Romagna land of Spungone Historical Itineraries

Romagna land of Spungone Route of Personalities
Bertinoro-Meldola

Maybe not everyone knows that Bertinoro is linked to the memory of some great personalities of the past, from the great theatrical actor Ermete Novelli to the poet and senator Aldo Spallicci. Following their traces could be the chance to discover some lesser-known aspects of the “Balcony of Romagna” and its surrounding area.

  1. Aldo Spallicci in Santa Maria Nuova

    The route begins on the plain, in the hamlet of Santa Maria Nuova, which extends beyond Via Emilia. This is where Aldo Spallicci, a leading figure of the intellectual world of Romagna, was born in 1886. A doctor by profession, he was involved in politics from a young age, in the ranks of the Republican Party (for which he was elected first to the Constituent Assembly and then to the Senate), Spallicci also enjoyed an intense literary and cultural activity focused in particular on the identity of Romagna. He wrote articles and historical essays, founded and directed the cultural newspapers "Il Plaustro" and "La Piê" and was the author of poems that elevated the Romagna dialect to literary language. He is credited with the verses of 'A gramadora', one of the most famous songs of the local tradition. To remember him, a monument signed by the Roman sculptor Sandro Pagliuchi stands in his native town. An interesting fact: in the 16th century Villa Cavalli - located in the countryside of Santa Maria Nuova. Here - is supposed to have hosted the very young Aldo Spallicci who lived here for a while and Lord Byron during his stay to Italy.
  2. Ermete Novelli in Bertinoro

    From Santa Maria Nuova climbing up the hill of Bertinoro, on the traces of Ermete Novelli who at the turn of the19th and 20th centuries was one of the most well-known Italian theatre and cinema actors. He was accidentally born in Lucca, where his father worked with a theatre company, but his roots were set solidly in Bertinoro: he descended, in fact, from one of the oldest and noblest families of the town, who also owned one of the rings of the Hospitality Column. The bond with Bertinoro was so strong throughout his life, that in 1902 he gifted the town with a theatre (destroyed during the war) and bought a house in front of which there is a commemorative bust located in the square dedicated to him. In 2002 a prize was established in his honour, which is awarded every two years to great interpreters of the Italian theatre; It has been received by Mario Scaccia, Arnoldo Foà, Franca Valeri, Glauco Mauri, among others. Some memorabilia belonging to Novelli are kept in the Town Hall.
  3. Giosuè Carducci in Polenta

    The thousand-year-old parish church of San Donato, in the hamlet of Polenta, is linked to the memory of Giosuè Carducci. The poet, in fact, often visited it during his walks around Bertinoro, when he was a guest of Countess Silvia Pasolini Zanelli in her villa in Lizzano di Cesena, and he dedicated to this church the famous ode "The Church of Polenta”. Probably built during the 8th and 9th centuries by the Longobards, despite the various renovations over time, the church still retains many elements of the original building of Romanesque style with a basilica plan of three aisles. And probably inspired by the inner atmosphere Carducci wondered “Did Dante maybe kneel here?” A plausible theory, since the immortal author of the Divine Comedy during his stay in Ravenna was hosted by the da Polenta family which originally came from here. Carducci's presence is now remembered by a bust, placed in the churchyard. Every year some events such as the Carducci gathering and Dante's cycle of lectures are also held at the church.
  4. Hesperia between Bertinoro and Meldola

    Among the first divas of Italian cinema at the beginning of the 20th century, was Hesperia, the stage name of Olga Mambelli originally from Romagna. She was born in Bertinoro and raised in Meldola. Between 1912 and 1923 Hesperia rivalled stars of the calibre of Francesca Bertini, filming about seventy films, most of which have unfortunately been lost. And there is practically no trace of her in the two towns where she spent the first half of her life. However, the Hesperia Arena, an elegant four-sided portico dating back to the second half of the 19th century where the silkworm market once took place, is dedicated to her memory and was named after the diva of silent film in the nineties of the 20th century. However on entering the delightful theatre Dragoni di Meldola, built at the beginning of the 19th century and still open today, one can imagine that here the young Olga assisted her first plays and decided to become an actress.
  5. Felice Orsini in Meldola

    The most famous citizen from Meldola is undoubtedly the patriot Felice Orsini, who was among the protagonists of the Roman Republic and was executed in France for attempting to murder Napoleon III. Orsini was born in the imposing building that stands on Meldola's main square (now named after Orsini) and that belonged first to the Borghese Aldobrandini family and then to the Doria Pamphili princes; after being used, in later eras as barracks and even as a prison, today it houses municipal offices and the painting collection by Maria Giuditta Versari . On the opposite side of the square stands the 18th-century Town Hall, with the typical Clock Tower on which the municipal coat of arms and a bronze medallion that portrays Felice Orsini stand out. while a headstone recalls the figure and the resounding gesture of protest with which he claimed the right of the Italian people to have a united and free homeland.

Romagna land of Spungone Dante’s Route in Romagna

Someone once called Dante "the first tourist of Romagna", and surely the Great Poet knew this territory well as he spent much of his exile here: as testified by the numerous references to places, characters and events in Romagna present in the Divine Comedy. And naturally, traces of Dante can be found even in the Land of the Spungone.

