The origin of Rimini is very probably Greek. The ancient name of the city, ‘Ariminum’, is however Umbrian in derivation and Pausanias often mentions the great Umbrian king Arimno in his writings; ancient coins found in the city are evidence of the rule of this king. The area was later inhabited by the Celtic people the Senonian Gauls but in 268 BC the site was occupied by the Romans and a Latin colony was established on the borders of Umbria and Aemilium. The strategic and sea-based location of the city meant it grew in importance and was bestowed with facilities. The censor Flaminius opened the road named in his honour (the Via Flaminia), and later Marcus Aemilius Lepidus extended it to Piacenza following which it was renamed the Via Aemilia. The last consul, Popilius Lenate had a branch extended to Venice and the new section was named the Via Popilia.
In 50 BC, in Ariminum square, today known as Piazza Tre Martiri, Gaius Julius Caesar drew up his military forces after his famous crossing of the Rubicon for which he threw a dice. The rock he stood upon to address the troops can be seen in the Temple of St. Antony , another visitor to Rimini, who stopped in this area centuries later to preach to the local people. Emperor Augustus was also fond of Rimini and it was in his honour that the great triumpal arch known as Augustus’ Arch was raised in 27 AD. Emperor Tiberius later terminated construction of the bridge over the river Marecchia that Augustus had begun and now known as Tiberius’ Bridge. When the capital of the Italic empire was transferred to Byzantium, Rimini remained part of the western empire and was the setting for disputes between the Goths and the Byzantines until the Exarchate of Ravenna was formed in 567 when Rimini was part of the Pentapolis.
After Rimini, had been raided by Saracens led by the famous Sabba, the city suffered centuries of terror, devastation and bloody sieges by Lombards, Franks, Normans and Swabians who were either for or against the Papacy. It was only with the rise to power of the Malatesta family that the city was returned to its ancient splendour. The founder of the dynasty, whose nickname was Mala Testa, arrived in Rimini for the first time in 1216 and started the family more properly called by some the Malatesti who were to dominate the city for three centuries. Particularly famous members of the family were a lady, Battista Malatesta, who taught philosophy, and Domenico (called Novello) who founded the library in Cesena. The poet Dante recalled the manner in which ‘Il Mastin Vecchio’ (The Old Mastiff) directed the struggle of the Guelph troops of Romagna in their support of the Pope against the forces of the Ghibellines who supported the Holy Roman Emperor.
The tragic love story of Francesca, daughter of Guido of Ravenna, occurred in 1285. She was married against her will to Gianciotto Malatesta but fell in love with his brother Paolo, an elegant and gentle knight. When their love was discovered, the husband had both put to death. Dante remembered this story in the fifth canto of Inferno, and Boccaccio and Petrarch also dedicated verses to the episode. The Malatesta family were forced by the Church to renounce much of their land and were obliged to submit to its will to have them back though in a much reduced form. Sigismondo Malatesta was the energetic and valiant general and governor that the Church appointed as Captain-General. For the spirit of his rule from 1437-68 he was considered as the prototype of the enlightened Italian Renaissance prince. He was responsible for construction of the famous Castel Sigismondo, built in 1446 and used as a prison until the early 19th century. Sigismondo’s most famous love was Isotta degli Atti to whom he dedicated the magnificent Malatesta Temple. He was accused of having had two wives killed in order to marry her. As a great patron of literature and the arts, his court welcomed the most famous men of learning of the period who were buried below the arches of the temple.
After the struggle against Duke Valentino that lost the Malatesta family their lands, in 1503 the Lords sold Rimini to the Venetians. The Venetians restored the city to the Papacy six years later but the Malatesta’s were not pardoned by the Church for their betrayal. In 1543, Rimini passed definitively into the dominion of the Church where it remained except for a brief French domination during the Napoleonic wars when the Jacobin troops occupied Ravenna and made all of Romagna part of the Cisalpine Republic. Giaocchino Murat, king of Naples, came to Rimini on several occasions and, when his attempt to make Italy an independent kingdom failed, Rimini was returned to the lands of the Papacy. In 1815, when the kingdom of Rome was divided into a Comarchate (Rome and its surrounding lands), six Legations and thirteen Delegations, Rimini was part of a district in the fourth Legation. The leading administrator of the Comune had the title ‘Gonfaloniere’ and was assisted by a council of magistrates known as the ‘Anziani’. Despite a background of rebellions, public protests and growing economic difficulties, the city was further adorned with public works and development for the benefit of the citizens. In 1824, a public wash-house was built around a huge, pre-existent tank in front of the Palazzo dell’Arengo and the Palazzo del Podestà in what is now Piazza Cavour. Furthermore, works dating back to the Romans and the Malatesta castle (then the prison) were restored. As in many other Italian states, Carbonari opposition to the status quo also arose in the Papal states with the result that the first trials and imprisonments took place that were to make the Italian Risorgimento famous. The revolutionaries of Rimini took the upper hand in March 1831 but their joy only lasted a short time: the immediate intervention of Austria on the basis of the Holy Alliance with the Papacy soon put an end to their dreams of renewal. The battle between the Austrians and the Riminesi led by Carlo Zucchi tested the valour and spirit of sacrifice of the few thousands of revolutionaries who surprised the enemy with their spirited resistance despite being lightly armed. Mazzini described this bitter and courageous clash when he wrote of the ‘night of Rimini’, 25 March 1831.
