The construction of the Castle and the Malatesta Temple
Sigismondo gave life to one of the most vital centres of cultural and artistic renewal of the Renaissance. In 1437 he undertook the construction of Castel Sismondo in the place where the former Malatesta palaces were built. The castle was terminated in 1446. On the plaque which he had placed he claimed all of the construction as his own, but scholars are of the opinion that it incorporated buildings previously erected by his predecessors. The construction of the castle came about in a period of great economic prosperity for the signory and of personal celebration for Sigismondo.
The castle was conceived as a fortress and a residential castle, but above all, it expressed the power and the supremacy of the rulers of the city. The work involved the destruction of closely built quarters, amongst which the offices of the Bishop and a convent as well as the lowering of the bell tower of the neighbouring cathedral. Sigismondo, celebrated as an architect, was inventor and inspiration with the support of famous specialists among whom, it is believed, Filippo Brunelleschi. Castel Sismondo is the first of the buildings built in the 15th century that reflect the necessity for defence against firearms. In its actual state the castle has lostits original form which is depicted on the famous medallion of Matteo de’ Pasti, and of the frescoe of Piero della Francesca in the Malatesta Temple which was described in the “De Re Militari” of Roberto Valturio.
Entirely constructed of bricks, the castle was characterised by a particular chromatic splendour expressed through the coats of arms, the plasterwork painted in red, green and white, all of which is almost completely lost today. It had the appearance of a lonely, fortified citadel reinforced by the presence of a moatpredisposed to be filled with water.
The castle is testimony to the military competence of Sigismondo. In order to defend his territory, and particularly from his eternal enemy, Montefeltro, he modified and erected various fortresses situated in key positions, amongst which, Pennabilli, Montefiore Conca, Montescudo, Sant’Angelo di Romagna and Verucchio. He adapted the antique feudal castles to the technology of artillery, intensifying their offensive capacity and providing quarters for the troops, assuring them self-sufficiency in food. Of even more importance in planningand financing were the works undertaken in the church dedicated to San Francesco, usually named the MalatestaTemple and utilized as a cathedral in 1809. On a par with the other European courts which dedicated financial resources to the building of churches and chapels from which issued popularity, power and the custom of choosing a church to erect a tomb for one’s own family. The Malatesta chose such a church for their burials. Only after the relative work of construction of a chapel dedicated to the patron saint of the prince, S. Sigismondo of Borgogno, and the restructure of the chapel of the Angeli were finished, was the decision taken to radically reform the church. This was in 1449. Between 1450 and 1452 Sigismondo devised the new project, for whose realization he called architects and scholars. The ways in which he procured materials were not always orthodox; he obliged the Fanese to give Istrian stone destined for the bridge over the Metauro and raided the marble from the antique, Roman gateways of Rimini. For the work he enlisted experts from various cities. Some scholars, among whom, Pier Giorgio Pasini, have excluded his purpose in desecrating the Christian mysteries in decoration, and at the same time underline Sigismondo’s intention of self celebration.
It was these aspects that led Pope Pio II to judge it a temple “of infidels idolaters of demons” and many modern writers to speak of a “temple of love” which celebrated the love of Sigismondo and Isotta. The latter interpretation has suggested the reading of the initials “SI”, initials of Sigismondo, repeated various times on the building, asthe entwined initials of the two lovers. Another artistic contribution of importance is that of Piero della Francesca, author of the frescoe which portrays Sigismondo praying before San Sigismondo in the cell of the reliques. The frescoe is dated 1451.
Work was interrupted towards 1460, the same year as Sigismondo’s excommunication. After being testimony to his splendour the unfinished Temple became a manifestation of the decline of the court of Rimini. The Franciscans had to provide it with cover. Of the original project of Alberti only a commemorative medallion of de’Pasti remains: he was the only artist who stayed beside Sigismondo in the time of his decline. With the beginning of the misfortunes, the court which was constructed around him rapidly disappeared without a trace. The MalatestaTemple and the castle, distant in style one from the other, remained altogether extraneous from the city. The first reassumed in itself all of the innovative values of human culture, but without any communication with the local community. In the second, even if defined by the prince as “the dignity of the Riminesi”, One can read the signs of absolute, dynastic dominion. As well as the motives for internal safety, Castel Sismondo reflects the new necessities of court life, made of luxury and comfort.