo from above: from the rocks of Mount San Severino it is possible to take off with paragliding or hang-gliding.
Summer – Go hunting for the landscapes that inspired the traveling teacher Piero della Francesca, visiting and perhaps taking advantage of the guided tours of Montefeltro Vedute Rinascimentali, the Balconi di Piero.
Autumn – Discover the green side of Montefeltro by visiting the nearby Natural Park of Sasso Simone and Simoncello.
Winter – Visit the village, often covered by a charming fog and during the Christmas season, take advantage of the nearby Sant’Agata Feltria to visit the Country of Christmas.
- Cherry Festival – last weekend of May
In Pietracuta di San Leo the traditional Cherries Festival, the “Feast of Zarisas”, a delicious typical product of the valley.
- San Leo Festival – ed. 2017 from June 15th to August 8th
A musical and cultural exhibition of absolute prestige that has always been oriented to a variety of genres. Performance scheduled in the Romanesque Duomo and in the great tower of the Fortress.
- AlchimiAlchimie – late August
Days devoted to Giuseppe Balsamo or Conte Cagliostro: magic and esotericism make it a master along the streets of the historic center with themed markets, as well as music pyrotechnics and dances.
Food and Wine
The Montefeltro is a territory that contains not only cultural, but also food and wine treasures. This is the menu I recommend, all based on typical recipes: San Leo tortelloni as the first, a second of rabbit with wild fennel and pie with Cagliostro and a pecorino taste wrapped in walnut leaves with a few drops of honey from Valmarecchia. All accompanied by a Sangiovese Superiore DOP – Colli di Rimini. To finish a sip of Balsamo di Cagliostro, the digestive-based liquorice roots typical of the village, created according to the legend, from the same count.
Cagliostro – The Count, also quoted in the Divine Comedy, whose fame by alchemist and healer reached the most important courts in Europe, discounted the prison sentence for heresy and seditious activities in the Cell of the Cockpit of the Fortress.
Felice Orsini – the Mazzino patriot born in Meldola, before the Paris attack on Napoleon III, the sovereign of France for which he is known, was imprisoned with his father and other Roman patriots in the “Fort of Saint Leo … destined to encase the incorrigible convicts And crimes of political offenses … ” San Leone, founder of the city of San Leo, who is patron, arrived in the village at the end of the third century AD from Dalmatia to escape the persecution of the Diocletian’s emperor against Christians.
St. Francis – was May 8, 1213, when he received the gift of Count Orlando Catani from Chiusi in Casentino, Mount Verna, where today stands the Sanctuary of the Verna. Following this visit, the city of San Leo inserted the Holy figure into its civic coat of arms and each year in May it commemorates the passage and the donation of Mount del Verna.