A day in Rimini, with Federico Fellini
15 October 2013
With over 15 kilometres of sandy beach, it’s little wonder that Rimini is one of the most popular resorts in Europe. From June to September much of the beach is covered by serried ranks of coloured umbrellas and sun-beds delineating the seafront hotels that rent them out. The beaches are buzzing with activities for everyone from bambini to granny; kids’ film clubs, outdoor yoga and T’ai Chi, bands playing old-time music and hundreds of bars and restaurants where you can eat and drink, confirm that the Riviera Romagnolo has successfully turned the entire strip into a total fun factory, and come the evening, the beat goes on. Those looking for non-stop nightlife head to beaches slightly out of town where top DJs host the coolest outdoor clubs and boat parties; there’s even a free bus service to ferry you out to them. With all that frenetic activity, it’s hard to imagine that a short walk from the strip there could be a Rimini that the city’s most famous son, filmmaker Federico Fellini, would still recognise.
In Rimini dialect, Amarcord means ‘I Remember’, and Fellini’s semi-autobiographical film certainly adds another dimension to a place often considered little more than a fun beach resort. In his Oscar-winning film, Fellini opens with a scene of fluffy puffballs floating on the wind in a little village thought to be based on his hometown. One of the characters comments ‘When puffballs come, cold winter’s almost done’ and that night the villagers celebrate by lighting a bonfire and setting alight the old witch of winter. The Fogheraccia di San Giuseppe (St Joseph’s bonfire) is celebrated in villages all along the ‘Riviera Romagnolo’, including Rimini, and a huge bonfire is still set up on the beach to mark the end of the winter and welcome spring.
So how to find Fellini’s Rimini beyond the beach? Start at the Parco Federico Fellini at the end of the Lungomare. The park that takes his name lies beside the palatial 5-star Grand Hotel that has a starring role in Amarcord. The story goes that, as a poor kid, Fellini used to gaze through the gates of the imposing building and, following his success as a filmmaker, he became a regular guest with his own favourite suite. The Liberty-style hotel overlooking the sea celebrated its centenary in 2008 and, though it’s been recently renovated, retains much of the original Italian and French furnishing, paintings, marble flooring and Venetian glass chandeliers. Today it’s possible to stay in Fellini’s room and even sample his favourite menu.
Smaller budgets should at least consider taking tea in the beautiful gardens before heading to the Casina del Bosco on the other side of the park. The Casina, always packed, specialises in piadine, which is, to the Romagnolo, what pizza is to the Neapolitan. The ubiquitous flatbread made from flour, salt, lard or olive oil is traditionally cooked on a terracotta dish called a teggia and served with dozens of delicious fillings. Try the prosciutto, arugula and squacquerone (a creamy soft cheese), or roast beef, mayonnaise, lettuce and tomato. In an homage to Amarcord, the speciality beer ‘Gradisca’ is named after the film’s village beauty and the object of desire of the young schoolboy, Titta (the nickname of one of Fellini’s friends but probably based on Fellini himself).
Heading up the Via Destra del Porta that borders the waterway leading to the Parco XXV, take the first bridge that crosses the river bringing you to the pretty borgo of San Giuliano. Fellini often said he’d like to retire here and certainly the fishermen who once lived here are long gone and today it’s a much-desired part of town. Take the Via Marecchia (named after the river, once known as Ariminus) and wander along the pedestrianized cobbled streets admiring the pretty pastel-coloured houses that abound here. Look out for the paintings of Rimini landmarks as well as portraits of some of Fellini’s film characters, before stopping for a coffee at one of the many cafés.
The Renaissance church of San Giuliano Martire (Viale Tiberio, 57, +39 0541 55177) on viale Tiberio is the most important in Rimini and houses a 15th-century polyptych by Bittino, a painting by Paolo Veronese and a Roman sarcophagus that once contained the remains of San Guiliano before they were transferred to an urn that resides under the alter. The calm of the church can’t quite eradicate the sound of the children playing football outside but it’s said that Fellini once kicked a tin can around this square too so it seems quite fitting. The café across the street, with its portrait of Fellini on the wall, seems to confirm it. Ice-cream lovers should head to Dolceneve Bio (Via San Giuliano 31, +39 0541 57675) close by and Croste e Muliga (Via San Giuliano, 27, +39 0541 54644) next door sells delicious bread, pizza, brioches and biscuits. Nud e Crud is an excellent piadinerie but those looking for something more substantial should try Osteria da Borg on Via Forzieri. As well as making its own piadine, da Borg specialises in fish, local meats and cheese as well as delicious own-made desserts. Every two years, in September, the local borghigiani hold a festival – the Festa de’ Borg – to celebrate their lives, culture and history. It’s also a time when new murals replace old ones, always painted by local artists. The next festival is in 2014.
Cross back over the river via the spectacular Ponte di Tiberio, built over 2000 years ago during the reign of Emperor Augustus and finished under his successor Tiberius in 20AD. The five-arched Roman bridge is built in white Istrian stone and the engineering technique of setting the pillars on one foundation stone is said to be the reason for its survival in spite of many wars and much bombing.
