Romagna land of Spungone From church to church along the ridge of the Spungone
Some date back to before the year 1000, others preserve Renaissance or Baroque evidence: the many churches dotted along the entire ridge of the Spungone - often located in extremely evocative places - tell an extremely rich story and are definitely worth visiting.
1. Pieve di San Donato a Polenta
Celebrated by Giosuè Carducci and connected to the memory of Dante Alighieri, the thousand-year-old Church of San Donato in Polenta is rich in historical and literary suggestion. The first document confirming its existence is dated 911, probably built from the 8th to 9th century by the Longobards as the style of some capitals and decorations seems to suggest. In fact, they recall contemporary works which can be found in Bobbio and Cividale del Friuli. You can also find references to Byzantine art.
Although it has undergone various restorations over time which have changed its layout, it retains many elements of the original building (including, in fact, the capitals and columns) in Romanesque style. The interior is presented in the style of a basilica with three aisles and a striking crypt under the main altar.
2. Erma di Carducci (bust)
In front of the churchyard, a bust remembers Giosuè Carducci who loved this place very much and walked here very often during his stays in Lizzano di Cesena, guest of countess Silvia Pasolini Zanelli. Right for this reason, at the end of the 19th century Carducci, who was the first Italian poet to receive the Nobel Prize in 1906, became the promoter of major restoration works and, above all, composed the ode “La Chiesa di Polenta” (The Church of Polenta). In this poem the poet wonders “forse qui Dante inginocchiossi?” (Perhaps Dante knelt here?). It is actually possible that the author of the Divine Comedy spent time in this place, during his stay in Ravenna with Guido da Polenta. It is also possible that Francesca da Polenta prayed here as she was a member of the same family as well as a universally famous character along with her lover Paolo Malatesta in the V Canto of the Inferno.
Every year the Pieve holds a series of readings of Dante’s works and a meeting dedicated to Carducci.
3. Cathedral of Bertinoro
Overlooking Piazza della Libertà, Bertinoro Cathedral is named after Caterina d’Alessandria, the town's patron saint.
The devotion towards the saint has ancient origins: in the past, in this same place, there used to be a small oratory dedicated to her, which was demolished at the end of the 16th century in order to provide space for the present church, which was finished in 1601. With its unusual location, set against Palazzo Ordelaffi, its main entrance does not open onto a churchyard, but under the porch of the building which nowadays hosts the town hall. The reason is due to the fact that when the Cathedral was built, Palazzo Ordelaffi (wanted by Scarpetta Ordelaffi, Dante’s host in Forlì) was supposed to be demolished because it was not consodered safe . This prediction was totally wrong: it is still standing after 400 years.
Inspired by the Bramante style, the Church of Santa Caterina d’Alessandria is divided into three aisles. Inside you can see some valuable works of art, including the “Nozze Mistiche di Santa Caterina d’Alessandria” (Mystical Wedding of Santa Caterina d’Alessandria), of 18th-century Bologna school and a carved wooden crucifix of Italian-German school, which in some parts seems to date back to the end of the 16th century. According to a legend, it was carved by a mysterious pilgrim who found refuge in a monastery in Bertinoro. When he left after three days of retreat, the sculpture was found carved into a fig tree which was locatd in the garden.
4. Scardavilla (Meldola)
The monks have long since left, but it is also thanks to them that today, a few kilometres from the centre of Meldola, that the Scardavilla oriented nature reserve exists, which is a testimony of the ancient wilderness that once covered most of the surrounding territory. Today the wood area covers about 7 hectares, with a predominance of oaks and a varied presence of flowers and shrubs, from butchers-broom to the rose-hip to some rare species of orchids. Inside the wood, thematic routes with explanatory signboards have been created. What makes the reserve unique is also its geomorphological nature, with the striking alluvial terraces created by the course of the Bidente, which extend over the foothills at about 100 metres of altitude.
