“Are you here for the beach?” the hotel proprietor asked as he showed us to our room; he looked surprised when we said, no, we were actually there for sightseeing. But his question was not unreasonable. Rimini is the beach capital of Europe and we had already observed mile upon mile of sandy beach packed with rows of coloured deckchairs as we flew into the airport.For us it was just a quick late summer break, a few days with a budget airline and a cheapish (but excellent) hotel. We had planned it as a base for getting to other places in the region but were pleasantly surprised to find that Rimini is more than just a tourist trap: it has a rich history with an old city centre and Roman remains. It also has several excellent restaurants. And train and bus links make it an ideal base for exploring this part of Italy.
Rimini’s Old Town
Rimini has a long history, having been settled by the Etruscans and the Romans, and then having a number of rulers, including Byzantium and Venice, throughout the succeeding centuries. It finally joined the Kingdom of Italy in 1860.
Much of the historic old town is the legacy of the Malatesta family, who ruled the city from the 13th to the 15th century. The cathedral (the Tempio Malatestiano) was originally built as a Franciscan church but later converted by the notorious Sigismondo Malatesta into a shrine for his mistress. Although the building was never finally completed it is worth seeing for the work of the Renaissance architect Leon Battista Alberti and the many fine artworks in the interior.
Nearby is the Castel Sismondo which was built as a residence for Sigismondo in 1437 and later became a prison that remained in use until the twentieth century. Today the castle is used for art exhibitions.
|Sculptures outside the Castel Sisimondo|
There are two main squares in the old town. Piazza Tre Martiri, on the site of the old Roman forum, has a 16th century clocktower, and Piazza Cavour has two magnificent palazzi and the nineteenth century Teatro Amintore Galli.
Wherever you go in the old town you will encounter evidence of the city’s Roman past. The 1st century Ponte di Tiberio is an attractive stone bridge much favoured by wedding photographers. In Roman times two major roads, the Via Aemilia to Piacenza and the Via Popilius to Ravenna, started from here.
|Ponte di Tiberio|
On the opposite side of the town is the Arco di Augusto, an archway into the original Roman wall dating back to 27BC. Another part of the town’s defences that can still be seen is the 1st century Montenara Gate.
|Arco di Augusto|
The Roman amphitheatre is still being excavated. It is not currently open to the public but the remains are visible from the road (by the edge of the Parco Alcide Cervi).
Borgo San Giuliano
If you cross the Ponte di Tiberio from the old town you will come to the Borgo San Giuliano. This is the old fishermen’s quarter, a maze of mediaeval streets with cafés and restaurants. Look out for the murals on the corners of the houses: these celebrate the life and work of the film director Federico Fellini, who was born in Rimini. The Festa de’ Borg, a festival of music and drama, takes place in the Borgo San Giuliano once every two years.
|Old streets of the Borgo San Giuliano|
Days out from Rimini
Buses run regularly to the independent city-state of San Marino, or (in the summer months only) to the hill town of San Leo with its impressive fortress and 12th century cathedral. Trains run up and down the coast to Ravenna, where you can see Byzantine mosaics, the smart beach resort of Pesaro and the port of Ancona. Or you can travel further afield to Venice or Bologna. If you have a car be sure to visit Urbino, a mediaeval hilltown with a fine Renaissance palace. Finally, don’t miss the opportunity to sample the authentic local cuisine of Rimini and the surrounding area!