Civitella di Romagna
Civitella di Romagna (from “Civitatula”, the diminutive of the Latin civitas) a municipality of about 3,800 inhabitants, rises among the hills, 219 metres above sea level, along the Bidente valley. Known for its traditional products, cherry growing and cattle breeding, it is characterised by a discrete network of crafts and small businesses that combine the area’s primary traditional vocation, agriculture, with more recent tourism services (agritourism, quality viticulture). The origins of the town date back to ancient times, with evidence of Celtic settlements going back to at least the 5th century BC.
An area linked in Roman times to the centre of Mevaniola (Galeata), with its “walled village” built before the year 1000, during the 10th century AD, it became a military outpost. It was then subject to the archiepiscopal seat of Ravenna and for a long time became part of the estate of the abbots of Sant’Ellero.
The object of bitter disputes between papal powers, Florentine lords and noble families from Romagna (the Counts of¬ Giaggiolo, the Manfredi of Faenza and the Malatesta), over the centuries it was subjected to various raids an¬d occupations, keeping its historical identity intact until it was absorbed by the Papal States in the mid 16h century. Buildings of interest include the Clock Tower, rebuilt in 1920 in neo-Gothic style, and the Sanctuary of Suasia.
Worth mentioning is the village of Cusercoli, which is practically a gateway to the middle Bidente valley. The ancient “Clusum Herculis” (Hercules’ Lock) rests on a rocky spur which crosses over the valley, forcing the river to take a sharp diversion. On top of the spur is the 13th-century castle, which looks out over the valley like a majestic sailboat, while the old town centre clings to its feet. There is a story behind the remains of the medieval Rocca di Giaggiolo, which became the property of the Malatesta family: legend has it that it is linked to the love story of Paolo and Francesca, the protagonists of Canto 5 of Dante’s Inferno
The walled or fortified village
Also known as the Castle, although the individual buildings have been extensively rebuilt, it retains the charm of the medieval urban structure. Here you can see the exact conformation of an ancient fortified village, defended by the towers of the fortress and its overhangs, which plunge into the waters of the Bidente river meandering below.
The fascinating route along the perimeter of the walled ramparts leads to the discovery of buildings and ancient shops among uninhabitable spaces, undergrounds passages and ruined bastions. Highlights include the old Clock Tower, last rebuilt between 1920 and 1930 in neo-Gothic style, and the 17th century Chiesa del Castello (Castle Church), dedicated to dedicated to St Anthony of Padua.
Sanctuary of the Beata Vergine della Suasia
The Santuario was built in the second half of the 16th century to commemorate the miraculous apparition of the Virgin Mary to a poor orphan near the Suasia stream. The building, with its Tuscan Renaissance architecture, has undergone numerous renovations, including the construction of the bell tower in 1760 and the dome in 1928. Inside there are important works of art: the fresco depicting the Blessed Virgin of Suasia, three paintings dating back to the 17th century depicting Christ on the cross with St. John, Mary Magdalene and St. Luke, Madonna and Child with Saints Barbara, Andrew and Lawrence and Madonna and Child with Musician Angels.
The sanctuary is now in the care of the Confraternity of the Blessed Virgin of Suasia.
The Castle of Cusercoli
The Castle, which is part of an architectural complex built in the Middle Ages on a fortified structure from the late Roman period, passed from the Counts of Ghiaggiolo, to the Malatesta, to the Guidi di Bagno until it became the property of the Municipality of Civitella in the 1970s.
At its foot is the ancient village, which still inhabited and can be accessed through two gates. Still visible is the Portaccia gate, next to which stands the “hospitale” that offered refreshment to pilgrims on their way to Rome along the ancient Via Romipeta.
The imposing church of San Bonifacio, rebuilt in 1700, stands out from its façade.
In the Torre della Meridiana there is a permanent exhibition of ceramic tiles representing the Stations of the Cross.