Other significant clashes took place in the city in 1844 when the sacrifice of the Fratelli Bandiera took place, to whom a street in the city centre is dedicated today. The following year the city rose up under the leadership of Pietro Renzi but the revolutionaries’ control of the city only lasted 3 days as Swiss troops immediately responded and Renzi and other leaders were forced to take refuge beyond the territory’s borders. After a relatively quiet decade, in March 1860 Rimini and the entire Romagnolo delegation voted to join the Kingdom of Italy under the goverment of Turin. Since that time, the political parties of all persuasions seen throughout Italy have also been part of the fabric of Rimini.
In the elections before the First World War, Rimini was run by administrations of varying factions until the sides split generally into those who supported intervention and those who preferred to remain neutral. Many men from the city were killed in the first and second world wars and this was disastrous for a city that, located near the eastern Maginot line, suffered particular damage from bombardments that reduced the city to ruins. Rimini came out of the latter conflict ready to rebuilt itself and become the modern capital of seaside entertainment.
History of Rimini
If you follow Via Roma for a short way in the direction of Largo Martiri d’Ungheria, on the left you will find Parco Alcide Cervi in which small winding roads lead right down to the beach, and on the right the 2nd c. AD Roman amphitheatre of which surviving solid brick sections indicate its original dimensions; its arena was almost as large as that of the Colosseum in Rome.
Continuing through Cervi park between the bronze statues by Arnaldo Pomodoro and the play area for children, and walking alongside the medieval ‘bastions’ that circled the city, you arrive at the enormous Augustus’ Arch, Rimini’s oldest monument which seems to have been built in 27 BC. It was constructed to provide a formal and majestic entrance to the city to the travellers arriving from the capital along the Via Flaminia, which officially ended at the arch, continuing on the other side as a city street. The Arch, and Tiberius’ Bridge at the other end of the ‘decumanus maximus’ (the main road in a Roman town which in Rimini is now the Corso d’Augusto) were the two entrances to the city that marked the crossroads of two of the most important consular roads in the Roman empire ‘ the Via Flaminia and the Via Aemilia ‘ which both terminated here with suitable monuments. The arch is a single triumphal arch and unquestionably one of the most famous Roman monuments in northern Italy.
On the other side of the arch in Corso d’Augusto, Rimini’s main shopping street, lies what used to be the forum of the Roman city. Today the site is the square Piazza Tre Martiri which was dedicated to three young Parisians killed by Nazis towards the end of WW2. The modern piazza, recently restored, was the Roman setting for the speech Julius Caesar gave to his legionaries immediately after crossing the Rubicon in 49 BC when he exhorted them to follow him to Rome; the Renaissance memorial stone on the corner of Via IV Novembre commemorates this event while the temple dedicated to St. Antony that faces onto the square commemorates his miracles of the mule and the fish.
If you follow Via IV Novembre, on the right you come to Rimini’s Duomo (most important religious building), the Malatesta Temple. Its magisterial, external architecture is highlighted by the brilliant white marble lining restored for the Jubilee. Although construction of the design by Leon Battista Alberti was not completed, the genius of the architect is clearly demonstrated in the simplicity of the portal and the tympanum of the principal arcade decorated with geometrically arranged motifs, and in the classicism of the linear adaptation of the pre-existing medieval church of San Francesco on which it was based. The sumptuous Gothic interior of the building radiates splendour and magnificence with inscriptions and heraldic symbols and contrasts markedly with the simplicity of the external facade. The single nave interior has six side chapels and contains a masterpiece by Piero della Francesca in the Celle delle Reliquie entitled ‘Sigismondo kneeling at the feet of St. Sigismondo’. This fresco and the panel of the Cross, painted by Giotto in the early 14th century are Rimini’s most important artistic treasures.
Returning to Corso d’Augusto, you come to Piazza Cavour at the heart of modern and medieval Rimini. It was known as Piazza della Fontana until 1862, and Piazza del Comune earlier than that. The atmosphere of the past is in part retained by the Palazzo dell’Arengo and the Palazzo del Podestà, both of which have undergone several restorations in the past.
