San Leo is part of "The Most Beautiful Hamlets in Italy" and was awarded the Orange Flag by the Italian Touring Club.
Today the hamlet of San Leo, intact in its rigor and in its original beauty, immediately offers the beautiful sight of the ancient Romanesque buildings: Pieve, Cathedral, and Tower, which are flanked by numerous Renaissance palaces, such as the Palazzo Mediceo, home to the elegant Museum of Sacred Art, the residence of the Counts Severini-Nardini, Palazzo Della Rovere, the seat of the Town Hall.
The heart of San Leo is the square named after Dante who was hosted here as well as San Francesco, who here received the Monte della Verna as a gift from the Count of Chiusi. On the highest point of the rocky crag lies the Fortress of Francesco di Giorgio Martini, where Giuseppe Balsamo, known as Count of Cagliostro, was imprisoned from 1791 until his death in 1795.
In the center of the town, the town hall is worth noting, which is the home of the counts of Montefeltro, as well as the palace of the counts Nardini, who on May 8th, 1213 had the honor of having Saint Francis as a guest who here, received the mountain of La Verna as a gift.
Another beautiful building is the Medici palace, rebuilt by the De' Medici between 1517 and 1523 as lodgings for the governor of San Leo, and which today houses the museum of sacred art, the custodian of invaluable works of art.
A small but true architectural masterpiece is the Romanesque parish church of Our Lady of the Assumption, with a basilica plan made up of three apses, enriched by small arches and pilasters.
Not only an important monument, but also a place endowed with a powerful spiritual soul is the Cathedral, built in 1173 on a 9th-century building, in Romanesque-Lombard style with architectural decorations.
The simple bell tower with a quadrangular base is very picturesque, which from above offers an incomparable view of the town of San Leo.
A bit of history
Wonderful capital of art, mentioned by Dante Alighieri in the Divine Comedy, San Leo is the fulcrum of the historic region of Montefeltro and it is the city that gave it its name. Known for its historical and geopolitical events, location for films and documentaries, tourist destination par excellence, it is the precious pearl treasured by the province of Rimini.
The city was called Monte Feltro, from Mons Feretrius, a name linked to the important Roman settlement built around the temple consecrated to Jupiter Feretrius (Iuppiter Feretrius).
And the Romans, already in the 3rd century. B.C., had built a fortification on the highest point. The early Christian period (2nd century AD) is characterized by the Christianization of the place due to the arrival of Leone and Marino, two Dalmatian stonemasons who founded the Christian communities of San Leo and San Marino, promoting the spread of Christianity throughout the region, until the birth of the diocese of Montefeltro.
Leone is considered the first bishop of the district and we owe him for the building of the original shrine on which the parish church was built in the Carolingian era, then modernized in the pre-Romanesque age.
After the seventh century it was flanked by the Cathedral, consecrated to the cult of San Leone. This was renovated in 1173 assuming Romanesque-Lombard forms and joined to the extraordinary bell tower of Byzantine origin.
In the 12th century the civitas Sanctis Leonis represented a real urban agglomeration, made up of the Bishop's Palace and the residence of the Canons, the nucleus of the sacred city, as well as other buildings commissioned by the Montefeltro lords who had settled there from nearby Carpegna in the mid-1100s, assuming the name of the ancient fortress-city of Montefeltro-San Leo. A city that had been the capital of Italy for two years, from 962, under the reign of Berengario II.
Ghost and legends
The Count of Cagliostro and his garbled and mysterious existence
The story of Count Giuseppe Balsamo known as Count of Cagliostro, healer, heretic, Freemason, alchemist, after having attended the Courts of Europe, ended in San Leo.
He was imprisoned here by the Holy Inquisition and died of mysterious causes in a cell of the ancient fortress built to a design by Francesco di Giorgio Martini. Mystery that had a sequel even after his death, with the disappearance of his body, buried at the foot of the cliff and immediately stolen. His life and the events that characterized it are undoubtedly of great interest, interest that has never waned. And while for some he is recognized as the founder of Egyptian Freemasonry, for others he is a fraudster who had legal troubles and tried in every way not to be prosecuted for his misdeeds.
What matters is his eternal fame, which continues also today. Strange and inexplicable events connected to him still happen today. For example, unexplained episodes in his cell have been, and are still being, recorded. These include the deposition of a bunch of red roses on the anniversary of his death without anyone ever being able to see the person responsible for this gesture. His life has been analyzed by historians and scholars and has been a source of inspiration for artists and writers. The fact remains that his figure, his inventions and discoveries are inextricably linked to the town of San Leo.