After visiting Rimini, the next trip was to the castle in San Leo, on the mountainous border of the Emilia-Romagna and Marche regions.
This place has been fortified since Roman times. It was the final bastion of Berengar II, the last Lombard ruler of Italy, who was defeated by Emperor Otto I in 964. A hill named Mons Feretrus in Latin (in honor of Jupiter, whose temple was here in Roman times), and later Montefeltro in Italian, gave the name to the land around it and to the family that ruled it in the Middle Ages. In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, Montefeltro fought for control of the area against the Malatesta family.
On one side of the castle there is an almost vertical cliff that inspired the vision of purgatory in the “Divine Comedy” by Dante Alighieri…
… and on the other side there are magnificent renaissance fortifications. Designed by Francesco di Giorgio Martini for the lord of Urbino, Federico da Montefeltro. Despite these fortifications, Cesare Borgia conquered the castle, along with the entire region. Shortly thereafter, the Montefeltro family expired, and its lands were taken over by Della Rovere family, from which Pope Julius II, the unrelenting enemy and successor of Alexander VI (Cesare’s father) came. From 1631, the castle served as a papal prison and, as we shall see immediately, unusual prisoners were kept there.
There are several 20th-century cannons in front of the entrance.
The view from the castle walls is beautiful. In the middle of the photo you can see the Romanesque cathedral of St. Leo (who gave the name to the town), which along with the twelfth-century belfry was being renovated during our stay, just like part of the castle.
In the castle there is a cell in which in 1795 died Giuseppe Balsamo, better known as Alessandro di Cagliostro, condemned to life imprisonment for blasphemy, heresy and debauchery, reportedly due to the denunciation of his own wife.
Cagliostro was an adventurer, traveler, alchemist, freemason, protégé of Louis de Rohan (bishop of Strasbourg, and also a Freemason, atheist and a gallant) and as a result of the connections with the latter, a scapegoat in the so-called Affair of the Diamond Necklace at the court of King Louis XVI. Earlier, in 1780, Cagliostro visited Poland, where he founded the Egyptian Masonic lodge. Cagliostro has become an inspiration for many artists, including Johann Wolfgang Goethe and Alexander Dumas.
Another prisoner of San Leo was Felice Orsini, a member of the Carbonari, the secret revolutionary association against absolutism, and also a member of Young Italy movement led by Giuseppe Mazzini. Released on the order of Pope Pius IX, he organized an unsuccessful attempt on the French Emperor Napoleon III Bonaparte and was finally guillotined.
One of Orsini’s co-conspirators, Carlo Di Rudio, was sentenced to life imprisonment in the penal colony of the Devil’s Island (French: Île du Diable), located off the coast of French Guiana. He escaped from there to British Guiana, he anglicized his name into a Charles DeRudio, then he emigrated to the United States, where he fought for the Union in the Civil War in the 2nd U. S. Colored Infantry, unit composed primarily of African-American soldiers. He then became an officer of the 7th Cavalry Regiment and survived the famous battle against Indians led by Sitting Bull at Little Bighorn in 1876, even though he and the private Thomas O’Neill were cut off and they had to hide in enemy-dominated territories for two days before they managed to return to the American army.
In addition to the prison cells, the castle of San Leo has an interesting collection of weapons used during World War II…
… and stylishly furnished chambers.
After visiting them, we went down from the castle hill to visit the Romanesque parish church of Santa Maria Assunta, the oldest building in the area.
A farewell look at San Leo: