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Castel Sgismondo in Rimini was the seat of power of the Malatesta family during the Renaissance.

The History and Traditions of Rimini

Situated in northern Italy, the Province of Rimini lies in the southeastern region of Emilia Romagna and is famous for its namesake provincial capital, the most famous resort on the Adriatic Riviera. It has a nine-mile-long sandy beach, over 1,000 hotels and thousands of bars, restaurants and night spots.

Unlike many beach resorts, Rimini has a long history and is imbued with an ancient architectural heritage. Known as Ariminum during the Roman Empire, Rimini fell under its rule in 268 BC. It gained both commercial and strategic military importance due to its location along the Adriatic coastline.

Rimini was located at the road junction connecting central and northern Italy. The Via Aemilia led to Piacenza and the Via Popilia extended northwards; it also opened up trade by both sea and river. Remains of an ancient amphitheater that could seat 12,000 people and a five-arched Bridge of Istrian (completed by Tiberius in 21 AD) are not only still visible, the bridge is still in use 1998 years later! The third major road – Via Flaminia, ended at the Arch of Augustus (erected 27 BC). Other rich finds include the Domus del Chirurgo (Surgeon’s House), dating from the 3rd century AD. His surgical tools were discovered under the collapsed home, apparently burned during the first barbarian incursion. The artifacts are now preserved in the city’s museum, along with sophisticated mosaics, frescoes and furnishings.

The end of Roman rule was marked by destruction caused by invasions and wars, but also by the building of the palazzos for Imperial officers and by the first churches. One of the most important early synods of the Church – the Council of Ariminum took place there in 359. It was intended to resolve one of the great divides of the 4th century church, the nature of the divinity of Jesus Christ.

Rimini underwent a period of political unrest following the fall of Rome. It was caught up in the Gothic War and for a number of centuries was alternately ruled by Goths and Byzantines. To complicate matters, the Papacy continually harbored interest in Rimini, exerting its influence whenever the opportunity presented itself.

Between the 13th and 14th centuries, the area was dominated by the Malatesta line, one of the most powerful families of the day. Although they dominated diverse regions of Italy, the family’s stronghold was always in Rimini and under their rule, arts and culture flourished.

The Basilica Cathedral Malatesta Temple is one of the treasures of the early Renaissance, with a façade designed by Leon Battista Alberti and artworks by Giotto, Agostino di Duccio, Piero della Francesca and Vasari. Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta, the greatest of the family members, built his own sumptuous residence, Castel Sigismondo, not far from the Tempio in 1437. Both a fortress and residence, the restored structure is still used for cultural events and although it has lost its series of moats over the centuries, it is still a living testament to the years of feudal lordship of the Malatestas.

Artworks from the thriving Medieval period of the province are exhibited in Palazzo dell’Arengo and include the splendid 13th century frescoes in the Church of Sant’Agostino. In recent years, interactive displays have brought high technology to the palace. Last year featured the Caravaggio Experience, while this year’s focus in on the genius of Leonardo da Vinci.

Standing on a gentle hill called Colle Giove is the town of Santarcangelo di Romagna. Visitors are greeted by tiny picturesque streets, charming shops, beautiful architectural structures, while just outside the town are ancient caves. The tufa caves that cross Mount Giove were used by ancient Romans as wine and food cellars and during WWII, were used as a refuge against the bombings. The town reached the height of splendor during the Middle Ages, thanks to Malatesta family and the town is still dominated by the fortress that emphasizes its Medieval skyline. Another landmark that defines the profile of Santarcangelo is the Campanone Tower, an ancient bell tower. The main square is Piazza dei Ganganelli, dedicated to Antonio Vincenzo Ganganelli, better known as Pope Clemente XIV, who was born in Santarcangelo in 1705. The Triumphal Arch, which dominates the square, was built in his honor in 1777.

It is not often that you can walk into a workshop and see things being made using techniques and equipment that date back to the early 1600s. In Santarcangelo, textile printing still takes place not only using 17th century methods, but the original tools as well. The technique was invented by the Romans and was even described by Leonardo in his notebooks, but to view the operation is something to behold.

The Antica Stamperia Artigiana Marchi – the artisanal printing house, sells hand-printed tablecloths, napkins, runners and other soft goods, but stepping downstairs into the workshop reveals an enormous wooden wheel 17 feet in diameter. Rolls of white fabric lie all around on shelves and workbenches. The wheel is the oldest and largest of its type in the world. As it turns, it pulls a stone slab back and forwards across large wood rollers, or subbi, wrapped in cotton or linen cloth. The colossal weight of the stone slab presses the cotton smoother than any iron can in a process called follatura. The printing uses natural dyes prepared with centuries-old secret recipes known only to the owners and passed down from generation to generation. The Marchi workshop is particularly well-known for its ochre or rust-colored prints made using dye made from rusty nails. Other colors come from minerals and nature, which include blue, green and red, giving the plain white cloth a wonderful vibrancy. Lining the shelves of the workshops are over 2000 print blocks, hand carved from pear wood, dating back as far as four centuries. Exclusive antique designs draw on traditional southern Romagna symbols, including wheat sheaves and grapes that give the cloth a beautiful pastoral and artisanal feel. It is a way of keeping both history and craftsmanship alive.

Prior to the 20th century, agriculture and fishing were Rimini’s main economic sources and the province boasts an important tradition in wine and extra virgin olive oil production. Today, it is tourism that the province is best known for and is a destination with a long tradition of hospitality. In 1843, the first bathing establishment was opened. Since then, from Bellaria to Cattolica, vacation homes and villas began to dot the coast, followed by hotels in the latter part of the century, with guest houses and vacation camps for children proliferated in the 20th century.

The sea and the beach remain the heart of tourism in Rimini, which has been enhanced by resorts, spas, theme and water parks and plenty of nightlife. Over the past two decades, exhibition, conference and business tourism has also greatly increased. The province actually boasts the greatest number of hotel rooms with 144,000, exceeding even Rome in terms of guest accommodations, thus making tourism the newest tradition in this beautiful and historic province.