It is extremely feline.
As I walk through the door of the 600-year-old Castel Sismondo in Rimini, on Italy’s Adriatic coast, I’m enveloped by a mumbling voice. No, the voice is not my own internal monologue saying, “uh, what’s this trippy place”, even if it adds to that feeling. Instead, the voice sputters trains of thought in Italian, complete with notes and scripts by iconic Italian director Federico Fellini. Like Fellini’s films, the new Fellini Museum is a fantastical, bizarre, lavish and extravagant experience – words that now define ‘Feliniesque’ in the Oxford dictionary – and I can’t wait to tell people about it.
An epic tribute to Fellini
I first heard of Fellini in college when an ex-girlfriend showed me The good life. The Italian film, shot in black and white in 1960, depicts life among the upper echelons of Roman society. The movie blew my mind, so when I heard a museum dedicated to the legendary director opened last year in his hometown, I knew I had to go.
Every time I told an Italian I was going to Rimini, he would scoff and say something like, “The town was a beach club in the 90s and it’s well past its prime. Or, “It was ruined in World War II – nothing to do there.” But when I walked through the hourly spraying water mist in front of the museum (tribute to the end of 8½) and entered the Fellini Museum, I quickly wanted to laugh back.
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I quickly realize that the museum is unlike any art exhibition I have seen. What strikes me first is that the museum is housed in a Renaissance-era castle, Castel Sismondo, which was first built in 1437, a good 50 years before that infamous explorer Italian did crash into what we now call North America, where I’m from. The castle had mostly sat unused for decades before a 10 million euro revitalization turned it into the museum we see today. Then, after passing through the stationery entrance, I became mesmerized by an arc of screens featuring Fellini’s wife, Giulietta Masina, who starred in La Strada (1956) and Cabiria Nights (1957) – films that won back-to-back Academy Awards in the Best Foreign Language Film category (it won four in total).
Then I enter the largest room in the castle and snap to the left where a crane is dangerously resting on a truck (a technique used by Fellini during filming), then I turn around to see sheets on the ground with the air blowing below to simulate the ocean (as seen in casanova (1976)). My wonder continues in the next room, where I see a gigantic plush doll of The good life star Anita Ekberg and lean against her to watch a scene from the film. Upstairs, there’s a giant steel ball sticking out of the ceiling (as seen at the end of Orchestral Proof) and confessionals that I open to reveal interviews with Fellini.
How would Fellini, who moved from Rimini to Rome at the age of 19, think his art would be housed in a historic castle, I wondered aloud.
“He would smile,” said Marco Leonetti, a municipal official responsible for the museum.
From the car park to the lively square
The idea of building the Fellini Museum was meant to do in Rimini what the Guggenheim Museum did in Bilbao, Spain, and as I walk around the city, I can’t help but see that potential.
Municipality of Rimini
Piazza Malatesta, an 18th-century square outside the museum, was once a car park, but recent renovations have turned it into an attractive public square with lanterns honoring the poet Tonino Guerro. The square also has more Fellini tributes, such as a rhinoceros as seen in And the ship sails (1983) (although it was roped up so you couldn’t climb on it, which honestly I find a shame), and a circular bench to evoke the ring o’roses scene in 8½.
Next to the square, I look up at the Teatro Galli, a 19th-century theater that was destroyed by Allied forces during World War II and left in ruins for 75 years before reopening in 2018. I also visit the Palazzo del Fulgor, an extension of the Fellini Museum where he fell in love with American cinema. Inside are movie posters and a few other interactive exhibits, including The Room of Words, another sound bath of Fellini’s words in a tent-like metal structure.
But while the museum and square are the focal points of Rimini’s revitalization, I find the city to be completely underrated. Along the Flume Marecchia, I pass Ponte Di Tiberio, a Roman bridge built in the year 21 (!) which was used for cars until recently. Across the river, I meander through Rimini’s historic quarter, Borgo San Giuliano, and take far too many photos of colorful houses with unique murals and tiny European cars parked out front.
Even Rimini’s food is excellent. For lunch at Nud e Crud, I order gazpacho with a creamier-than-creamy ball of bufala cheese and try the city’s favorite street food—piadinaa flatbread sandwich with fresh Italian produce (never a bad idea) – accompanied by a glass of Rebola, a wine made from grapes grown in the Rimini region.
Of course, I couldn’t leave town without seeing the beach, and as I walked along the sand, I imagine thousands of shirtless revelers as it might have been in the 90s, although sadly it wasn’t happening not much at the time. .
Fellini had a saying, “everything is imagined”. And while revitalizing Rimini certainly hasn’t come cheap, I think it’s time to start imagining the director’s hometown a little differently.