Pennabilli is a medieval town, capital of the southernmost municipality of Emilia Romagna. Its territory is partly covered by the Regional Park of Sasso Simone and Simoncello. Despite its small size, the town has had various important people, who have enriched the city's culture. Particularly important are Matteo da Bascio (born Matteo Serafini), founder of the Frati Minori Cappuccini clerical order; Orazio Olivieri, a priest who went on a clerical mission to Lhasa and contributed to the first Italian-to-Tibetan dictionary (which was then used as based for the first English-to-Tibetan); and Tonino Guerra, a poet who has lived in Pennabilli since 1989.
Thanks to the travel of Orazio Olivieri in the 18th century, Pennabilli is today tightly bound with Tibet. In 1994, Tenzin Gyatso, XIV Dalai Lama, visited the city to celebrate the 250th anniversary since the death of the missionary. In 2005 the Dalai Lama came again, and a metallic structure holding a bell (a reproduction of the original bell in Olivieri's mission) and three Tibetan manikorlos (rotating prayer mills) was installed on the hilltop of the city. The bell and the manikorlos (each with the Buddhist Oṃ Maṇi Padme Hūṃ printed on it) can be freely operated by visitors.
Tonino Guerra, during his stay, enriched the city with a number of permanent artistic installations, which were named "I luoghi dell'anima" (places of the soul).
Archaeological evidences suggest that the area started to get populated during the initial Roman age. At the time of barbarian invasions, around the half of the first millennium AD, the two hills upon which the city is situated (now called "Roccione" and "Rupe") were serving as shelter for the locals, living in the proximity of the Marecchia River. This gave rise to the two communities of "Penna" and "Billi", named after their particular topology: the former comes from pinna (top, summit, pinnacle), the latter from bilia (pinnacle among the trees). Some sources suggest instead that "Billi" was named after "Bel", the Etruscan god of fire, whose former temple become during the Christian age a church dedicated to the worship of Saint Lorenz (the martyr of fire).
In 1004, a member of the powerful Carpegna family, known behind his back as "Malatesta" (bad head), probably because he was stubborn and hardheaded, started to build a stronghold on Roccione. This is the origin of one of the most famous and important medieval lineages in Italy, whose members later conquered Verucchio, Rimini and most of the Romagna.
The union of Penna and Billi took place in 1350, when the "stone of peace" was placed on the market place between the two towns. The newborn municipality was consecutively conquered by Malatesta and the Montefeltro and Medici families, ending up being absorbed by the Papal State. In 1572 the bishop's residence was transferred to Pennabilli from San Leo, and Pope Gregor XIII gave the municipality the status of "Città" (City). Today, Pennabilli is still the capital of the San Marino-Montefeltro diocese.
Until August 15, 2009, the commune belonged to the Marche (Pesaro-Urbino province) from which it was detached, together with six other municipalities of the Alta Valmarecchia area, following a referendum held on December 17 and 18, 2006.
The nearest train station is in Rimini.
From Rimini, there are buses connecting to Novafeltria, and from there to Pennabilli. Lines 160 and 161 connect the fraction of Ponte Messa to Rimini through Pennabilli and Novafeltria. It is possible to buy the ticket at the office in front of the Rimini train station, at some bars and in news-stands. Once bought, the ticket must be validated when on board.
Getting there by car is the easiest way. If you come from the Adriatic side, get off the A14 highway at Rimini Nord and follow the signs for Sant'Arcangelo di Romagna and San Leo, or Rimini Sud and follow the directions towards Montefeltro and San Leo. The goal is to reach the strada provinciale 258 R Marecchia (SP 258). Leave SP 258 after about 8km, following the signs for Pennabilli.
From the Tirrenian side, from Arezzo go to Sansepolcro and follow SP 258 towards Rimini, across Passo di Viamaggio. When in Ponte Messa turn right towards Pennabilli.
The city is small enough to be walked. Fractions are a bit distant (on average 3-6km from the capital), and not connected by public transport: if you want to get there, a car is recommended.
For getting outside the center, for instance to Scavolino or Maciano, the easiest way is by car. Roads can be tight, but the traffic is very loose.
A bicycle can be a viable alternative if you are a sporty person, and will allow you to enjoy the panoramas. Distances are not prohibitive, the biggest hazards will be the long rises, sometimes rather steep.
