Mosaico di Vita | Consorzio Vini di Romagna
September 2021 | Territory

Fortresses of Romagna: history and sunsets made for a glass

History and stories intertwine in the solid foundations of the region’s most iconic buildings: Romagna’s fortresses. Let’s explore three of these strongholds accompanied by a glass of wine

It is common knowledge that breathtaking panoramas can be seen anywhere in Romagna: captivating sceneries that are engraved into memory. If the coastal area is dominated by the splendid and ever-changing Adriatic Sea, the gentle shape of the hills reigns over the hinterland. Among vineyards, fields, and woods of maple and hornbeam, the horizon is a succession of gentle slopes cut out by the shape of the fortresses.

Strongholds from a time gone but not forgotten, structures filled with stories and history, the fortresses of Romagna are treasure chests made of stone, waiting to be discovered and known. This is why we have decided to list the most evocative fortresses of this region, places to visit at sunset, during the most beautiful time of the day, alone or in company, with a glass of wine in hand. Don't know which one to bring? No problem, we got you. Because if each palate has its own wine, places also require very specific aromas and flavors, like the diverse, outstanding and now iconic shades of Romagna Sangiovese DOC.

Rocca Fregoso, Sant’Agata Feltria - Romagna Sangiovese DOC Longiano sub-area

Once owned by the Cavalca family, Counts of Bertinoro who ruled Sant'Agata Feltria from the end of the 10th to the 12th century, it passed on to the Archbishops of Ravenna, then to the families of the Faggiolani, the Guidi, the Tarlati, the Brancaleoni, the Malatesta and finally the Montefeltro. Rocca Fregoso, the spectacular fortress overlooking Sant’Agata Feltria, has had many owners, each of whom appreciated and made use of its strategic position, located on Sasso del Lupo, dominating the valley of the Savio River below. But its decisive transformation to become the “Rocca delle Fiabe” was started by the Montefeltro family who, beginning from the second half of the 15th century, converted the ancient defensive stronghold into a dwelling that suited their lavish and comfortable lifestyle.

Its renovation and modernization was entrusted to Francesco di Giorgio Martini from Siena, a famous civil and military architect of the time who was also a writer, painter and all-round intellectual. The lords of Urbino entrusted him with numerous assignments, including work at the Palazzo Ducale of Urbino and a complex system of fortifications, such as those of Sassocorvaro, San Leo and Mondavio.

This fortress’ current name carries the Tramontana Scura, a typical winter wind in Liguria: Fregoso is the surname of an important family from Genova whose head, Agostino Giovanni Fregoso, was a guest of Federico da Montefeltro at the end of the 15th century. After realizing the importance of gaining such a powerful ally, Federico handed his daughter Gentile Feltria in marriage to the Genoese nobleman, granting the fortress as a dowry. Since then, it has been known as Rocca Fregoso.

Today, the fortress bears the damage following the collapse of the upper part of the Main Keep, but it retains the charm of its long, troubled history. Go up Sant’Agata Feltria as dusk begins to set, bring a loved one and a bottle of Romagna Sangiovese DOC Longiano sub-area, powerful and elegant, rich in notes of fresh fruit. This is an experience you will definitely not regret.

Castel Sismondo, Rimini - Romagna Sangiovese DOC Modigliana sub-area

If walking near Castel Sismondo gives you that sense of wonder and terror, which the Romantics referred to as “Sublime”, then it means that even after almost 600 years, the most powerful, important and amazing residence of the Malatesta family sparks the very feeling that inspired Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta to build it.

House of the illustrious Malatesta family, an impregnable fortress that drove away enemies and rivals, a monument that reflected the greatness and prestige of a family that, from the valley of the Marecchia River, extended its dominion over Romagna, the Marche and on part of the territories of Bergamo and Brescia: for Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta, this is what Castel Sismondo was and stood for, a construction that he desired and planned, an imposing figure that was named after him.