  1. Polenta

    Our journey starts with Polenta, a small fraction of the Municipality of Bertinoro, place of origin of the Da Polenta family, who offered Dante protection in his last refuge in Ravenna. Here the Pieve di San Donato can be visited, it dates back to the 10th century and still preserves many parts of the original building (in particular, columns and capitals). Its fame is linked to the ode that Giosuè Carducci dedicated to it, in which he asks “forse qui Dante inginocchiossi?”. (Perhaps Dante knelt here?) And it is actually possible that the author of the Divine Comedy could have spent time in these places, during his permanence in Ravenna while staying with Guido da Polenta. It is also possible that Francesca da Polenta prayed here. She was a member of the same family and was a popular character along with her lover Paolo Malatesta of the V Canto of the Inferno. Every year the Pieve hosts meetings with readings of Dante's works.
  2. Bertinoro

    Dante quotes Bertinoro in the XIV Canto of Purgatorio, when he meets Guido del Duca (who was a judge in Bertinoro) and Rinieri da Calboli, both from Romagna, with whom he talks about the moral corruption that afflicts their land:

    O Bretinoro, ché non fuggi via,
    poi che gita se n’è la tua famiglia
    e molta gente per non esser ria?

    O Brettinoro! why dost thou not flee,
    Seeing that all thy family is gone,
    And many people, not to be corrupted?

    (Purgatorio, Canto XIV, vv. 112-114)

    Shortly before, regretting the old times and remembering the ancient virtuous people of Romagna, the poet also names Arrigo Mainardi from Bertinoro, who left an important trace in the history of the town. According to tradition, in fact, it was Arrigo Mainardi and Guido del Duca, in the 13th century, that built the Column of the Anella, still a landmark of Bertinoro. A short distance from the Colonna, the imposing Palazzo Mainardi still stands, on whose facade the coat of arms of the family with three hands is still visible.
  3. Castrocaro

    Castrocaro was for a long time the capital of the Medici power in Romagna and is quoted by Dante in the same IV Canto of Purgatorio in which he speaks of Bertinoro, denouncing the degeneration of customs:

    Ben fa Bagnacaval, che non rifiglia;
    e mal fa Castrocaro, e peggio Conio,
    che di figliar tai conti più s’impiglia.


    Bagnacaval does well in not begetting;
    And ill does Castrocaro, and Conio worse,
    In taking trouble to beget such Counts.

    (Purgatorio, Canto XIV, vv. 115-117)

    The vehement verses can be seen on the wall of the Romanesque church of San Nicolò (decorated inside with beautiful frescoes of the 15th century Marche school). The church is located in the heart of the medieval village of Castrocaro, where the Palazzo dei Capitani and the Palazzo del Bargello are also located. Dominated from above, by the imposing medieval fortress. But there is another, more subtle link with the ghibellin fuggiasco and his Divine Comedy: in the second half of the 13th century, in fact, Castrocaro was a possession of Gianciotto Malatesta, the killer husband of Francesca da Polenta, the protagonist of the V Canto of the Inferno.
  4. Forlì

    The ideal route on the trail of Dante in Romagna could not leave out Forlì, where the poet stayed several times, from the beginning of his exile when, in 1303, he was a guest of Scarpetta of the Ordelaffi, acting as an assistant. It is remembered on a plaque placed on a wall of Palazzo Albicini (where the Caxa Grande of Ordelaffi was located at the time). And there are various passages of the Divine Comedy which talk about the events of Forlì In the XXVII Canto of the Inferno there is a reference to the “sanguinoso mucchio” ("sanguinary heap"), that is, the bloody battle between the ghibellini of Forlì and a French army sent by the Pope: the quote appears on the plaque affixed on the bell tower of San Mercuriale in Piazza Saffi. Not far away is Palazzo dei Calboli, a house to which Rinieri belonged, met by Dante in The XIV Canto of Purgatorio: here too a plaque bears the verses of the poem. And Forlì appears again in the XVI Canto of Inferno, in a similarity that compares the infernal Flegetonte waterfall to that of the Aquacheta: Dante, precise as always, remembers that the river is called so only at the source, but when it arrives in Forlì it takes the name of Montone.
  5. Ravenna

    Ravenna is – and it could not have been otherwise – the last stage of the route. Here Dante lived his last years, under the protection of Guido da Polenta (probably in what is now called Casa Scarabigoli, as a plaque on the façade recalls); here his funeral was held in the Basilica di San Francesco, called the "Chiesa di Dante"; here is his tomb, a few steps from which are located the Museum and library of the Centro Dantesco. And, of course, Ravenna, its characters and its places are mentioned several times in the Comedy. We remember, among them, the Pineta di Classe, which is referred to in the description of Paradise on Earth:

    ma con piena letizia l’ore prime,
    cantando, ricevieno intra le foglie,
    che tenevan bordone a le sue rime,
    tal qual di ramo in ramo si raccoglie
    per la pineta in su ‘l lito di Chiassi,
    quand’Eolo scilocco fuor discioglie.


    for to the leaves, with song, birds welcomed those
    first hours of the morning joyously,
    and leaves supplied the burden to their rhymes,
    just like the wind that sounds from branch to branch
    along the shore of Classe, through the pines,
    when Aeolus has set Sirocco loose.

    (Pg. XXVIII, 16-21)