Have you ever had the experience that you needed to cancel a long-awaited trip, but somehow, even many years later, it just found you and happened, as if it was meant to be like that? Well, in fact, it is something beyond the conventional ways of preparing for a journey: it is not only about organizational skills or being familiar with a host culture, but there is a spiritual part in it that one cannot explain so easily.
This is the kind of magic that led me back to Italy after more than four years, and the one letting me visit places I had been waiting for nearly six years to be possible.
Although this calendar year has already been full of trips to Croatia, Slovakia, Poland and Hungary (some of them are also written here on the blog), I was thinking that I still wanted to have my one and only summer holiday and in spite of what sounded rational or not, it was the time for doing something really crazy. And taking all the possible dangers into consideration I have to admit that it's been one of the best decisions of my life.
I mention it quite often that I was living in Venice for three months and I explored all the key cities of Veneto region like Padova, Verona or Vicenza, but I have not talked about that I also had a short overview in a nearby region of the North called Emilia-Romagna: one of them was the charming city of Ferrara including the amazing Este Castle (Castello Estense) and the Cathedral of St. George.
This place is also related to the history of Hungary: firstly, because Janus Pannonius, a famous medieval and early Renaissance poet from Hungary studied there, and also since King Mathias' last wife, Beatrice came from the Este family.
The other city I knew in person before was the Emilian capital, Bologna, famous equally for its education (think about the European university system), its cuisine (spaghetti bolognese), the Due Torri ('Two Towers'), the Finestrella ('Little Window') and its cathedral, depicting the prophet Mohammed in Hell on one of the most famous frescoes (for real, I have seen it).
By the way, here comes a Bolognian urban legend about the two towers: if you as a student do not have at least two diplomas, you are not allowed to visit both of the towers, only one - otherwise you are not going to get your second certificate. Locals proved this theory to be wrong, but it is still popular to mention that to foreigners for fun.
To be honest, I did not visit any of them back then in 2017 during my Erasmus studies when I went to the city, but since then I have earned two diplomas of different graduation levels. Does it mean that next time I can go to the top? Probably yes.
At this point you might ask the question, if the region is called like that, where is Emilia and where is Romagna exactly? As it turned out, basically everything I had visited including the two cities above, is culturally considered Emilia which is also the vast majority of the region, while Romagna - the topic of our current trip- means mostly some cities, ports and lagoons by the Adriatic coast.
Both subregions, as it is common in Italy, have their own traditions and characteristic dialects which are even considered as independent languages: Emilian (emiliano) and Romagnol (romagnolo), which are nowadays spoken mostly by old people or in close traditional families, even though there are some cultural movements to keep these localities alive.
They are not as widespread for instance that the public signs would be written in both languages (which is the case of Corsican and Catalan for example), but with Italian dialects it is always a complicated story and a matter of approach whether they are recognized as independent or not.
The same is true about Sicilian, Calabrese, Pugliese, Neapolitan, Bergamasco, Lombardian, Ligurian, Sardinian or Venetian - just to give you some appetizer that in Italy there are indeed separate 'countries' and cultures within the same one and united country!
If you remember Valencian or Silesian from my previous articles, by now you should already know that this topic of local languages 'haunts' me forever - but since I am a self-taught anthropologist and a cultural journalist, this is also one of the reasons why I like traveling in Europe.
For example, this way it was interesting for me to notice that there is a rooster in the flag of Romagna, which immediately reminded me to the fact that the rooster is also a symbol in the flag of Wallonia (the Southern part of Belgium).
It is not a big surprise though if one knows that it is an ancient Italic (therefore also Latin) totem animal, and it is not exclusively related to the Gauls or other Celtic tribes. (I also talked about the Walloon rooster before, when I wrote about Oława here.)
This passion of constant comparisons and understanding cultural patterns, however, also gives me other associations sometimes which are way wilder - just as realizing that the map of Emilia-Romagna is almost exactly the reflection of the map of my county, Komárom-Esztergom in terms of shape, with the slight difference that the 'Hungarian edition' is much smaller, does not have a sea, but does have a river, Danube on the North (and actually is also a composition of two former regions, just like Emilia-Romagna).
