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Places of mystery

San Leo
As sunrise and sunset mark the day, an air of mystery shrouds the night. San Leo, once known as Montefeltro, is built on an enormous rocky mass in the Valmarecchia at about 600 metres above sea level and only 32 km from Rimini. Its name derives from its old evangelizer, Saint Leo, who regarded the area as ideal for the diffusion of Christianity. Its impregnable position permitted the development of a society in which public, military, religious and political order reigned. Some of its better known guests have included Dante (‘Vassi in San Leo…’) and Saint Francis of Assisi. The rocca (fortress) is a distinguished testimony to the art of warfare, from where the gaze contemplates a landscape of woods, rocky peaks, villages and country houses from Mount Fumaiolo to the Adriatic sea. Giuseppe Balsamo, count of Cogliostro, doctor, alchemist and healer, was persecuted by the church for his activities and imprisoned in the rocca, where he died on 26 August 1795. Much has been written about this fascinating and controversial figure in the attempt to understand who he was and what he represented. In any case, according to local legend his spirit still wanders the rocca.
The medieval historical centre houses the monumental Pieve (parish church), the XII century roman-lombardian duomo (cathedral) dedicated to the city’s patron Saint Leo and the rocca where the count was imprisoned, which dominates the landscape unchallenged. Wandering through the narrow lanes of the centre visitors breathe the sacredness of its stones and the mystery of its past and the men and women it hosted, among wretchedness, wealth and extravagance. Between Marche and Romagna, the panorama from San Leo is one of the most breathtaking in the area. This is an ideal excursion for the curious, laid back tourist, offering an atmosphere of serenity mixed with evocative beauty.

Onferno caves
If creatures like bats stir your imagination, if you’ve never seen a colony of them, had the chance to glimpse them as they reproduce or see their babies take their first flight, spring offers the opportunity to do so at the Grotta di Onferno (Onferno cave), a short drive from the centre of Rimini. The myth that these little animals drink blood has been debunked, but if you love mystery you should know that illumination in the cave is maintained at low levels in order to host the colony of about 400 specimens belonging to six different species, some of which are endangered and thus of notable scientific value. The entrance is located within the Pieve di Santa Colomba (parish church), one of the oldest in the diocese of Rimini. The Pieve also houses the Centro Visite (Visitor’s Centre) and multimedia Museo Naturalistico (Museum of Natural History), where you can have fun as you discover Onferno. It’s a good idea to wear comfortable shoes, as the moisture inside the cave makes the ground very slippery, and a warm jumper, because even in summer the temperature often falls below 12-13 degrees. Smooth, polished ceilings, limestone cascades, pisolites known locally as ‘perle di grotta’ (cave pearls) and giant masses of crystal suspended from the ceiling in the Quarina cavern: the bizarre forms you will see inside these caves of karstic morphology are the result of water erosion.

In a castle situated in Montebello, in the Vamarecchia, a child mysteriously disappeared in the second half of the XIV century: Guendalina Malatesta, who lived during the medieval period and is known today as the ghost ‘Azzurrina’. Guendalina was albino and had white hair. In the Middle Ages albinism was a source of suspicion and fear, and for this reason Guendalina was accused of witchcraft. Her parents, in an attempt to protect her from an atrocious death, refused to allow her to leave the castle and dyed her hair with a herbal substance which resulted in a dark colour which emanated blue reflections in the light. People thus began to call the child ‘Azzurrina’. But the story which has been passed through the centuries regards her bizarre death, said to have occurred inside the castle. It is said that on 21 June 1375 the child was playing with a ball made of cloth and twine during a storm. The ball rolled down the stairs which led to the cool room and the child disappeared while running to recover it, letting out a sharp cry which was heard by the soldiers. It was as if Azzurrina had disappeared into thin air.
Since 21 June, every 5 years on the night of the summer solstice the ghost of Azzurrina appears in the Castle of Montebello and her voice is heard as she laughs, cries and calls for her mother. Fear? No, just mystery, and we wanted you to know only part of the story. The rest is up to you: a night visit (for the more daring!) will help you in the arduous undertaking.

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