History of Cesena


See Cesena guide for highlights and historic monuments

Recents archaeological digs demonstrate that the origins of Cesena date to before Roman times (its ancient name is probably derived from the Latin word Caesenia, indicating a 'wood cut' (from caedo-caedere - to cut).

According to scholars’ studies it is here that we can locate the old "Selva Lithuania", where the Boii Gauls in 216 BC reported a resounding victory against the Romans, led by Lucius Postumius (consul 234 B.C.).

Cesena became a Roman colony around the 3rd or 4th century BC, and was ruled by a Roman praetor. After the fall of the Roman Empire, Cesena was subject to invasion by the barbarian Goths, Vandals and Longobards, resulting in its destruction.

It was subject to Odoacer (435-493 AD) and had to endure a siege by Theodoric (454-526), who obtained the domain in 493 AD. It was then conquered by Belisarius (505-565) and was subject to the Byzantines, who encircled it by walls - in this period Cesena depended on  the Exarch of Ravenna, and then, after various troubles, it was donated by Pepin (773-810) to the Church State.

Cesena in the Middle Ages

The history of Cesena in the Middle Ages was greatly troubled. The city was fought over by many local lords (including Alberic and the Berengar Dukes of Tuscany), until the city established itself as a Municipality. In the Municipal Age Cesena was at the centre of the struggle among various Italian municipalities, fighting in turn against Bologna, the Dukes of Ferrara and Verona.

Things didn't improve in the 14th century when the city was subject to the ravages of mercenary troops and bitter strife, which saw it set on fire; and this was due to the fact that, historically, Romagna, since the time of the Ottoni Emperors (X Century), was a land of fiefdom and cities constantly clashing with each other.

Battles for control of Romagna

A rolecall of the fiefs and lordships involved in this state of continuous war besetting the region is enough to bring to mind the troubles faced in Cesena: the Manfredi at Faenza, the Oderlaffi (which also had Cesena) in Forlì, Traversari and Da Polenta in Ravenna, Carvassali, Tossignano, Tartagni and Bulgarelli at Imola and finally the Malatesta in Cesena, where infighting among powerful families ( the Righini,  Artichini and Calisese) deeply damaged the city.

Around 1378 Pope Urban VI (1318-1389) granted the vicariate to Galeotto Malatesta (1299-1385) and his descendants, who held it until 1465. A prosperous period began for Cesena, and the same Galeotto implemented an extension of the walls and redrew the Town Square. Under the Malatesta Family, Cesena had a significant building development including the Cathedral, the Castle of St. George and construction of new walls to the north) and Novello Malatesta (1418-1465) erected the famous Library.

With the extinction of the Malatesta Family, on the death of Novello Malatesta (1465), Cesena returned to the Pope. In 1502 Cesena was granted by Pope Alexander VI (1431-1503) to Cesare Borgia (1475-1507), his son, but the city returned to the papacy after the death of Alexander VI, and Cesare Borgia lost his duchy.

Recent centuries in Cesena

Between the 16th and 17th centuries Cesena, under the rule of the Church, had a new period of building development, particularly of churches and monasteries, and including some eminent artists and architects (eg Cosimo Morelli, Francesco Zondini among the architects and Scipione Sacco, Cristoforo Serra and Cristoforo Savolini among the artists).

During the Napoleonic age, Cesena was first included in the Cisalpine Republic and then in the Kingdom of Italy, as the capital city of the Rubicon department. After the Congress of Vienna (1814-1815), Cesena was returned to Pope Pius VII (1742-1823) (1815).

During the 19th Century, after the Unification of 1861 and also in the 20th century Cesena was subject to increases in building, but also a profound renovation and demolition, which involved massive loss of ancient artefacts. On the whole, however, the historical centre city has been substantially preserved.

See the Cesena travel guide for more information.