Fortress of San Leo

Castle and Museum in Rimini

Rocca Di San Leo
CC BY-SA 4.0 / Antonini.cristiano

The Fortress of San Leo, situated on the border of Romagna and Marche, gained notoriety as the place of Count Cagliostro’s death. Originally owned by Federico da Montefeltro and his wife Battista Sforza, the castle served as a fortified and palatial retreat. Today, it has been transformed into a museum, preserving its historical significance and offering insights into its past as a residence of notable figures.

Notably, the Fortress of San Leo is intricately linked to the life of the renowned magician and alchemist, Giuseppe Balsamo, Count of Cagliostro. Once a “guest” in its mysterious prisons, Cagliostro lived an extraordinary life in the courts of Europe before ending up in the fortress. Pardoned by Pope Pius VI after a severe 1790 trial for heresy and seditious activities, he was sentenced to life imprisonment. His specially designed cell, known as the “cagliostrina” or “well cell,” featured a unique trapdoor and a small window for ventilation.

The fortress comprises two distinct sections: the older keep, featuring square turrets, a gothic entrance, and residential wings; and the more recent round towers and a substantial corbeled wall connecting them. These elements, along with the keep, encircle the Place d’Armes.

The surrounding area is marked by rocky peaks rising sharply from the sea cliffs, each hosting the remnants of castles or forts, echoing a turbulent history. To observers approaching from the Romagna plain, the City-Fortress resembles a massive shield of smooth rock, presenting itself like a ship with the bow facing East, a bell tower resembling a mast, and scattered houses completing the picturesque scene.

Museums in the Fortress of San Leo

The fortress is also home to a museum of torture instruments, including the garrote, stretching bench, and confession chairs. Stripped of nineteenth-century additions that altered its Renaissance elegance, the fortress has been restored to its architectural splendor, standing as one of Italy’s most celebrated examples of military art amidst a backdrop of captivating history and art.

History of the Fortress of San Leo

The mountain’s summit, initially fortified by the Romans, witnessed centuries of conflict during the Middle Ages, with struggles involving the Byzantines, Goths, Franks, and Lombards. Between 961 and 963, Berengar II faced a siege by Otto I of Saxony. In the 11th century, the Counts of Montecopiolo claimed the region, and in the 14th century, the Malatesta briefly captured the fortress. However, by 1441, Federico da Montefeltro had it rebuilt for enhanced defense, entrusting the project to engineer Francesco di Giorgio Martini.

The new structure boasted dynamic counter-offensive capabilities, featuring artillery and strategic military outposts. In 1502, Cesare Borgia seized the fortress, later passing through various hands until it became a prison under the Della Rovere ownership. Notable prisoners included Felice Orsini and Freemason Alessandro Cagliostro. In 1906, the fortress ceased to be a prison and hosted a “compagnia di disciplina” until 1914.

Following Italy’s unification, San Leo was part of the province of Marche until August 15, 2009, when it separated, following a referendum in December 2006. Presently, the castle serves as a museum and an art gallery showcasing weaponry.

How to get to the Fortress of San Leo

To visit, take bus number 160 from Rimini to Novafeltria, then disembark at the CA Rosello stop in Secchiano. From there, reach the fortress by taxi or on foot (about 7 kilometers). If driving, take the SP258 highway from Rimini to Secchiano. The fortress welcomes visitors from April to September, with an admission fee ranging from 4 to 9 euros.

The Fortress of San Leo appears in our Complete Guide to Visiting Rimini!

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Visiting Fortress of San Leo




€ 9,00

Address: Fortress of San Leo, Via Giacomo Leopardi, San Leo, Province of Rimini, Italy
Duration: 1 hours
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