Beyond the thriving and bustling beachfront of Rimini there’s a city, that while small, it holds a historical legacy that spans from the Roman times until today. Since the founding of the first Roman colony in 268 BC, every period has left its mark in Rimini in one way or another.
Even though Rimini was the most damaged town after Montecassino during WWII, it still conserves many traces of its interesting past, scattered throughout the town and intertwined between different (and often non compatible ideologically) times.
These are the three major eras you will find while walking through the streets of Rimini:
The Roman Times
The golden jewel of the Roman times is the Tiberius Bridge. This bridge marks the beginning of the Aemilian Way or Via Emilia (back then the cities were settled every 20 kilometers along the way because that was the distance a Roman soldier could walk in a day) and it is a testament to the superb engineering of the ancient Romans.
It was built between 14 AD (during the reign of Augustus) and 21 AD (finished during Tiberius reign, hence the name). The bridge has survived for almost 2000 years of continuous use, including the time of severe bombing during WWII.
The Arch of Augustus is another piece not to miss in Rimini. Located on the opposite side to the town from the bridge, the Arch of Augustus is the oldest surviving Roman triumphal arch, dating from 27 BC. As the name can tell, the arch was built to celebrate Emperor Augustus.
When you stand in front of it, you will notice all the stone details (and the artistry of the era) that still survive. Among them are the divinities of Jupiter and Apollo (facing away from the city) and Neptune and Rome (facing inwards) – all represented and encased in oval ornaments. They all represent the greatness of Rome and Augustus’ power.
The Surgeon’s House is considered to be a mini Pompeii since it has well all the instruments and furniture of this doctor’s surgery very well preserved. After a barbarian attack, a fire caused the walls of this house to collapse inwards, thus preserving the items as seen today.
Among the items is the most complete collection of surgical instruments, as well as walls, floors, door hinges, medicine bottles, a desk, and more.
And last but not least (of the Roman times, that is) is the Roman Amphitheatre. Back then (II century AD) it could accommodate up to 12,000 spectators. It was erected alongside the ancient coastline and had two orders of porticoes with 60 arcades.
Today, there’s not much to see since it is mostly ruined, but its design was not too far from the famous coliseum and other roman amphitheaters we know today.
The Middle Ages and Renaissance
Piazza Cavour is one of the two central squares of Rimini and it was the heart of the city during the medieval times. To its side, you will see Arengo Palazzo, built in 1204, with Ghibelline (shallowtail) battlements and an arcade. This was the place where matters of public government were decided. Next to it is Palazzo del Podestá, built in 1330.
To the opposite side is the only surviving monument from the 17th century: the statue of Pope Paul V (1614), which attests to the papal domination of the time. On the end of the square, there’s the Galli Theatre (1857), designed by Luigi Poletti in a neoclassical style.
In the center, you’ll see a fountain with a pinecone on the top, Fontana della Pigna. Originally it had a statue of St. Paul on top of it, but for some reason, in 1809 the pinecone replaced it. But, as history tells, Leonardo DaVinci used to love the sound of this fountain.
Along Via IV Novembre you will find a temple with an interesting story behind it: the Malatesta Temple. This temple was built during the Renaissance (1450), but contrary to the typical notions of the time of giving glory only to God, this temple also glorifies a man named Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta, the lord of the city.
Sigismondo had an affair with Isotta Degli Atti, who first was his mistress and then his third and final wife, so he had the idea of building the temple as a mausoleum for his wife and himself (still buried there to this day). The original design was in gothic style and not what you see today.
Somewhere along the way, Sigismondo made sure to “revamp” the temple by designing its white marble façade with the best architect of the time – Leon Batista Alberti.
Unfortunately, the building was never finished – leaving that interesting asymmetrical shape we see today. Inside there are a series of small side chapels with different religious scenes.
The Church of St. Augustine is the place to go to admire some beautiful 14th century frescos painted by masters of the Rimini school (which curiously were not discovered until 1916 when an earthquake destroyed the stucco and frescos created during the 18th century) as well as scenes of the life of St. John the Evangelist and Virgin Mary.
Let’s start the modern times with something lite… the art of eating gelatos and piadinas. This is nothing new in Italy, but it is a must, especially Rimini. Once you’re satisfied beyond pleasure, you can head to Piazza Tre Martiri.
In reality, this plaza is from the Roman times, but the name it has today is in honor of three partisans who died in 1944 – hanged by the retreating Nazis at the end of World War II.
But, before the horrors of WWII, this plaza marked the meeting point of the Cardo and Decumanus (the two main streets in Roman times), and it is where the Roman forum was located.
And now, last but not least, there’s the City Museum. Here’s a record of Rimini’s history from ancient Roman times to modern art. Everything from mosaics, amphorae, tiles, kilns, to renaissance paintings and graphic art of the twentieth century.
One good thing I found about Rimini is that most (if not all) of its important sights are well labeled, with a brief history, and are also routed according to the era they belong. So, in addition to these samples I showed, there are many more historical buildings that are well worth seeing.
Now, do you believe Rimini holds much more than a beautiful beachfront and sunny warm days?
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