Above the fortress’ main entrance is an inscription that the lord of Rimini had affixed in 1446, the year when construction allegedly terminated (operations actually continued until 1454, but Sigismondo Malatesta chose 1446 as he considered it to be a lucky number):

“Sismondo Pandolfo Malatesta, erected the foundations and built this imposing construction to honor the people of Rimini and ordered that it be named after him, Castel Sismondo, 1446”

There is also a tale regarding the designated date for the laying of the cornerstone: May 20, 1437 at 6:48 pm. The precise date and time are fruit of the complicated calculations that Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta had the court astrologers do to ensure that such an important work be inaugurated with good astral omen.

Despite the reference to superstition and the influence of the stars, Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta was a man of refined ingenuity and sophisticated taste: he surrounded himself with a court of writers and intellectuals and was the architect – or rather the coordinator of the operations – of Castel Sismondo. Historical sources also tell us that the famous Filippo Brunelleschi was hosted at the court of the Malatesta family around 1438, during which Sismondo most likely availed of his advice in terms of architecture.

Observing the defensive structures of the building, a peculiar feature stands out: openings for placing artillery and deploying soldiers are also aimed towards the city. This is a sign that, despite ruling over Rimini, Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta did not trust anyone, not even his people.

After almost six centuries, locals from Rimini and visitors are more than welcome at the court of Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta, given that Castel Sismondo is one of the most important cultural venues of the city. Unlike the other fortresses, we advise you to visit the castle just before sunset, and then move to the city to enjoy the Romagna twilight from the tables of one of the many taverns and wine bars, toasting to the ingenuity of Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta with a glass of Romagna Sangiovese DOC Modigliana sub-area, one of the most iconic sub-zones of Sangiovese and the most suitable for honoring this legendary figure. Cheers!

Rocca Malatestiana, Montefiore Conca - Romagna Sangiovese DOC Cesena sub-area

If the Rocca Malatestiana watches over the small jewel that is Montefiore Conca once again, it is all thanks to the important restoration work that, from the 1950s until present, have allowed one of the Malatesta family’s favorite summer residences to return to its ancient splendor. From the 14th century until after WW II, the fortress went from being a key structure in the extensive system of fortifications erected by the Malatesta family to becoming an unrecognizable ruin. If all that a visitor in the 1960s saw was a sad sight, today it is easy to understand why Malatesta Ungaro had chosen it, among his many manors, to host prominent figures such as the King of Hungary Louis of Anjou or Pope Gregory XII. Despite its hostile edges and a widespread aura of impregnability, the imposing Rocca Malatestiana is nothing short of fascinating: it is not hard to imagine it teeming with life and music or the scene of exciting events.

We should mention that the Rocca Malatestiana in Montefiore Conca shows less than what it holds behind its imposing walls. It is said that in the nights of October, the silent rooms of the Rocca resound the ghostly cry of an inconsolable girl. It is most likely Costanza Malatesta, daughter of Malatesta Ungaro and Violante d’Este, the rich widow of Ugo d’Este.

After her husband's death in battle, the young woman returned to Romagna to the court of her uncle, Galeotto l’Ardito Malatesta. Here, she fell madly and instantly in love with Ormanno, a German duke at the service of the family. Their love story developed in great secrecy, for fear of angering Costanza’s relatives. But the outrage Galeotto felt once he discovered the relationship was only an excuse to be able to get rid of his young niece and get his hands on her inheritance from her late husband Ugo d’Este. One night in October 1378, perhaps on the 15th, a hitman hired by her uncle, or maybe Galeotto l’Ardito himself, entered the room where the lovers were and killed them mercilessly. It is said that since then, Costanza Malatesta wandered around the fortress in the cold autumn nights of October, mourning her lost love.

Enjoying the last rays of sunshine from the Rocca Malatestiana in Montefiore Conca is an experience that would surely leave you breathless. If you decide to follow our advice and witness one of the many splendid sunsets of Romagna from this place, we recommend – or better yet – we ask you to bring a bottle of Romagna Sangiovese DOC Cesena sub-area and some glasses, and toast to the ill-fated love story of Costanza and Ormanno with a structured wine characterized by aromas of cherry and savory smoothness.