San Leo

One morning, from our base in Marche, we drove to the village of San Leo. The spectacular hilltop village is said to date from Roman times. Almost a decade ago, it was not a very popular destination in the province of Rimini, not yet part of the list of Italy’s most beautiful borghi. The 690 m high rock on which the village stands is called Montefeltro, and gives its name to the region around it. There is a story that the village had a temple of Jupiter, over which the present parish church stands. I did not see any Roman remains in the village.

The place played a role in medieval history, as a fortress fought over by Byzantium, and the Goths, Franks, and Lombards. I didn’t find any inscription dating the origin of the spectacular clifftop fortress, but it could be early medieval in origin. In the 10th century it briefly became the capital of Berengar II. Later, it stood on the disputed border between Urbino and Rimini, until the mid-15th century CE when it finally became part of Urbino. Interestingly, after a referendum in 2006, it is not part of the district of Rimini.

I don’t have any photos of the parish church (which possibly is from the 5th century CE), and I don’t recall whether I went there at all. The photos that I have are of the Cathedral of St. Leo. It is said to have been built first in the 7th century CE, but was renovated entirely in the 12th century. I liked the sandstone structure built over the cliff. The only entrance was the side door, since the long side of the cross looked over the cliff. The tall tower which you see in the featured photo was a 12th century watch tower built near the cathedral. It now serves as the cathedral’s bell tower.

The long history of the village brought famous people to it now and then. A plaque on the cathedral commemorated a sermon by St. Francis of Assisi in the 13th century. Another plaque near a little fountain at the center of the village reminded us that this was the model for Dante’s portrayal of Purgatory. The name of the village commemorates it connection with St. Leo, who is said to have built the parish church. A more obscure connection was with Cagliostro, who was first sentenced to death by the Inquisition, but later had his sentence commuted to life imprisonment in a cell in this fortress.

It was a very pleasant village. The summer was not very warm, and it was nice to walk around it and stop in a cafe for lunch. The day was cool enough that the heavy local food did not seem overwhelming. Afterwards we climbed up to the fortress. From its walls you could look down into the valley at the landscapes that are said to have inspired the paintings of Piero della Francesca. From one point on the wall I could see right across Italy into the independent republic of San Marino. This town, which you can see in the photo above, is a twin town of San Leo.

This post appears on schedule while I travel.

Marche on

A couple of times during my stay in a farmhouse in the Marche region of Italy I went in to the nearest village for supplies and to check my mail (since there was no internet connection in the house). Macerata Feltria was not an ancient settlement. It was built in the 10th century CE.

In any Italian village I’m drawn to the windows. The are shuttered, the wood painted in saturated colours, contrasting with the cream or yellow of the walls, and every so often there is a window box with flowers. In this village there were several windows with a variation: cacti instead of flowers.

Later I found that a village had stood here since before the Roman empire, when the area was forested. It had grown into a little town by the Roman times, and then was completely destroyed by Ostrogoths early in the 6th century CE. The word macerata in the name of the village could refer either to that destruction or to the reuse of old material in the rebuilding of the village. Roman remains have been reused everywhere in Italy, so perhaps it is the former meaning that should be applied.

The village, or small town, I’m not sure of what the administrative status is, was the usual warren of curved roads, circling a low central hill with a small castle. On a weekend when I wandered away from the market place into these roads I could walk long distances without seeing anyone. Every road seemed to have its own church. This wasn’t the most picturesque village we saw in this area, but it was pleasant enough.


Summer in a village in the Marche, that’s a memory that stays with me. Maybe because it was a complete internet detox, since the telephone line to the farmhouse had fallen down in winter. The result was that I walked a lot, across the lovely countryside. The Marche borders the more touristy province of Emilio-Romagna, shares many things with it, but has the advantage of being less fashionable.

Daily walks through the countryside gave me beautiful and unexpected views. It was early in summer, and the wildflowers were still in bloom. But it was late enough that the harvesters had already begun to rove over fields, taking the wheat and leaving a scatter of large bundles of hay to dry in the summer sunlight.

The countryside is dotted with little treasures: small villages, several of them medieval or older. After all, this region was at the center of the Roman empire, and was later fought over by the Byzantines and the various tribes.

Summer in the countryside also brings other treasures in plenty. I found that it was easy to indulge in my taste for photographing millifauna, the little creatures which are attracted to wildflowers. I’m happy I went back to these photos. They bring back great memories.