Where to Find Fellini in Rimini
For most of its history, Rimini – established by the Romans more than 2000 years ago – was a sleepy provincial town on the Adriatic coast.
Within 20 years after the end of WWII, however, two dramatic changes occurred: first came the arrival of mass tourism. And then a local boy, the scion of a respected middle-class family, became the most famous movie director on earth.
His name was Federico Fellini, and soon the whole world would know about Rimini: its sexually frustrated teenagers, its ridiculously self-important provincial bourgeoisie and its ridiculously large-breasted women.
How much Rimini is there in Fellini? Among certain folks, this is the stuff of heated disputes. On the one hand, it is indisputable that only two of Fellini’s films are set in Rimini, the early I Vitelloni and his most popular work, Amarcord (“I remember”). Neither film was shot on site, and Fellini used the studios of Cinecittà to build a Rimini of the mind.
On the other hand, all the recurring themes in Fellini’s films – innocence and the loss of it, men’s lust for and their fear of women – as well as many motives (the rituals of the Catholic church, the coast, the circus) reflect his experience of growing up in Rimini. For Fellini, Rimini is everywhere.
And for Rimini, Fellini is everywhere, too. The city’s airport has been named after him, there is a Pizza Fellini in the town centre as well as a Via La Dolce Vita and a Via La Strada (essentially “Street Street”) since all of Fellini’s 26 films have been honoured by having a street in their name.
Meanwhile, street paintings recall some of the most famous scenes of the maestro’s work and the interiors of many bars, cafés and restaurants are cashing in on their popularity. Still, Lourdes and Sainte Bernadette this is decidedly not, and you can actually walk through town for hours without being oppressively reminded of Fellini.
Let’s try to remember the Rimini of Fellini with this walk
But that’s not what we came here for, of course: on the contrary. We came here to retrace the master’s footsteps and will start on Via Roma, one block away from the central train station, where – at no. 41 – you can find the house (“Villa Amarcord”) where Titta Benzi grew up, Fellini’s childhood friend and the model for Amarcord’s central character (who went on to become a respected lawyer and remained Fellini’s lifelong best friend).
Take the next street, called Via XXII Giugno, and continue into Via Sella and Via Mentana up to Piazza Tre Martiri whose Tempietto San Antonio was rebuilt in Cinecittà for the central square in Amarcord.
Turn right into Corso d’Augosto. Fellini grew up in the building at no. 115, also called Palazzo Ripa.
In fact, the family moved half a dozen times during Federico’s childhood, but this flat is the first one that Fellini actually remembered, as he later said. (He was born in a house on 10 Via Fardanelli but had no recollection of the building and only remembered his father telling him “this is where you were born” when driving past in a horse-drawn carriage. This house no longer exists.)
Half a block further down on Corso d’Augusto, Piazza Cavour will open up on your left hand side. Piazza Cavour very much provided the blueprint for the central town square in Amarcord.
You may remember the Fontana Della Pigna from the scenes of the snowball fight and the peacock …
… and the stairs of the Palazzo Arengo from the film’s fascist parade.
(The fountain and the piazza’s papal statue are also clearly recognizable in the sets for Fellini’s 8 1/2.)
After Fellini’s death, his body was lying in state in the former foyer of the Teatro Galli at the top of the piazza.
Next on Corso d’Augusto – on no. 162 – is the Fulgor cinema …
… where Fellini watched his first ever movie (a sword-and-sandal epic called Maciste), sitting as a five-year-old on his father’s lap in 1925.
In the Fulgor, as Fellini later confessed in his book La Mia Rimini, he also touched up Gradisca (Amarcord’s femme fatale), sitting next to her in the audience and slowly shoving his hand further and further up her leg until she asked him whether he had lost something and whether she could help him look for it.
The cinema is in a near-constant state of reconstruction and will eventually become a Fellini Museum, although nobody quite knows when. (They appear to push the probable date of completion further back with every year.)
Take a turn to the left for Sismondo Castle, a 15th century fortress built by Sigismondo Malatesta (to this day, the only person to be “canonized to hell” by a papal edict).
The huge front court of the castle, currently under construction and used as a parking lot, was once Rimini’s main exhibition and fairground space. This is where Fellini saw his first travelling show and where his life-long love affair with the circus began.
The castle itself was at the time used as the town prison, and Fellini later remembered how the prisoners “exchanged jokes with the clowns and shouted obscenities at the female acrobats” who were unlucky enough to pass by under their cells.
From the castle, turn towards the Tiberius Bridge and then right along Porto Canale fishing port.
This is where the vitelloni (the “young layabouts”) hung out and where Alberto asks: “If somebody offered you 10,000 lire, would you jump in?” (Riccardo, played by Fellini’s brother Riccardo who was later to become one of Italy’s foremost documentary filmers, says he would.)
Follow the canal down to the coast and turn right for the Grand Hotel, famous for the dreamlike dance sequences in Amarcord.
When Fellini was a child, the Grand Hotel was visited by foreign millionaires and aristocrats: for Federico and his friends, it became the very symbol of distant and unobtainable glamour. Later in his life, Fellini made it a point to stay here on all of his return visits to Rimini (always in the same room: no. 315). This is also where he suffered the stroke that would eventually kill him in 1993.
Learned essays and one whole book have been written about the role that the sea plays in Fellini’s films. The Mediterranean certainly puts in numerous appearances, and one might imagine the relatively wild coast to the northwest of the Grand Hotel …
… as the home of the terrifying Saraghina (from 8 1/2) who was, it is said, modelled after a “woman with a certain reputation” who lived rough in a beach cabin near-by, although nobody knows or remembers any details. Or as the place where the sea monster was beached – a real event in Rimini from 1935 that clearly inspired the final scene of La Dolce Vita.
Further up the coast, however, the town’s coastline was changed, changed utterly in the 1950s when the “terrible beauty” of new Rimini was born.
One can sympathize with Fellini who wrote in his autobiography, having returned to conduct some on-site research for his book, that he failed to recognize the city of his own youth.
This city, whatever it may have been like, has been lost for ever – but for that, we shall always have Amarcord.