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The Savio Valley

Malatesta Library CesenaBesides the journeys along the valleys of the Lamone, and the Tramazzo-Marzeno and those along the Rabbi and the Bidente, another possible route to cross the Apennines opened up in front of the medieval traveler starting in Cesena, an important center along the via Emilia and linked to Ravenna, capital of the Exarchate, from via del Dismano or Decimano.


Once again, the main written source that helps reconstruct the roads used by the Romei is the “Descriptio Romandiole” by cardinal Anglic de Grimoard, who in 1371 defined this itinerary as “the main road that goes from Romagna to Tuscany or from Cesena to Sarsina towards Tuscany.”


An exarch center in the Byzantine era, in the first centuries of the Middle Ages, Cesena lost most of its civil characteristics as it was deemed a castrum rather than a civitas.  In the 6th century it became an episcopal center and a few centuries later it had about fifteen parish churches, among which, noteworthy for their importance regarding this itinerary, are those of San Mauro and San Vittore, in the hills, and that of Santa Maria in Ronta, on a street running parallel to the Dismano.


The Romei that traveled between the 1200s and 1300s also passed through a town that no longer exists, as it was destroyed in 1337 by the Breton troops sent by Pope Gregory XI.  The historical buildings were all constructed after the 1300s.  In particular there is the Biblioteca Malatestiana (Library), now a Unesco Heritage site, commissioned by Novello Malatesta between 1447 and 1452, of great importance because of its humanistic culture, with 340 manuscripts from the 11th to 15th centuries, in Latin, Greek and Hebrew; and the Cathedral, a remarkable example of Germanic influence (1385-1405), which still has its original characteristics: a Romanesque façade and a gothic interior.


Leaving behind the “Via Emilia” and Cesena, taking the “strada magistra”, pilgrims arrived in Mercato Saraceno.  They arrived here passing by the late medieval parish church of Saints Cosma and Damiano; but it was in the town – built up around a mill in the 12th century – that they could find respite in a hostel managed by Franciscan monks at the Church of S. Maria Assunta starting in the 14th century.


The modern pilgrim cannot go without visiting the parish church of S. Maria Annunziata di Monte Sorbo, on a hill 6 km from Mercato Saraceno.  Built in the Byzantine period, with 12th century remodeling, it is a singular building: for half of its length is has one nave, then it widens out into three naves, divided by five columns each and toped with Corinthian capitals from the Romanesque era.  Two ornate lapidaries on the walls bring together late medieval sculptural remains, tomb slabs, and funeral epigraphs from the 6th to the 9th century.


Sarsina is another important stop for the pilgrim that, today just as in centuries past, goes along the Savio Valley towards Rome.  An ancient city – founded by Umbrian populations – it was then a flourishing Roman Municipal and hometown of Tito Maccio Plauto, the most important Latin comedy writer.  Extraordinary proof of this illustrious past is housed in the National Archaeology Museum.


In the Middle Ages, Sarsina became a headquarters for the Diocese, but its importance fell: in the Descriptio Romandiole (1371) it is defined as a civitas but “quasi destructa”, placed on the strada maestro that went to Tuscany passing through Bagno di Romagna.


Pilgrims had already been using this Roman road for quite some time, so much so that the Customs of the Sarsina l’Hospitalia of San Ippolito began taking care of them as early as 1284.  The Cathedral, built in 1008 in pure Romanesque style is still a pilgrimage destination: in fact, here the relics of San Vicinio, a Sarsina proto-bishop, are housed as is his penitential instrument, the famous “collar”, which is available to be kissed by the faithful, and with which even today demons are exorcized.


Just past Sarsina, the state road along the bottom of the Savio valley continues on to Bagno Romagna which was a meeting point between the two Romei roads most used along the Bidente and Savio Valleys.


For tourist information:

Local site: Cesenatico and surroundings

Last modified Feb 02, 2017

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