Mondaino – A Town Torn in Two, Italy
Rimini, Emilio Romagna region.
Mondaino, population 1,385, is one of the spectacular fortified villages that dominate every hilltop in the Territory of Rimini. It is completely split into two areas, and divided both socially and financially.
The town stands at 400-420 metres above sea level, but around ten million years ago, the land was under the sea! The Paleontology Museum contains fossils from in and around Mondaino, including 21 species of fish, plus animals and plants.
I was interested in the fossils of sequoia trees that grew in the region.
In 1502, Leonardo Da Vinci wrote that he came to Urbino to study the fossilised birds at Mondaino.
The Romans had a Temple to Diana there called Vicus Dianensis. When Christianity reached the area, the name changed to Mons Damarum, which means Deer Hill as apparently there were herds of fallow deer there. Then it became Monte Daino and finally Mondaino.
From 1355, the Malatesta family ruled Rimini. They were bitter enemies with the Montefeltro family, who ruled the city of Urbino, 25 kilometres away.
Mondaino saw many assaults and battles, plus the various peace treaties that were signed, but never lasted long.
Sigismondo Pandolfo strengthened the entire defence system during his reign, building 13 towers. The hill is littered with secret tunnels, but only one in the castle has been discovered so far.
Garibaldi visited Mondaino, and a priest shot at him with a bow and arrow as his religious views were hated by the church. He missed.
The whole village split into two in 1450 when the Rothschilds were invited there by Pandolfo.
In 1462 Samuel and Saloman Rothschild lived there. They were relegated to the poor side as they were hated so much because they were suspected of being loan sharks.
Mondaino is still split in two. There is a plaque on the wall where the village is divided, and a barrier across the road. They speak two different dialects, have two churches, two schools, and two patrons. The upper side are Jesuits (the rich, honest and wealthy) people from Rimini and the lower side are Jewish (the poor and dishonest) from Le Marche.
On the lower side, all the front doors have the large metal keys left in the locks, to say that they are poor and have nothing worth stealing. Some of the keys are centuries old.
Many of the houses and palaces in the upper side were bought with the profits from the salt mines in Montespino, near the Rio Salso (which means salt.) People were often paid their wages in salt, or sal. Hence the word ‘salary.’
In the church on the rich side, just the other side of the barrier, is a painting by Pomarancio, who studied under Michaelangelo. His work is noticeably similar. He was paid for his work with salt.
Sadly the whole church is deteriorating and needs some drastic renovations. Even the rich have a limited amount of funds to spare for such work.
In 1514, the poet Giovanni Muzzarelli, a bit of a ladies’ man, was appointed ruler of the city. He was apparently murdered in 1516, either by some local men who were jealous of his appointment, or by the husband of one of his lovers.
One story says that he and his mule were thrown into the well, where they died a slow and painful death. A gold ring with the stem of the city was found, plus the name Giustina scrawled on the wall of the well.
Another story says that he was murdered while walking home by a jealous husband.
Personally, I find it hard to believe that the townsfolk would have risked polluting their well, which was so important to their survival, especially during the frequent sieges.
Whatever really happened, it has been rumoured ever since then that Giovanni’s ghost still haunts the castle of Mondaino.
Napoleon’s troops occupied the town from 1797-1815.
The inhabitants of Mondaino took part in the fights for establishing the Kingdom of Italy, crying, ‘Civil liberty, secular government and public order!’
Enter through the Porta Marina, then walk along to the 19th century Piazza Maggiore, where the salt market used to be held. It’s circular, with the main street leading off it like a handle, so it’s known as the Paese delia Padella, or Frying-Pan Piazza!
At midday you can read the time along the street as the sun shines straight down it. It was the only road to Rome.
In the 3rd week of August, the Palio de Daino (the Deer Festival) is held from Thursday-Sunday. It dates back to Medieval times and everyone dresses up in Medieval costumes. It’s supposed to celebrate peace, restored in 1459 between Sigismundo Pandolfo (Malatesta) and Federico II (Montefeltro.) It didn’t last long though!
The different ‘Contrade’ (districts) take part in games and competitions, including fights with Medieval weapons. There are parades and market stalls displaying old crafts.
During the Festival, Mondaino’s famous Fossa Pecorina Cheese is buried in pits by staff wearing traditional costumes, after being left to mature for three months. Fossa means Pit.
The cheese was originally hidden away to avoid paying tax to the Papal State. When the cheeses were retrieved, they were discovered to have a unique flavour.
Wrapped in cotton bags, they’re stacked in pits and covered with organic straw to warm them, then planks with gaps are placed over the top. The pits are then closed with a heavy stone. After three months, the level of the cheese has dropped and they collect 2,000 kilos of fat that has been released from the cheese.
The sheeps’ cheese has been discovered to help fight osteoparosis. Four hospitals in Italy use it. It is low in fat and high in calcium.
The pits are cleaned out in the winter and the rubbish is used to feed the soil locally.
Dante, Italy’s Shakespeare, described the cheese in his Divina Comedia; ‘In the warmth of the pit which reaches a temperature of 30 degrees during the fermentation process, the cheese undergoes a Purgatory sleep so it gets rid of water, salts and fats and, at last, it rises again to a new life to allow the palate to reach a true Paradise of tastes and fragrances!’
Well I wouldn’t have put it quite like that, but it is very tasty, especially drizzled with Balsamic vinegar and honey.
In November, the Festa di Fossa Tartufo e Cerere celebrates the lifting of the Fosse cheese and the harvest festival of the white truffles.
Mondaino is also famous for its manufacture of musical instruments, especially the accordion.
The views from practically every direction are absolutely beautiful, stretching for miles, virtually unspoilt by any buildings.
Allow half a day there to walk around the streets, see the Castle, the Poor Clare Convent and the monastery. Browse in the mosaic workshops and the other souvenir shops.
Peep down the narrow alleyways and see if you can spot one of the large cages hanging up. They’re known as berlina cages. There are 13 of them still surviving. No, Mondaino didn’t have a breed of giant parrots! The cages were placed in the main public square. They were used for every sort of crime. The worst the crime, the longer the internment in the cages!
They were the town’s jail with the extra humiliation of public exposure. People passing by were encouraged to shout insults and throw things at them.
Prisoners placed in these cages were ‘put to the berlina cake.’
Rumour has it that if you volunteer to spend a day in a cage, you win a free night in a hotel there.
Personally, I’d rather pay the bill!
Distance from Rimini is 37km. Take the A14 motorway (there’s a tollgate) then the ASP17 to Mondaino.
For further information about Mondaino or the Rimini area, please visit www.riviera.rimini.it and www.riminiturismo.it