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San Leo and the Montefeltro

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Description

Guided tours to the historic center of San Leo and to the Montefeltro

Information and reservation: ISAIRON specialized tourist guides:

tel / sms +39 338.2629372 – E-Mail: centroguidesanleo@isairon.it

SAN LEO

In the middle of the valley rises the rock of San Leo, the contours of which recall a mortuary bed or a bier, words that in the old latin language sounded like the early name given to this place: Mons Fereter, later Monte Feretro and lastly Montefeltro which extended its influence all over the diocese. This was also the first title name adopted by the lords of those lands who became later the dukes of Urbino.

Atop this big rocky massif sits the fortress that was the seat of Italy’s last capital in the first millennium.

It was here too that after years of siege in 962 A.D. Berengarius II was defeated and imprisoned by Otto I. And here was established the German branch of the Holy Roman Empire.

The fortress…

was taken over by the bishops of Montefeltro first and later by the Malatestas who added the third door with gothic arch and the polygonal bastions. The fortress was climbed and occupied by Federico di Montefeltro’s army and was restructured with two round towers designed by Francesco di Giorgio Martini.

Under the Della Rovere domain the castle was turned into a peripheral ducal residence.

When it finally became a Vatican prison, Count Cagliostro…

was jailed here and left until his death: his cell and torture pit where he lay still exist, but nobody knows or nobody has ever known the whereabouts of his remains. Some even suggest that he managed to escape feigning death. Felice Orsini was also imprisoned here before attempting the life of Emperor Napoleon III.
This fortress now houses many historical and artistic collections and is regularly visited by many tourists.

At the foot of the castle the small medieval village,…

raised to the title of Civitas in the 7th century, gathers around its few houses surrounded by external walls that overhang in the void as if part of nature’s enchantment. The castle has only one entrance gate that Dante mentions in his Comedy where he refers to San Leo as a place of very difficult access.

Under the elm tree in the square, Saint Francis preached in 1213 and here he received as a gift the Mount of Verna.

The art jewels of unique San Leo are the two romanesque churches that stand side by side:

one the Parish church, the other the duomo or Bishop’s Cathedral. The tall steeple, now isolated, was once both a religious and defensive building.

The cathedral…

is decidedly a masterpiece of romanesque architecture. A stone engraving records the construction date of 1173. Given its jutting position the building facade is fitted with pilasters. The craftmanship of the work reveals the hand of the Comacine Masters. Some gothic note appears inside. Columns pilasters and capitals reveal materials that belonged to some previous building, being re-used. The underground chapel’s vault is supported by a series of pillars: it houses the lid of San Leone’s sarcophagus, carved in the 5th-8th century.

The parish church…

building too shows evidence of re-use of materials that belonged to some early Middle Age masonry work, while the actual construction of the church dates to the year 1000 or immediately afterwards; as the three apses that project on to the square of San Leo testify.
The inside is fitted with a fine colonnade. A precious stone engraved ciborium dates back to the Carolingian epoch; that is the year 882 A.D.; it also bears a tribute to Duke Orso. The church’s base rests over an outcrop: a crypt to hold relics was carved at one end, while the other side houses the stone tomb that Leone himself sculpted and where his body lay to rest.

San Leo evokes images of 1500 years of history and art and revives in the visitors’ fantasy sequels of mystics, deceivers, famous prisoners and common wrongdoers.

Not far away, amid a lone green valley where only woodland and sky are visible, one of the oldest franciscan monasteries lies hidden: a true site of peace and bliss. According to legend, Saint Francis could not enter San Leo because darkness confused his way, so spotting from afar a bonfire lit by some shepherds he chose to spend the night there amongst them. He chose to call that place “holy fire” that is precisely what Sant’Igne, today’s name of the place, means.

Sant’Igne…

has a beautiful church built with several humble cells as well as a fine square-shaped cloister where one still envisions vague figures of monks ambling around absorbed in prayer.

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San Leo: Fortress by Francesco di Giorgio Martini – Pieve Santa Maria Assunta (11th century) – Cathedral (12 century)

Sant’Agata Feltria: Fregoso Fortress (15th century)

La Vallée de la Marecchia: San Leo and Maiolo