One of Amarcord’s characters – the borgo’s self-appointed historian – recounts the discovery of Roman graffiti in the caves of his forebear, Count Lovignano, dating back to 268BC. Lovignano may not have existed but the remains of homo erectus were discovered in the Covignano hills and the Romans did come to Rimini in 268BC. The Tiberius Bridge is just one of their legacies, but in 1989 a random excavation to remove a tree revealed a Roman surgery that would provide archaeologists and historians with a rare but fascinating insight into what a Roman could expect from his doctor. The Surgeon’s House was probably abandoned during an attack by barbarians and so was virtually intact when it was uncovered. Thanks to an impressive glass-sided building designed by architect Alessandro Colombo, it’s possible to walk above beautifully preserved mosaics and observe Roman heating and sanitary systems, as well as compare later buildings, two metres higher, from the 8th and 9th centuries that, by comparison, seem crude and raw. They’re a sign of how much knowledge, customarily passed from father to son, was lost owing to war, plague and famine that followed the Roman Empire.
A detailed reconstruction of the surgeon’s house can be found next door in the Museo della Città, including a bit of real graffiti (more acceptable in those days) scratched beside the day bed of a grateful patient who described the surgeon (Eutyches) as a homo bonus. The entire collection of instruments – more than 150 bronze tools, described by Ralph Jackson, Curator of Romano-British Collections at the British Museum, as the largest find of surgical instruments anywhere – include an iron for removing bladder stones, a drill and even a tong for bone surgery. A reminder of the city’s fishing history can be seen in a beautiful panel (in Greek called a pinax) of glass mosaic, of a bream, mackerel and dolphin. The museum maps the city’s life from prehistoric times to the present day and other treasures include Giovanni Bellini’s Pietà and several works by members of the highly regarded Rimini School. The museum is currently also holding Fellini’s Libro dei Sogni (Book of Dreams), a remarkable insight into the unconscious, and often salacious, mind of the creative genius. In 2013, the 20th year since Fellini’s death Rimini will be hosting concerts, exhibitions and shows throughout the year to celebrate his life.
More fish on a plate can be discovered at the excellent Pescato del Canevone restaurant just up the road. Clams, shrimp, bream but, happily, no dolphin. From here re-join the Corso d’Augusto (once the Roman Decumanus Maximus) and, at no.162, is the façade of the Fulgor cinema where Fellini watched his very first film. The cinema is currently under renovation. From here it’s a short walk to piazza Cavour where a 17th century statue of Pope Paul V signals the Papal domination of the time. If you’re here on the last Sunday of every month the square is dominated by stalls selling antiques and you might easily pick up a chandelier, vintage typewriter or classic car (in model form). The market extends along the Via Peschiera where, as the name suggests, there was once a 18th-century fishmarket. The waterspouts for cleaning the fish are still present and the great marble slabs that once held bucketloads of fish make great stalls and, in the evening, when the nearby bars really come to life, they double as seats and tables.
The church of Sant’Agostino (Via Cairoli, 14, +39 0541 781268) holds some of the best examples of the Rimini School of painting decorating the apse and the bell tower. They first came to light following a restoration in 1916 that revealed a portrait of Dante, and so their great age. More treasures can be found in the Malatesta Temple (Via IV Novembre, 35). Sigismondo Malatesta, the last of his line to rule Rimini, commissioned the temple, a masterpiece of the Italian Renaissance, as a mausoleum for himself and his love, Isotta. The white marble façade, designed by Leon Battista Alberti, is magnificent and within there are more wonders including the Crucifix by Giotto and a beautiful fresco by Piero della Francesca. Those concerned with more earthly delights will find rich pickings in the stretch of chic independent boutiques to be found on the way to piazza Tre Martiri, named after three partisans who died in 1944. The piazza marks the position of the ancient Roman Forum and the intersection of the Decumanus Maximus and Cardo Romano. Along with a statue of Julius Caesar, there are some ancient Roman ruins visible below ground.
Without deviating from the Tiberius Bridge it’s possible to walk straight to the Arco d’Augusto, and see Jupiter and Apollo facing away from the centre and Neptune and Rome, symbolised by a woman’s face, looking towards the city. On the way, of course, are constant reminders of just how ‘now’ the city is, with cool homeware stores, such as Lago, and a host of boutiques in the streets off the corso, such as Mentana, Quintino Sella and Gambalunga. Look out in particular for Ottica Centrale (14, Via Bruno Giordano, 0541 709180) for funky glasses, Luisa (Via Gambalunga 28, +39 0541 21569) for stylish womenswear and Canto XLV for modish menswear. Utile e Inutile is fun too, selling a mix of really rather useful wallets and handbags and frivolous jewellery.
Lest it be forgotten how fun Rimini is (who can forget the voluptuous Gradisca purring saucily ‘I feel spring all over me already’), head back to the Via Peschiera where the night is probably just starting up. The Lungomare will also seem to be transformed with street bars, such as Barrumba, cranking up the music and cocktail-sippers spilling onto the street. The romagnolo can party anywhere – in the city centre, on the beach, even out at sea – the walkway heading out to a restaurant/bar on stilts is Rock Island and from May throughout the summer serves drinks, pizza and grilled fish, and plenty of music. But the biggest night in the calendar for the entire region is the ‘Notte Rose’ (Pink Night) – another festival, this time to welcome summer’s arrival , that’s as big as New Year. The highlight is a pink firework display that stretches the length of the coast. A magical night, but as Fellini said, ‘Life is a combination of magic and pasta’ (but I suspect he meant piadina).
For more details on these and other attractions, visit the Rimini Tourist Office.