The Tempio Malatestiano (Malatesta Temple) in Rimini is a rare treasure trove of historical and artistic gems telling of the history and the highs and lows of the city. The Cathedral of Rimini, with the title of Santa Colomba since 1809, was declared a temple in the 18th century when the word temple meant a church and derived from the humanist Latin term Templum. The adjective Malatestiano relates to the seigniory of Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta, who commissioned the extraordinary renovation project that made the relatively plain conventual church of San Francesco a jewel of Humanism. Designed to incorporate the existing 12th century Franciscan church which, in turn, had been built around the structure of the 11th century Benedictine church of Santa Maria in Trivio, the original project for extending the Tempio Malatestiano of Rimini was much more modest and involved the construction of two noble chapels on the right side of the church. A more ambitious project was chosen instead, probably for the purpose of propaganda and perhaps also for static reasons, and for which Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta turned to the architect Leon Battista Alberi, one of the most important architects of the Italian Humanist movement. Begun in 1447, the Tempio Malatestiano in Rimini was his first architectural work which involved the transformation of the church of San Francesco (in the cemetery of which members of the Malatesta family were already buried), in the full spirit of Humanism and the Renaissance, into a temple-mausoleum for the lord of the city, Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta. The project was carried out by Matteo de’ Pasti between 1450 and 1460, but was never completed. Inspired by the principles of construction and architectural designs of Imperial Rome, the plastic solution for the layout of the Tempio Malatestiano and its formal interpretation made it a “symbolic building” of the Humanist movement. The classic monumental architecture of the marble exterior is in stark contrast with the more Gothic style of the interior which reflects the traditional courtly predilection of the time for celebratory decorativism. The diverse history of this impressive cathedral is evident not only in the architecture but also in the various masterpieces of great artists which can be found inside: like the wooden cross painted by Giotto, the fresco of San Sigismondo venerated by Sigismondo Malatesta by Piero della Francesca, in the Cella delle Reliquie (the Reliquiary), sculptures and bas reliefs by Agostino di Duccio, a painting by Bartolomeo Coda, and the relic of San Gaudenzio, an eighteenth century work by the German silversmith Franz Rupert Lang. The themes of the decoration in the chapels formed the core work of artists and various important scholars and humanists of the time, like Guarino da Verona, Basinio da Parma, Roberto Valturio and Poggio Bracciolini. The construction of the Tempio Malatestiano stopped in 1460-1461 due to a disagreement between Pope Pius II and Sigismondo Malatesta who, in 1463, was deposed and relieved of much of the state. There were later adjustments, the last of which, in 1862, was by the architect Luigi Poletti who restored the splendour of the gold and azure colours in the Cappella dei Martiri (Martyrs’ Chapel) of Our Lady of the waters. During the Second World War, the Tempio Malatestiano suffered considerable damage; it was rebuilt and restored after 1950, and given a final restoration in 2000 which permitted partial recovery of the original polychromy.
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