In the reserve, the two centres of the ancient monastic settlement of Scardavilla still survive in different states of preservation (their existence is confirmed from the 13th century. The Complex of Scardavilla di Sotto, site of the primitive medieval monastery, is now a private building, which has been renovated and is used for ceremonies and weddings. In Scardavilla di Sopra, however, the remains of the Baroque church and the palace built by the Monks of Camaldoli between the 17th and 18th centuries are found in a state of decay. The presence of the Camaldoli monks was decisive for the preservation of the surrounding habitat: here they applied the same Rule followed in the management of the forests of Casentino and that have preserved them intact to the present day.
To visit the reserve it is necessary to contact the Municipality of Meldola.
5. Church of S. Agostino in Rocca d’Elmici (Predappio)
On the road from Fiumana to Predappio, you come across S. Agostino in Rocca d’Elmici, a charming church made of sandstone and local spungone stone, probably built before the year 1000. Made in Romanesque style, it has a sober gabled facade with a cross window, while the portal is topped with a blind arcade. The interior is one aisle covered with a truss with a semi-circular apse. Decorating the church there are votive frescoes of various eras, distributed in several cycles but unfortunately not well preserved: among them it is worth remembering the so-called "Danza degli scheletri” (dance of the skeletons), probably dating back to the sixteenth century, and a Madonna with child attributed to the "Giottesco Romagnolo". In medieval times around S. Agostino in Rocca d’Elmici a monastic community was gathered, which flanked the original building with other artefacts, including the bell tower, the cloister and the cemetery. Not far from the church the remains of the Castello d’Elmici can be seen documented since 900 as belonging to the De Calboli family.
6. The church of S. Nicolò and the Church of Saints Nicolò e Francesco (Castrocaro)
Entering the medieval village of Castrocaro (still almost intact today) from the Porta San Nicolò you will immediately meet the Romanesque church of San Nicolò, overlooking the square of the same name.
The building dates back to the 13th century: it is accessed by a pointed arched doorway topped by a mullioned window. Inside you can admire a valuable cycle of frescoes of the Marche school, perhaps attributable to the workshop of Gentile da Fabriano, including the so-called "Madonna della pera" (Madonna of the pear) and the "Madonna in trono"(Madonna on throne). On the outer wall, however, is a plaque that bears the passage of the XIV canto of the Inferno in which Castrocaro is mentioned. The church is private property; to visit it the ProLoco must be contacted.
The church of San Nicolò should not be confused with the almost eponymous church of the Saints Nicolò and Francesco that is located outside the second circle of walls. The current building dates back to the end of the 14th century and preserves some works of art of considerable interest: among them, we remember the “Madonna in trono col Bambino e Santi” (Madonna on the throne with Child and Saints), signed by Marco Palmezzano from Forlì, pupil of Melozzo, and the "Madonna dei Fiori” (Madonna of flowers), bas-relief in polychrome stucco of Florentine school made in the middle of the 15th century.
7.The Church of Santa Reparata and Pieve di Santa Reparata (Terra del Sole)
In Piazza d’Armi of Terra del Sole, just in front of Palazzo Pretorio, majestically stands the church of Santa Reparata, built at the end of the 16th century and which, Grand Duke Cosimo, intended to become the seat of a new diocese. Designed by architect Raffaello di Zanobi da Fiesole, it fully reflects the Renaissance style starting with its façade. The plan is a Latin cross, with a single aisle covered by trusses, bordered by a serrated frame and marked by four triumphal arches. Inside are preserved various works of art of considerable interest, including a splendid 16th century wooden crucifix of the Florentine school.
Leaving the citadel, a short walk takes you to the ancient pieve of Santa Reparata. Byzantine in origin, it dates back to the middle of the 6th century and was the mother church of the entire Valley of Aquacheta. Only a few years ago it was restored after many vicissitudes that radically changed its appearance and a very long period of abandonment.
Of the original construction, there are still some archways of the central aisle supported by pillars, an ancient baptismal font adorned with three rostrums, traces of frescoes and a sarcophagus.
In honour of the saint to whom the two churches are dedicated, every year on the first Sunday of September in Terra del Sole the Palio of Santa Reparata is held, with the challenge between the districts, parades and costumed representations.