- 1 L'orto dei Frutti Dimenticati (Garden of Forgotten Fruits), Via Salita Valentini, 1, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. It's the first installation made by Tonino Guerra, created on a former vegetables garden belonging to monks. It hosts several plants once part of the local flora but nowadays almost disappeared, and several artistic installations, shown below. Free.
- Meridiana dell'Incontro (Sundial of the Meeting). During the afternoon, the shadows of the two bronze doves composing the sundial shape like the profiles of Federico Fellini and Giulietta Masina.
- Meridiana Umana (Human Sundial). The visitor is the pole of the sundial: if you stand in the correct position, your shadow will project the current time.
- Porta delle Lumache (Door of the Snails). In a chapel built using stones taken from the ruins of old churches of Montefeltro, are hosted some ceramic-made snails by Aldo Rontini.
- Bosco Incantato (Enchanted Wood). A "Labirinto dell'anima" (Soul labyrinth), made of stone stems carved with stone pine cones and acorns, with a bronze snail in the centre (symbol of calm and reflection). According to the author, if you enter the Bosco Incantato you will lose your memory and remember only the most beautiful day of your life.
- Il Gelso della Pace (The Mulberry of Peace). A tree left by the Dalai Lama on June 15, 1994.
- La Voce della Foglia (The Leaf's Voice). A three-meter-tall leaf-shaped fountain, whose base is a former watermill part.
- Il Vecchio Lavatoio (The Old Laundry). Once the place where the women of the village went to wash their clothes, today hosts a twelve plates with "Le parole dei mesi" (the months' words).
- Il Rifugio delle Madonne Abbandonate (The Shelter of Forsaken Madonnas). Traditionally, in this part of Italy many small sanctuaries to the Virgin Mary were raised along the most important streets as protection and prayer posts for travellers. Many of those small temples got abandoned and ruined by time and weather. Il rifugio delle Madonne hosts a collection of Virgin Mary iconography inspired by those places. Most of the works are ceramic-made portraits made by potter masters of Faenza. The collection is constantly expanding, due to various donations.
- 2 [formerly dead link] La Strada delle Meridiane (The Road of the Sundials), Via Salita Valentini, 1, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Except for Meridiana Umana, located within L'orto dei frutti dimenticati, all the others can be seen during the whole day.. Pennabilli hosts, spread around the medieval town, seven sundials. The first one is "Meridiana Umana" in "L'orto dei frutti dimenticati", the other six are painted on the faces of various building. Their images were made by painter Mario Arnaldi, who worked along with Prof. Giovanni Paltrinieri to make every painting a sundial. Free.
- 3 Il Santuario dei Pensieri (The Sanctuary of the Thoughts), Via Canavina (From Roccione Basso, turn right on the rise. Just before Porta Malatesta, turn right (there are few steps).), ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Always open. Il Santuario dei Pensieri is built within a former Malatesta's castle room, whose ruins of wall survived to modern days. In here, seven sculptures from Tonino Guerra are stored, he defined them "seven opaque mirrors for the mind". Each of the seven sculpture is an invite to meditation and introspection, favorited by the isolation and silence of the area. Free.
- 4 La Madonna del Rettangolo di Neve (The Snowy Rectangle's Madonna), Via Canavina (Follow SS 258 towards San Sepolcro. You'll get to Ca' Romano. You will need to walk in a small dirt patch until you reach a small stone chapel.), ✉ email@example.com. A small chapel built within a wood in 1754, hosting a ceramic work of master potter Muky and a Tonino Guerra's leaf sculpture on the door. The legend says that the inhabitants of Ca' Romano were arguing for long to decide where to build a chapel. One day of August, an unexpected (and miraculous, given the month) snowfall covered the whole town but a small rectangle within the wood. This was interpreted as a sign from the Virgin Mary, and the chapel was built within that rectangle. Free.
- 5 Giardino Pietrificato (Petrified Garden), Bascio (Follow SS 258 towards San Sepolcro. You'll get to Molino di Bascio. Turn left uphill and continue until you don't see the tower.), ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. A thousand-years old tower surrounded by seven ceramic carpets from Giovanni Urbinati. Free.
- Il tappeto dell’anatra dal collo azzurro (The Carpet of the blue-neck duck). Dedicated to the countess Fanina dei Borboni di Francia, married to a Carpegna captain. She went crazy for her loneliness, and committed to wind her help requests.
- Il tappeto delle onde quiete (The Carpet of the quiet waves). In honor of Giotto di Bondone, Italian painter: “dal Montefeltro vide lontanissimi i primi bagliori azzurri dell’Adriatico“: "from the Montefeltro he saw from very far the first blue Adriatic Sea's shines.
- Il tappeto delle piramidi sognate (The Carpet of the dreamt pyramids). In honor of Bonconte da Montefeltro, "may the thirty-five pyramids be graves for his body, swallowed by the river of the battle".
- Il tappeto delle Cattedrali abbandonate (The Carpet of the abandoned Cathedrals). In honor of Matteo da bascio, founder of the Cappuccini monks.
- Il tappeto delle conchiglie montanare (The Carpet of the shells living on the mountains). In honor of Uguccione della Faggiola.
- Il tappeto dei pensieri chiari (The Carpet of the bright thoughts). In honor of Dante Alighieri, "who seen the tower of Bascio while fleeing from Florence to reach the sea's noise in Ravenna".
- Il tappeto dei pensieri oscuri (The Carpet of the dark thoughts). In honor of Ezra Pound, who lived for a short time in Pennabilli.
- 6 L'Angelo coi Baffi (The Angel with the Moustache), Via Olivieri, 5, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Always open. Known as the smallest museum in the world. Hosted in a former chapel ("Cappellina dei Caduti") a single painting by Luigi Poiaghi, inspired by a novel written by Tonino Guerra. Free.
- 7 Naturalistic Museum of Pennabilli, Via dei Tigli 5/a. Collection of dioramas of the specimens populating the Regional Park of Sasso Simone and Simoncello, particularly interesting are the stuffed birds of prey, the feral cat and the wolf.
- 8 Mateureka, Piazza Garibaldi, ☏ , . The museum opens between 8:30 to 18:00 only if a proper reservation is made for a group (call the phone number). In July and August, it is open also without any reservation on Saturday and Sunday from 10:00 to 12:30 and from 15:30 to 18:00. Mateureka is a museum of calculus and mathematics. It contains hundreds of historical and traditional objects from around the world: Sumer tablets from 4500 years ago, Roman and Etruscan stones, abacuses, Chinese suan pans, Japanese sorobans, Russian schoties, Incas quipù, Peruvian chimpù, and many others. The museum includes laboratory-rooms, where the visitors can experiment mathematical concepts and ideas: watch zero and infinity, manipulate the Pythagoras' Theorem, dive into fractals. Normal entry fee is 5€. Guided tour is 6€, for groups of at least 10 people, and includes laboratory activity. It is possible to pay 1€ more to extend the guided tour to cover I Luoghi dell'Anima. Entry is free for professors along with groups of students, disabled people and helpers.
- 9 Museo Diocesano del Montefeltro, Piazza Sant'Agostino, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Thursday and Saturday: 9:30-12:30. Friday and Sunday: 15.00-18.30. Closed on January, February and March.. Religious artworks.
- 1 Artisti in Piazza, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Early June, from Thursday at 20:00 to Sunday at 3:30.. The whole city becomes a distributed stage, for one of the biggest buskers festivals in Italy. Hundreds of performers from all over the world attract every year 40000 visitors. Three days 23€, two days (Friday and Saturday or Saturday and Sunday) 20€, single day (Friday, Saturday or Sunday) 10€, Thursday 8€. Free for under 14..
- Piastrino, Via Parco Begni, ☏ .
- Al Bel Fico, Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II, ☏ .
- Albergo Lago Verde (Near Lago d'Andreuccio, 7km from the center of Pennabilly), ☏ .
As of June 2021, Pennabilli has 4G from TIM but a poor signal from other carriers. 5G has not reached this area.
Pennabilli is a safe place, even for women traveling alone. There are no reported cases of theft or violence against tourists. The Montefeltro area has been targeted by burglars, but no pickpockets have been reported.
- Police. To report theft you should generally go to the Carabinieri station in Viale dei Tigli.
From Pennabilli, your travel may involve other localities of Montefeltro: San Leo and Sant'Agata Feltria are very nice medieval towns. The Republic of San Marino in the surrounding area. Those who prefer the seaside and an intense night life may want to move on to the Riviera Adriatica. Bikers will love the Passo di Viamaggio, connecting Pennabilli to Tuscany.