People say love makes the world go round, and it must be true because I’ve always travelled a lot through the Emilia-Romagna region for love.
I went to Ferrara for months as I was in love with a girl from Verona. I remember months of weekend pilgrimages to Ferrara – I had spent so much time there that I knew the names of the streets of the city centre by heart.
Same story when I fell desperately in love with a new girl. She was from Sicily, lived in Santarcangelo but studied in Rimini. I was confident about the outcome of our relationship. But I found myself going back and forth, and then I was a single again.
Now I smile when I think about that period – but at that time I swear I could do anything but smile.
But despite the many heartbreaks, I have wonderful memories.
This type of journey was both a way to get to know myself better, but also a way to improve my knowledge of the territory.
For every date, I had to imagine and prepare new itineraries to surprise my loved one, get to know restaurants, bars and interesting places to visit.
Every date was preceded by an afternoon of careful planning – plus, the anxiety for the date itself and the fear of getting something wrong.
But as time passed, these “adventures” caught my attention more and more, and my interest in the territory of the Romagna raised. This led to the discovery of urban, cultural and social contexts that I had never investigated in depth.
One of them is the tiny Santarcangelo di Romagna: the harmonious beauty of a small village – a mysterious story made of caves, wells, tunnels and galleries – that create a parallel underground city.
The gentle hill of Monte Giove, where the most ancient core of the village and the imposing Rocca Malatestiana fortress lie, protects an intricate network of cellars and tunnels of different dimensions dug in sandstone and clay.
On my first date, I had no idea that all of that existed, but I found it out on my second date: a labyrinth of corridors, rooms and recesses arranged on different levels spread under the houses and squares we were walking on. What an amazing surprise!
Studies in the past but also contemporary theories suggested fascinating ideas about their use.
According to some, they were worship sites linked to God Mithra, others talk about catacombs of the early-Christian period or isolation sites for Basilian monks.
The absence of historic-archaeological information leaves space to perplexities and the available documents do not help, since they prove the existence of an underground Santarcangelo only since 1496.
Documents confirm that in the 18th century the underground level expanded to serve as a warehouse for food and wine, like what happened in Rimini, Cattolica, Saludecio and Gradara.
It is a fact instead that during World War II the tunnels were used as shelters by opponents of fascism and the civil population, who sought repair from the bombings.
Recent studies show the presence of about 150 caves, but the land survey was possible only in 130 cases because of ground collapses.
The average inner temperature is 12°/13°C, and that’s what makes them perfect places for the storage of wine.
Be careful though when you call them simple “cellars”: people who dug them were skilled and trained workers, who created ceilings with vaults, circular or polygonal rooms and complex galleries with recesses, once used for the storage of Sangiovese red wine.
Spending a couple of hours inside these caves is a unique way to understand the spirit and soul of this land.
Many galleries are open to the public thanks to guided tours organised by the local tourist office IAT | Pro loco di Santarcangelo, which accompanies groups and individuals to discover the Monumental Cave of Via Ruggeri.
There are also private paths, like the Stacchini and Teodorani galleries, with access from Piazza Delle Monache.
Whoever happens to be in Santarcangelo di Romagna should really go – like the Sicilian girl and I did – for a tour of the underground tunnels, to understand the mysterious past of this charming town. A place that is still poised between dream and reality after centuries.
Davide Marino was born archaeologist but ended up doing other things. Rational – but not methodic, slow – but passionate. A young enthusiast with grey hair
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