The Palazzo dell’Arengo stands between the Palazzo del Podestà and the 17th c. Palazzo Garampi. Dating from 1204, it is the oldest, most stately and the largest of the three palaces. It was the building where the Arengo, or People’s Council, used to meet. It is said that justice was meted out in public below the portico and that debtors were made to cede their assets by sitting three times on the stone called the Lapis Magnum (now no longer there) saying on each occasion ‘cedo bonis’. The appearance of the Palazzo del Podesà on the left of the Arengo is false, having been restored in the 1920’s. The building is more recent than the Arengo by about 100 years and is used for exhibitions throughout the year.
The old fish market stands opposite the palaces and has conserved its original structure almost intact, with the long white marble counters on which clams and cockles were sold. Often used for antiques or crafts markets, this usually silent corridor leads to the elegant square, Piazzetta Gregorio da Rimini, which is still a reminder of Rimini from the past. Back in Piazza Cavour, from the crossroad of Via Sigismondo, you reach one of the city’s most important churches, the church of Sant’Agostino in Via Cairoli. Its round spire bell tower, the tallest in the area at 55 metres, is the only part that has remained intact since the church was built. The rest, with the exception of the apse, has undergone various rebuilding and restoration works over the centuries. It holds several important works of art from the 14th c. schools of painting, which evoke an abstract world of enchanted silences and still gestures with a subtle use of colour. Back again in Piazza Cavour, take Via Poletti. Pass the Teatro Comunale (currently under restoration to return it to its original function as an opera house) on your way to the vast square where the Malatesta castle stands, known as Castel Sismondo, built as both a residence and military fort. Only the central nucleus survived the bombing raids of WW2, so that medallions and ancient maps are the only means of knowing its original massive and majestic structure.
Flanking the walls, you arrive at the Cathedral of Santa Colomba or, rather, what remains of what used to be the most important building in the medieval city, its bell tower.
Cross back over Piazza Cavour and head down the other half of the Corso. Exit Roman Rimini on the large, five arched bridge made from Istrian stone that crosses the river Marecchia (Ariminus to the Romans) which gave the city its name and which has formed the northern limit of the city for centuries. The bridge is named Tiberius’ Bridge but was begun by Augustus and only finished by Tiberius around 20AD. The extraordinary solidity of the bridge copes with the strain imposed upon it by traffic and resists the river in flood. It is a fine example of the Romans’ ability to combine functionality and aesthetics (consider, for example, the inclination of the piers arranged to cope with the current) and its characteristics stand out especially when it is compared to other bridges downstream (Ponte dei Mille and Ponte della Resistenza) which have both had to be strengthened despite being more recent.
On the other side of the river, you enter the enchanting Borgo San Giuliano, the scene of many historical episodes and now a symbol of the memory of Federico Fellini with its original mural decorations. Looking west from the bridge, you can make out the largest public park in the city,Parco Marecchia, where you can buy refreshments or eat a picnic beside the river. The Marecchio has its source in Alpe della Luna, close to the source of the Tiber, and runs into the Adriatic 70 km later down the (Marecchia valley). Looking east from the bridge, you see Lake Tiberius and the port canal as far as the lighthouse and the sea with the skyscraper in the background. From here, descend the long flight of steps along a narrow pedestrian street that runs alongside the port canal on the right bank and which will lead you to the white lighthouse. Keep going straight and you will come to Rimini port where the quay is always lined with fishing boats and tourists admiring the marina. Turn north towards the new dockyard from where, on a clear day, you can clearly see the skyscraper in Cesenatico and the first factories in Ravenna. Looking south, you see the whole of the sunny coastline that runs through Bellariva, Marebello, Rivazzurra, Miramare and Riccione as far as the headland of Gabicce Monte. On a particularly clear day, you can even see the beacon of the lighthouse at Pesaro. In front of the buildings, the extraordinary army of sunshades and deckchairs face the rising sun over the Adriatic and have the backs to the series of gentle hills and the Republic of San Marino.
If you want to see Rimini and the coast from offshore, take advantage of the motorboat trips that leave from the port. Follow Tintori seafront until you reach the gardens in Piazzale Independenza (renamed Parco Fellini) which lie in the heart of Marina Centro between the Azienda del Soggiorno and the impressive Grand Hotel from the early 1900’s. Your gaze will be drawn to the Fountain of the Four Seahorses in the centre of the square, which is a popular place for tourists and locals to mingle.
The busy Viale Vespucci leaves from the square and runs parallel to the seafront; it turns into the Viale Regina Elena and later the Viale Regina Margherita and is one of Europe’s most interesting coastal roads. It is lined on both sides with shops, hotels, bars, restaurants, discotheques and night-clubs which make it a centre of Riviera nightlife.
From Piazzale Independenza, follow the avenue Viale Principe Amedeo lined with attractive villas and gardens until you get back to the railway station where you started. Your tour will have amply shown that there is far more to Rimini than its beach and holiday facilities, and that the modern city boasts a solid cultural background.