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Monumenti&Musei: Museums

The Fortress´s Museum

Today a museum, the Fortress is first and foremost a valuable example of military architecture. The mountain on which San Leo rises, for its towering position over the valley below and its geographical features, with steep stone walls perpendicular to the floor, has always been a natural stronghold. The Romans, well aware of its strategic value, built there a first fortification. During the middle Ages, the fortress was fought over by the Byzantines, the Goths, the Lombards and the Franks.

The Fortress´s Museum

 

 Around the mid XI century the Fortress came under the rule of the counts of Montecopiolo, who thus became lords of San Leo, changing their title first to counts and then to dukes of Montefeltro, from the ancient name of the town. From the second half of the XIV century onwards, the fortress was conquered by the Malatestas, and for about a hundred years the two families, Malatestas and the Montefeltros, alternated as rulers of San Leo. 
In 1441, Federico da Montefeltro, protagonist of the vicissitudes of San Leo, commissioned a great architect and engineer from Siena, Francesco di Giorgio Martini, to redesign the fortress so that it could face modern warfare needs, among those were firearms, which needed innovations that could not be supported by the original medieval structure.
The new structure featured a dynamic counteroffensive, in order to respond to enemy fire with crossfire. This is why the sides of the fortress were supplied with artillery and the access roads protected by military outposts.
In 1502, the Fortress was conquered by Cesare Borgia, Duke Valentino, but it was once again in the hands of the Montefeltro family a year later, until 1527 when it came under the rule of the Della Rovere family. In 1631, when the Duchy of Urbino came once more under the direct control of the Papal State, the fortress of San Leo was turned into a prison. The original military lodgings became cells hosting among others, especially at the time of revolutionary uprisings in Romagna, many patriots of the Risorgimento, the most famous of them being Felice Orsini.

But the most famous prisoner of all, whose name is inseparably linked to that of the Fortress of San Leo, was Giuseppe Balsamo from Palermo, Count Cagliostro, a fascinating and mysterious adventurer, an eighteenth-century free-mason and alchemist.
The Fortress was still a prison even after the Unity of Italy, until 1906. From 1911 to 1916 it hosted a military disciplinary company.
Today, cleaned up of the XIX century superstructure and brought back to its Renaissance splendour, it is one of the most famous examples of military art, hosting, in its halls, a fine collection of ancient and modern arms.