W e arrived to San Leo, in the ancient county of Montefeltro, 30 km from Rimini and 16 km from the Republic of San Marino, along the only access road, cut out of the rock.
In ancient times, there were two draw-bridges closing the entrance at night or in moment of danger, but they were destroyed by the constant rock slides.
It seems still impossible how that rocky mass, catapulted from the Tyrrhenian Sea 10 million years ago, can still stand with no problems.
It is thought that Dante had in mind the gigantic Leontine rock when imagining the very peculiar structure of his Purgatory in the Divine Commedy.
In fact, the main square of the town is dedicated to him and a memorial recalls his visit at the beginning of 1300.
It is a foggy day and a cold wind hits us when we get out of the car and it starts drizzling.
Good thing we all have an extra jacket with hood in the car, except Thomas who is trying to cover himself with a vest and keeps saying: I am all right! but his face does not seems to agree with that.
We had a late start in the morning and two hours car ride woke up our appetite.
So we decided that our first stop would be in a restaurant for lunch.
Osteria Belvedere was our choice, next to the parking area, around the corner from the main square going towards the fortress.
Little pricy, but worth it.
The rustic interior walls all cut in stone, the little details in the set up of the table and the great home made pasta with porcini mushrooms and the juicy grilled Italian sausage gave us the energy to climb to the fortress.Leo, (we are here to show him his fort as promised!) who needs to digest quickly decided to take the 10 minutes climb to the fortress cutting through a wooded path.
The rest of us decided to see if the car could make it up the top and we parked right in front of the entrance.
There is only one other car parked, it is still lunch hour, but fortunately the fortress stays opened all day.
The fort and the town got their name from Saint Leo, arrived here from Dalmatia in the 4th century, during the great persecution of the Christians by the Emperor Diocletian, together with his friend Marino (San Marino!) to evangelise the territory and to retire to a spiritual life of seclusion.
A flourishing city during the Middle Ages, San Leo was always contended by prestigious families for its strategic position until the domination of the Pontifical State in 1631.
After the passage to the Church, the fortress lost importance and served as a prison until 1906.
Restorations on one of the towers are still in progress.
Entering the fortress, after a ticket of 8 euro a person, we meet a series of parade grounds and inside, and exhibition of arms and suits.
I found it particularly impressing the number of authentic torture instruments and device that you could actually go and see from the rack to individual iron cages you were hung in as a prisoner, in the punishment cells, two areas excavates in the rock.
Also to see is the “Pozzetto”, the cell where the Count of Cagliostro was imprisoned for 4 years in 1791 till his death.
Cagliostro, a famous alchemist and healer throughout the most important courts in Europe, was arrested by the Inquisition because he founded a Lodge dedicated to Egyptian rites. He was more or less buried alive in a narrow cell accessible only via a window in the ceiling.
The only opening in the cell is a very narrow window with triple bars from which one can see only the churches of the village below. Leaving the fort, a beautiful rainbow was waiting for us far away in the distance in the view of rocks and hills reaching until the Adriatic sea.
The small village is quite today and we go get a coffee, waiting for the Pieve to open in the afternoon.
When I think of a church where the Christian soul can be closer to God well I think to the essential style of a preromanic church like La Pieve.
It is the oldest monument of the area and the tradition says that it was built over the cell where San Leo used to retire to pray.
It does not have an entrance on the façade because of the steep land where it sits, but you can enter, as in the Cathedral, on both sides.
Observing around you can see that the remains of the roman temples found on that spot were used for the construction.
Pieve means People from the Latin to represent the original community who built the site.
I could stay forever in the silence of that church but the others are already heading towards the Cathedral that contains a relic of San Leo.
Down the sculpted stairway of the Duomo there is the crypt where there is the lid from the coffin of San Leo bearing these words “San Leone, priest and pilgrim. Whilst I lived, I loved”.
It is time to go if we want to reach in time San Marino.
Going down the hill and looking backwards I realize that is difficult to distinguish between the natural rock and the man’s work and this is what makes this place so fascinating and magical!