Thanks to its wonderful location in the heart of the Marecchia valley, Tenuta Saiano is the ideal place from which to strike out and explore this land steeped in history and culture.
Your discovery tour continues in the nearby lovely historic town of Santarcangelo, it too filled with ancient memories of noble vestiges from the Middle Ages.
Torriana and Montebello: the balconies of Romagna
Set perched on impervious rocky outcrops typical of the Val Marecchia are the grand and solitary silhouettes of the Montebello and Torriana castles. Once unconquerable outposts that kept enemies at bay, today they are charming medieval towns steeped in history and ancient allure.
Famed for the history of the castle and ghost of Azzurrina – who, they say, still roams through its rooms – the fortress of the Guidi di Bagno in Montebello has retained its original, centuries-old medieval structure. Ancient witness to long forgotten battles and glorious feasts held by the Malatestas and the Montefeltros, the castle enjoys a marvellously panoramic position from which to look out over the natural beauty of the Val Marecchia park and admire the rocky and wooded slopes of the Apennines in the distance.
As you walk over the steep streets of the medieval village, you’ll see the silhouette of the square City Tower dominating town, marking the hours of the daily life of the citizens of Montebello with its bell. The Chiesa del Borgo, or Town Church, is also worth a visit. It dates to the early 1700s and was once the private chapel of the inhabitants of the castle.
Dating to the year 1000, the guardian of the local heritage of the Malatesta family, the town of Torriana sits on a great block of limestone nestled in a gorgeous nature oasis. The entrance, two great circular towers, a part of the walls and some of the keep are all that is left of the ancient square fortress that once occupied the tip of the mountain. They say that in 1304 Gianciotto Malatesta was murdered in the hidden recesses of the Torriana fortress, the same man who, a few years earlier, overcome with jealously, killed his own wife, Francesca da Rimini and his brother, her lover, Paolo, the unfortunate couple mentioned in Dante’s Inferno.
Rugged and pristine nature, stunning views, silent woods and fragrant trails make this an especially beautiful part of the Val Marecchia, an area just waiting to be explored.
The Castle of Montebello
Past an ancient yet intact arch, the castle can be reached over a steep street that rises up to the cliff that looks out over the entire village of Montebello.
A beautiful example of Malatestian military architecture, for many centuries the castle was the residence of noble families and illustrious dynasties – first among them the Malatestas and, from 1393, the Montefeltros. The entrance leads to a courtyard that houses the remains of an old water well, once rich with sharpened blades.
The Renaissance wing, built by the Malatestas in 1400, provides a lovely monumental backdrop for a rich collection of furniture, works of art and Italian craftsmanship from between the 1400s and the 1700s. The fortress, a silent witness to centuries of struggles and battles fought between her towers, is also the guardian of mysterious legends and tales of death that took place in the rooms and secret recesses of her folds. One story claims that the castle was where Azzurrina, the daughter of count Guidi di Bagno, met her death. Her ghost, they say, still roams in the dark underground rooms of the fortress.
Two tours are suggested: one daytime tour to enjoy the architectural beauty, the unique treasures in the rooms and the stunning panoramas, and one night-time tour for adults only. The latter provides visitors with more precise and detailed information about the mystic aspects and the legends surrounding the castle, sharing some of the modern research on paranormal phenomena and the ghost of little Azzurrina.
The Mystery surrounding Azzurrina
They say a ghost lives at the Castle of Montebello, a ghost that has been walking the hallways and undergrounds of the fortress for centuries, breaking the silence and dark emptiness with her weak little voice.
Azzurrina, the daughter of one of the lords of the castle, Ugolinuccio Malatesta, is the main character of this tale which for decades has fascinated visitors and paranormal enthusiasts, attracting a large number of thrill seekers who want to “meet” the little ghost of the castle for themselves.