By the way, if you take the area of one of the provinces within the region of Emilia-Romagna, then you will get the avarage surface of my county, since its administrational status is equivalent with the provinces in Italy (they are also called with the same word in Hungarian: megye). Thus, maps can be very tricky if one does not pay attention!
Was this maybe also the part of this destiny of returning exactly there? I do not know, but after this long list of warm-up exercises it is time to move on our actual journey with our first stop, where I will describe the marvelous touristic neighborhood of Rimini, the city where I stayed.
As I usually do, let me start with a historical summary: Rimini, as I could observe it in the city museum, has been inhabited from the very early prehistoric times, and there was already a settlement at the coastline, close to river Marecchia, before the glorious years of the Etruscan civilization: the iron age people there mostly had an Italic origin (Latin was also one branch of this language family) and their civilisation belonged to the so-called Villanovan culture.
Later, when Rome already conquered the whole Italian peninsula, there was a need for a port city to emerge in the area to have a better control on the Adriatic region: therefore the Roman colony of Ariminum was established.
There are dozens of precious artifacts, findings and pieces of architecture from this era: apart from all the metal tools, ceramics and other objects (even chalices of glass) I could see from the prehistoric ages until the late antiquity, there are also a couple of outstanding buildings coming from the Roman times one can still admire in Rimini.
The most fascinating of them is probably Arco d' Augosto, which's name is a bit misleading: namely, originally it was the main city gate dedicated to Emperor August, but since the former city walls are in ruins or vanished entirely, people of the later centuries rather saw the monument as a sort of triumph arch, and that is the origin of the name.
Unfortunately, the fabulous chariot with its four battle horses (quadriga) is not standing on the top of the arch anymore like once upon a time, but there are still some statues remained on the building, like the head of a bull in the middle and the faces of four important Roman gods in the four edges.
They are the heads of Jupiter (Iuppiter/Giove), Neptune (Neptunus/Nettuno), Apollo and Minerva guarding the former city gate, which used to be the very beginning of Via Aemilia: the road which was actually the namesake of the region of Emilia.
The next sight will probably not be as spectacular for the first look as a city gate can be, but it is surely a fascinating and unique pieces of architecture.
As a matter of fact, the Domus del Chirurgo ('The Surgeon’’s House') was discovered relatively lately and we know about it only for a couple of decades: as it turned out, one of the squares of Rimini, Piazza Luigi Ferrari hid this real treasure underground, that used to be the villa of a Roman doctor.
Therefore, if you think about the prestige of physicians in those times, you can imagine the wealth and fortune of a house that used to belong to a doctor of medicine!
The most important findings are the gorgeous Roman mosaics that used to cover the floor and show different scenes of mythology (gods and extraordinary creatures) and everyday life (hunts, gladiator fights, domestic activities, sailing, etc.).
Apart from being very impressive and recalling the ancient vibes, these mosaics also reminded me to two different things instantly: one of them was the mosaics of Pompeii I saw in the Museum of Naples, while the other one was an inspiring book from my childhood which helped me a lot to fall in love with the Mediterranean world (meeting the Slavs, from the other hand, is a relatively new story).
Due to the lucky circumstances of the villa and the excellent work of archeologists and experts of art, the mosaics are preserved in a very good condition with almost every single piece, but you can also observe the remains of the walls, not to mention the hundreds of tools, amphoras, plates and other small items found during the excavations.
It is interesting as well that later, during the Barbarian and Germanic invasions, the house was turned into a cemetery. Thus, human skeletons are also visible, from the top, which was still not the most eerie experience during my stay in Romagna. (I will get back to that later, when we'll be heading to Ravenna.).
Still exploring the Roman period, there are a few other monuments that formed the current cityscape of Rimini: if you go towards the port channel of the city, you can see a wonderful stone bridge called Ponte di Tiberio ('Tiberius’ Bridge') and another city gate, Porta Galliana (unfortunately, as I remember, I did not pass by a third one that even remained, Porta Montanara).
This wide open area is a perfect location due to the fact that there is a huge park on one side of it and you are able to reach the sea towards the other one. Last, bu not least, the ruins of the Roman amphitheater of Ariminum are also visible, even though there is no visitable museum on the field, similarly to Circo Massimo in Rome.
Of course, this is not everything about the gorgeous city of Rimini - we will continue our discoveries in my next article, where we will also move forward in time to explore the medieval and contemporary sights around...