Places and Works of Art
Administrative centre of the new Province, together with Forlì, Cesena has an ancient history. It was probably an Umbrian centre (the name of the town reveals an Etruscan influence), prior to the Roman colonization. Situated on the Garampo hill (where still today, you will find the beautiful and imperious Malatesta Fortress) the town first developed towards the banks of the Savio river. When the Romans took possession of the Savio Valley, they probably occupied the ancient settlement too, where there is a huge curve in the Via Emilia.
There are several hypotheses about the history of Cesena, but few certainties: this is because the town was literally reduced to a heap of debris in 1377 by the mercenary troops paid by Pope Gregory XI. The new Pope Urbano VI gave the ruined town to Galeotto Malatesta who started reconstructing it with alacrity. Under the rule of the Malatesta family, the town lived a peaceful period until Novello Mala¬testa (in the 15 th century) came onto the scene: not only the war exploits (often adverse to him) but also the beautiful works of art dedicated to the town, with the "jewel" of the beauti¬ful library (which he himself called Malatestiana) are evidence and gifts left by this "humanistic-commander".
However, unfortunate military actions followed and this lordship lost its rule. It was briefly passed over to the Borgia family and then Cesena fell under papal rule again, whose events weaved the history of the town, right up to modern times. Cesena is also called the "town of the three Popes", because it gave two of its sons to the papacy and a third was adopted: namely, Gianangelo Braschi, Pio VI (1717-1799); Barnaba Chiaramonti, Pio VII (1742-1823); Francesco Saverio Castiglioni, Pio VIII (1761-1830) who was the bishop of the town before becoming Pope. The hard conditions suffered by the town under the papal reign did not completely stifle its interest in literature and art, which had been so alive at the time of Novello Malatesta. Under his reign, Cesena ran a University, that was suppressed in the 19 th century.
Against its will, the weight of the papal dominion made Cesena fertile terrain for the Risorgimento battles and the passionate political clashes. Today Cesena is a hard-working, hospitable town, well-known for its liveliness. "Capital" of healthy agricultural products and their export, the town makes use of a wide-spread group of entrepreneurs which have ensured its growth in both the sporting (football, trotting races) and cultural sectors (painting, art and theatre, university), too.
Visiting the Malatesta Library is fascinating; this is one of the most beautiful and best-preserved humanistic-conventual's libraries in Europe. "The joy and treasure of the town", desired by Novello Malatesta, it was built on an old "factory" of S. Francesco monastery of the Friars Minor, by Matteo Nuti, although recent studies have revealed that Leon Battista Alberti contributed to its design, as well. Officially opened in 1452, it presented itself then as it presents itself to us today: artistic design and practical functionality are well-combined in this great hall with one nave and two aisles and Venetian type Windows, skilfully placed to give light to the reading "tables".
There are fifty-eight of these "tables" available for consultation purposes and an inestimable patrimony of 340 manuscripts, still fixed to the tables with the same chains used at that time; this is only a part of the information that guides will give to the fascinated visitors. Opposite the Nuti Hall, there is the Piana Library, or better the extremely rich private library of Pope Pio VII, who was born in Cesena. In the complex of the library there is the Museum of inscribed stone slabs and an interesting Museum of antiques. The "coat of arms" which accompanies us on our visits is the Elephant of the Malatestas with its inscription: "Elephans indus culices non timet" meaning "the Indian elephant is not afraid of mosquitoes".
Festivals and events: The Lavender of San Giovanni
In the rich program of shows, exhibitions and engagements which Cesena offers during the year, a particular mention should be made of the ancient "San Giovanni's Day" (the patron saint of the town) on 24 th June. This festival traditionally transforms the centre into a picturesque "kermes" of stalls. Lavender, sold in perfumed bunches, the red sugar whistles for the youngest visitors and the first garlic plaits are the peculiarities of this wonderful fair which buries its roots in popular ancient traditions, when the dawn dew of San Giovanni's Day was thought to bring beneficial virtues...
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