Permanent exhibition of ceramic tiles
Ceramic works of great historical and artistic value and exceptional rarity, the Formelle, depicting the 14 Stations of the Cross and made around the middle of the 17th century, arrived in Cusercoli at the end of the 18th century at the behest of the Guidi di Bagno Counts.
The 14 tiles have recently been carefully restored, thanks to the work of the Institute of Cultural Heritage of the Emilia Romagna Region in collaboration with the Restoration Laboratory of the International Ceramics Museum of Faenza. They are currently on display in the “Torre della Meridiana” (Sundial Tower) of the Cusercoli Castle, in a special room fitted with modern installations, open to the public on a permanent basis.
The Walled or Fortified Village
A valley with high green walls, between which looms Mount Girone (336 meters above sea level), surrounds the remains of the ancient Civita and the urban development of the modern Civitella di Romagna.
Away from the road through the village, hidden in an inland area, lies the centre that encloses the ancient heart of the town, whose memories go back as far as the 10th century: the walled village with its ancient treasures.
The initial settlement of Civitella was in fact within the castle walls: the Rocca complex, which stood on the spur formed by the confluence of the Fosso di San Filippo in the Bidente, in a position dominating the entire valley, was the defensive stronghold.
Traces of the old building remain in the walls, in the main gate with the clock tower on top, in some of the basements and in the ruins. Although the individual buildings have been extensively rebuilt over the centuries, the atmosphere and charm of the medieval structures can still be felt.
Following the perimeter of the walled ramparts, which trace the layout of an ancient fortified village, defended by the fortress towers and its overhangs, you enter a fascinating path along which you can discover important buildings and artisanal workshops amidst uninhabitable underground passages and ruined ramparts.
Here you can find the Clock Tower, which stands out like a lighthouse, a reference point which is clearly visible from all around, with its clock, mentioned as early as 1554, whose current mechanism is the work of a Civitella craftsman from the 19th century. Partly rebuilt in 1788 after an earthquake destroyed the previous one, it was rebuilt between 1920 and 1930, with neo-Gothic style battlements. Around the tower is the best preserved part of the fortress, including the squares and the 17th century Castle Church, dedicated to St. Anthony of Padua. The church is at the centre of the walled village, and is a small and elegant building, recently restored, concealing a baroque structure of some value within it. Inside there is also the Madonna del Carmine, which is celebrated on 16 July.
Outside the walled village, in the outskirts of the town on the hills surrounding Civitella, you can find numerous ruins and fortresses (as many as 28 have been counted). These silent sentinels were built between the 8th and 9th centuries to mark the civil and spiritual influence of Abbey of Sant’Ellero of Galeata.
Keeping on the topic of the atmosphere and flavour of ancient traditions, about 5 km from Cusercoli is the ruin of the ancient Rocca di Giaggiolo, once a majestic and well-known building, of which unfortunately only few remnants have survived such as an octagonal bastion and parts of the walls.
In 1269, the fiefdom was bought by Malatesta da Verucchio and given to his son Paolo, the famous “Paolo Malatesta” whose tragic love story with Francesca da Rimini became poetry in Canto V lines 73-142 of Dante’s Inferno and who became the founder of the Malatesta branch of Giaggiolo.
Sanctuary of the Blessed Virgin of Suasia
To the south of the village, through a tree-lined avenue, you can reach the Sanctuary of the Blessed Virgin of Suasia, built in 1560 as part of a project by the Florentine architect Zanobio Lastricati, with alms collected from among the inhabitants of the area to commemorate the apparition of the Virgin to the young Pasquino da Vignale, which took place 5 times, from 1 to 29 April 1556, near the Suasia stream.