Legend has it that on June 21 of 1375, while her father Ugolinuccio was engaged in a furious battle against the Montefeltros, a violent storm knocked down the towers of the fortress and little albino Guendolina, known as “Azzurrina,” disappeared mysteriously down the tunnels of the Fortress while chasing the ball she was playing with, much to the horror of the two guards in charge of watching over her.
They never found her body and, since then, the distant echo of the voice and laughter of the little girl can be heard in the castle’s silent corridors once every five years, on the summer solstice, the night of the 21st of June.
Legends, superstitions, stories and truths. No one knows the true origins of this tale, but for three centuries it has been told and, no doubt, been embellished along the way with more or less fantastical details. After all these years, this story continues to entice people to climb up the steep hill to the castle to listen to guides tell of legends and mysteries that only the walls of the thousand year old fortress know to be true or false.
To each… his own interpretation!
The town of Saiano
Nestled in the hills of the Val Marecchia, the Madonna di Saiano Sanctuary is the ultimate reign of silence and prayer. Guarded over by a few Franciscan friars of the Immaculate Heart of Mary from Colombia, it sits on a rocky outcrop over the Marecchia river, a strategic location between Montebello, Torriana and Verucchio.
Its name takes us back to the days of the Romans, who called it Saxum Jani or Janus’ Rock, as this was the god to whom the temple that was here was most likely dedicated. The sanctuary and village grew up in the Middle Ages as a place of worship of the Our Lady of Saiano. Inside the church, which was dedicated to Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, is a statue of the Madonna dating to the XV century. Miracles have been attributed to it, especially miracles relating to maternity. During the reign of the Montefeltros, on 15 August of every year pregnant women from the entire valley would gather to pray to the Virgin for a good outcome. The Madonna of Saiano is still celebrated on 15 August.
You can reach the sanctuary quite easily over a dirt road set among the green slopes of the Marecchia valley. Coming from Rimini, take the Strada Statale Marecchiese and, once you reach Ponte Verucchio, cross the bridge and, just to the left, you’ll find the street that leads directly to the holy sanctuary. The last stretch of road must be covered on foot. The sanctuary is protected within the Torriana-Montebello fauna oasis.
Strolling through… Santarcangelo di Romagna
Santarcangelo is right in the heart of the Val Marecchia and is a typical medieval village that still boasts its original fortified layout.
Our journey begins at the gathering place of the local residents: Piazza Ganganelli. Dedicated to Antonio Ganganelli, who became Pope Clement XIV, the piazza is graced with an eponymous triumphant arch, which everyone considers the town’s symbol.
As you walk the picturesque streets and then climb the steep stairs lined with craftsmen, shops and the eateries typical of the historical centre of town, stop in at the Stamperia Marchi which, since 1633, has been home to the only mangle from the 17th century to still be used to press, smooth and stretch the fabrics with their printed decorations.
Relax on a bench by the old Malatestian wall and gaze at the Campo della Fiera park with its Tonino Guerra-designed fountains at the entrance.
Continue and soon you’ll reach the entrance to the tuff grottoes, an intricate network of underground rooms, wells and tunnels dug into the clay of Mount Giove, the origins of which remain a mystery. As you go through some of the these monumental grottoes, following labyrinthine trails that snake left and right, you can feel the ancient history made up of legends, fantasy and enticing popular tales in the air.
The underground paths lead to the slopes of the majestic Rocca Malatestiana, in the heart of the charming medieval village which, from on high, looks out and guards over the entire town. The Campanone, or bell tower, reaches high into the sky above the walls and rooftops of town, it picturesque silhouette seducing and inspiring many a local artist.
As you walk down the narrow streets of the village, stop in at the Ethnographic Museum (the MET), home to fascinating relics of the farming tradition and local culture, at the Archaeology Museum (MUSAS), which displays the area’s most interesting historic, mnemonic and artistic treasures, and, finally, visit the Button Museum, which will take you on a fun journey into the curious world of buttons and the most authentic roots of Romagna-ness.