Giuseppe Balsamo, better known with the name of Alessandro, Count of Cagliostro, was the most famous prisoner of the San Leo fortress.
A self-styled magician, thaumaturg, fortune teller, alchemist and foreseer, he was known among his contemporaries also as a frequent caller at courts and social gatherings, appreciated by the European nobility and princes for his versatile and attracting activities.
He was condemned to death by the High court of the Holy Office on 4 April 1791, and later pardoned with imprisonment for life by Pope Pio VI.
Behind his condemnation for heresy there lay political reasons, and he served 4 years and 4 months of hard imprisonment.
He was accused to have founded a new massonic lobby in the Papal States and of keeping contacts with the French Massonery.
Cagliostro could not deny the accuse because the deed was proved by the publication of one of his writings “Rituels de la maconnerie egiptienne” ( Rituals from the Egyptian masonry): he could only defend his unsustainable spiritual position. At first he was imprisoned in the cell of the “treasure”, named so because the dukes of Urbino used to keep their gold and jewels there.
The cell was placed on the sheer cliff on the top of the mountain and it was the safest cell. Then, he was moved to the cell named of the well because the entrance was through a trap-door on the ceiling. Cagliostro was forbidden to write or communicate with anybody.
He was closely watched in the fear he could commit suicide or tried to escape. Although he was kept completely isolated by the rest of the world, he kept on rising curiosity around him so that legends and false news about him continued to flourish for a long time.
He died on 26 August 1796, probably for an apoplectic attack, at the age of 52. He never confessed or denied his creed, therefore he died an heretic and excommunicate and he was denied a Christian burial. Though some claim he is still with us…
Where to stay in San Leo
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