It is said that the boy, who was eleven years old at the time, used to recite the rosary every day in the little cell near the confluence of the Suasia stream with the Bidente river, where the image of the Madonna, now venerated in the Sanctuary, was kept. It is said that he heard a voice calling him and, turning around, he saw a small young woman wearing a blue dress, a white veil over her shoulders and a white bonnet with lace on her head, who urged him to obtain permission from the owners of the land to build a church. The Madonna appeared to him again on 15, 22, 25 and 29 April. During the last apparition, all the people present were suddenly struck by an inexplicable tremor: the people of Civitella, shaken by the incident, began collecting alms for the construction of the Sanctuary.
Construction of the sanctuary began on 27 July, 1556 and the building was consecrated in 1595.
The church, a significant Tuscan Renaissance style architectural design with a Greek cross plan, was intended to house the Maestà and its fresco: originally placed in the centre of the sanctuary, the miraculous image was moved on 24 July 1666 to the wall of the chapel, where it still is today.
The building, which survived the severe earthquake of 1661 that destroyed Civitella and the fire of 1780, which burned down the entire altar except for the sacred image, has undergone numerous renovations, the most important of which took place in 1760 with the construction of the bell tower and in 1928 with the construction of the current dome in place of the original octagonal lantern with an eight-pitched roof. Further work on the façade was carried out in 1906 and 1950-52.
Over the years the Sanctuary has undergone further restoration work, the most recent in 2000 and 2003 with the renovation of the façade and the forecourt. In 2006, solemn celebrations commemorated the 450th anniversary of the apparitions.
Important works are kept inside the church:
• The fresco depicting the “Beata Vergine della Suasia” (Blessed Virgin of Suasia) of the Tuscan school dating back to approximately the 15th century, which has undergone numerous restorations over the centuries. The Holy Image, formerly painted in the cell where the apparitions took place, is now located on the high altar;
• “Christ on the cross with St. John, Mary Magdalene and St. Luke”, oil on canvas from the early 17th century;
• “Madonna and Child with Saints Barbara, Andrew and Lawrence”, oil on canvas from the early 17th century;
• “Madonna and Child among Musician Angels”, oil on canvas from the early 17th century.
First entrusted to the Servants of Mary until the suppression of religious orders in the Napoleonic era, the Sanctuary is now in the custody of the Confraternity of the Blessed Virgin of the Suasia and is open to the public every day with free admission from 8.00 to 18.00. Guided tours of the Sanctuary and the exhibitions in the former Convent are also available by telephone appointment.
Holy Mass is celebrated every Sunday at 8 a.m. and the rosary is recited every day at 3 p.m. The solemn feast is celebrated on the fourth Sunday in May.
The Castle and the Village of Cusercoli
A few kilometres from Civitella is the village of Cusercoli (280 m. above sea level. – about 1200 inhabitants), which is a veritable gateway to the middle Bidente valley, which looks out over the valley with its imposing Castle resting on a huge rocky spur directly overlooking the Bidente river.
In ancient times, the ancient village was accessible through two gates: one of these is the still existing “Portaccia”, still bearing the coat of arms of the Guidi di Bagno Counts still visible, next to which stands the “hospitale”, a place that offered rest and refreshment to travellers and pilgrims on their way to Rome along the ancient “via Romipeta”. The village is still inhabited and can be visited on foot, while the modern part of the village is located along the provincial road.
