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Trip Report Cesena and Its Library: A Day Trip from Bologna

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This is a trip report about Cesena, Italy, about 60 miles from Bologna. Athough Cesena is relatively unknown to tourists, it has about 100,000 inhabitants as well as two main attractions: The medieval La Biblioteca Maletestiana (The Malatesta Library) and La Rocca Maletestiana (The Maletesta Fortress). Because my wife is of Maletesta ancestry (and because the library looked like a great attraction regardless), we decided to take a day trip to Cesena from Bologna.

The Malatesta Library was built in the middle of the 15th century by Malatesta Novello, the last Malatesta Lord of Cesena. Although built for the Franciscan friars, Novello directed that the books be owned by the commune of Cesena and not by either him or the church. Consequently, the collection has been preserved as the property of the town and the library is considered the oldest continuingly-circulated public library in the world. It is also listed in the UNESCO Memory of the World Register. Here is a link:

The Malatesta Fortress consists of a huge octagonal wall surrounding two main towers and a castle. It was begun in 1380, continued under the Malatestas, and completed in 1480. It was used as an air raid shelter in WWII, then for various other things until it was reclaimed as a tourist site in 2002. Here is a link:

We took the 10 o’clock train (there are many going there from Bologna), arriving in Cesena an hour later. We then took a taxi to the library, which still functions as a regular community library while also housing the original 15th century library.

We entered the building and I attempted to explain in my limited Italian to the librarian behind the desk that we wanted to see the old library. After some crossed signals, she found us another librarian who spoke some English, and who then led us through a number of rooms into a hallway, at the end of which was the entrance to the old library. (You have to ask to be led to the library; you will not find it on your own.)

A guide seated at a table in front of the entrance gave us each a tape player and earphones for the 4-euro audiotour. The entrance leads to a hall, to the right of which is a locked door to the main library. The guide opened the door so we could see into the library, but we could not enter the room itself. The gothic library looks much like a church and the reading tables resemble pews. The guide supplemented the information contained on tape.

The audiotour continued to the room across the hall from the library, which is a reading room containing the library of Pope Pius VII, who was born in Cesena in 1742 and whose collection was given to the Malatesta Library in 1941. The collection includes many medieval manuscripts with vibrant colors, including eight choir books dating to 1480. In addition, the collection contains a number of tiny books, including one printed in Padua in 1897 which is said to be the world’s smallest book (9 x 15mm) readable without an artificial lens. A veritable treasure trove of amazing books!

We talked with the guide some more, then left. On the way out we noticed the family tree of Novello, which was of special interest to my wife. Only about four or five other tourists had come into the library while we were there.

We walked for about 15 minutes and arrived at the main square, the Piazza del Populo, around 12:30 as the Wednesday market was just shutting down. It was a huge market, spanning not only the Piazza del Populo, but also another square just adjacent to it.

We found a store on the square where we bought a a soft tortilla sandwich and drinks for 4.5 euros. (Can you believe it? A tortilla sandwich in a little town in the middle of Italy?). We took the sandwich and drinks and sat at a table on a covered patio on the square, watching in fascination as the various vendors broke down their displays and put them into their vans.

The huge wall of the fortress (some 3-feet thick) loomed over the Piazza del Populo. We started to walk around the wall to try to find the entrance. But eventually, the sheer distance coupled with the heat of the day and the fact that the wall began to be obscured by foliage led us to retrace our steps back to the square. At least we knew where we were. We never did find the entrance, as it would have required some hill-climbing that we were not up to.

After this, we meandered back to the train station, taking in the sights and sounds of a decidedly non-tourist town on our 30-minute trek. Back at the station we caught the next train and arrived in Bologna around 4:30.

As a nonofficial member of the Cesena Tourism Bureau, I can offer five reasons to take a day trip to Cesena from Bologna: (1) It’s only a hour ride by train; (2) the library (you could spend an hour or more in the reading room looking at those beautiful manuscripts and books); (3) the square and market on Wednesday morning (and probably Saturday, too); (4) the fortress (ask for directions to the entrance at the TI on the square); and (5) an opportunity to practice your Italian in a non-tourist environment.

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