It is a place of extraordinary charm due to the clearly visible signs of its former grandeur and its particular position overlooking the surrounding area. It owes a certain notoriety, as legend has it, to having been the setting for the passion that blossomed within the walls of its ancient castle between Paolo Malatesta and Francesca da Rimini, whose tragic love story became poetry in Canto V of Dante’s Inferno (lines 73-142). Because of its superb vantage point over the surrounding area and the valley, the castle was constantly subjected to assaults and looting. First owned by the Abbey of Sant’Ellero, certified in the papal bull of 1213 and by the Archbishops of Ravenna, it passed to the Counts of Ghiaggiolo, the first feudal lords of the castle until 1269, when Count Uberto’s daughter married Paolo Malatesta (who was known as “il Bello”) and brought the Castle of Cusercoli to the Lords of Rimini. Part of an architectural complex built in the Middle Ages (12th century), presumably on the foundations of a fortified structure from the late Roman period, evidence of which can be found in a dry stone wall, over the centuries the castle was the object of additional construction work by the various owners who followed on. In the 14th century the Malatesta family constructed a fortified palace as the feudal lord’s residence and the extension of the walls with a second circle to enclose the village below .Between the middle and the end of the 18th century, the new owners, the Guidi di Bagno Counts, on the initiative of Maria Polissena Albicini, carried out the most profound transformation of the castle with the construction of the baronial palace, the hanging gardens in the shape of the prow of a ship. At the time, chroniclers pronounced them to be “the most beautiful gardens in Romagna”. They also built a new church, the imposing church of San Bonifacio , which was constructed on the site of an earlier church damaged by flooding.
Since the 19th century the castle has been inhabited less and less by its owners, until it was completely abandoned and left to decay, so much so that in 1937 a part of the fortress collapsed onto the houses, causing some casualties. In 1973 the castle, declared a national monument by the Notification of 13 June 1910, was purchased by the municipality of Civitella di Romagna. Since then, work has been done on all the roofs by the Superintendency of Ravenna and further restoration work has been conducted the municipal administration. To date, work has been carried out on:
• the hanging gardens area open to the public and connecting the various buildings;
• the palace and entrance keep, which were partly used as guest quarters for pilgrims travelling the Via dei Romei;
• the building known as the “Torre della Meridiana”, which houses a permanent exhibition of tiles of the Way of the Cross, 17th-century polychrome ceramic works of great historical and artistic value and exceptional rarity;
• the church dedicated to St. Boniface, in pre-neoclassical baroque style, central to the complex, now restored inside;
• part of the baronial palace on the right side of the church, with an access staircase and large, partly frescoed room.
Permanent Exhibition of Ceramic Tile Stations of the Cross
Inside the Castle of Cusercoli, in the premises of the “Torre della Meridiana”, in a special room that has been renovated and equipped with modern installations and security systems, there is a permanent exhibition of Ceramic Tiles open to the public.
The history of these tiles, which were made around the middle of the seventeenth century in polychrome ceramics of great historical-artistic value and exceptional rarity, depicting all 14 Stations of the Cross, is shrouded in mystery. The only known fact is that they arrived in Cusercoli at the end of the 18th century at the behest of Giovanfrancesco Guidi di Bagno, to be placed along the walls of the cemetery, which enclose the small church built in 1788 dedicated to Saint Emygdius and souls in purgatory.
They remained there until a theft by a gang of criminals in 1994, which was fortunately resolved in a few hours, brought attention back to the value and beauty of these works.
As a result of the brutal way in which the works were stolen, it was necessary provide for the conservation and due appreciation of these rare and precious works.
Thanks to the intervention of the Institute of Cultural Heritage of the Emilia Romagna Region, an important multi-year project was launched for this purpose, which involved the restoration of the 14 ceramic tiles and copies being made. The project saw the interaction and collaboration of the Restoration Laboratory of the International Museum of Ceramics in Faenza, which was entrusted with the tasks of restoration and making copies, the “G. Ballardini” Institute for Ceramics of Faenza, which devoted itself to the careful study of the ancient techniques used in the seventeenth century, and the Municipality of Civitella di Romagna which provided for the renovation of the sites where the works were to be displayed, the sandstone cells damaged by the theft and the “Torre della Meridiana” building.
At the historic cemetery of Cusercoli it is now possible to view the 14 copies that were made, which can hardly be distinguished from the originals, placed in their original location. The 14 original tiles can now be admired in their own permanent exhibition, open to the public at the premises of the “Torre della Meridiana” of the Castle of Cusercoli (every second Sunday of the month from 9.00/12.00-14.00/18.00 and by appointment).