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An article from the 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica, now in the public domain.
Any color photos are mine, © William P. Thayer.

Vol. XXIII
p344
Rimini

Rimini, a town and bishop's see of Italy, in the province of Forlì, Emilia, on the Adriatic coast, 69 m. SE of Bologna by rail. Pop. (1901) town, 18,022; commune, 46,801.a The city is bounded on three sides by water. It faces the Adriatic to the north, has the torrent Aprusa, now called Ausa, on the east, and the river Marecchia on the west. It stands in a fertile plain, which on the southern side soon swells into pleasant slopes backed by the jagged peaks of the Umbrian Apennines. The foremost foothill of the range is the steep crag of Mons Titanus, crowned by the towers of the republic of San Marino. Rimini attracts numerous visitors for the sea-bathing at Porta Marina. It has mineral springs, and the industries comprise fisheries, ironworks and foundries, sulphur furnaces, silk-mills, rope walks, match factories, brickworks, flour-mills and furniture. Its main interest, however, is historical. Apart from, the ancient buildings, &c., referred to below, Rimini can boast of a good public library, founded by the jurist Gambalunga in 1617, a municipal picture gallery, an archaeological museum, a technical school (1882) and a bronze statue of Pope Paul V. The ancient castle of Sigismondo Malatesta, now dilapidated, has in recent years been used as a prison.b

History. — Rimini is the ancient Ariminum (q.v. for its early history and remains). During the middle ages the history of Rimini has no importance. Alternately captured by Byzantines and Goths, it was rigorously besieged by the latter in A.D. 538. They were, however, compelled to retreat before the reinforcements sent by Belisarius and Narses; thus the Byzantines, after various vicissitudes, became masters of the town, appointed a duke as its governor, and included it in the exarchate of Ravenna. It afterwards fell into the power of the Longobards, and then of the Franks, who yielded it to the pope, for whom it was governed by counts to the end of the 10th century. Soon after this period the imperial power became dominant in Rimini. In 1157 Frederick I gave it, by imperial patent, the privilege of coining money and the right of self-government; and in the 13th century we find Rimini an independent commune waging war on the neighbouring cities.

In the year 1216, Rimini, being worsted by Cesena, adopted the desperate plan of granting citizenship to two members of the powerful Malatesta tribe, Giovanni and Malatesta, for the sake of their aid and that of their vassals in the defence of the state and the conduct of the war. This family quickly struck root in the town and gave birth to future tyrants; for in 1237 Giovanni was named podestà, and this office was the first step towards the sovereign power afterwards assumed by his descendants. Meanwhile, Rimini was torn by the feuds of Guelf and Ghibelline. The latter were the dominant party in the days of Frederick II, although very unpopular on account of the grievous taxes imposed by the empire. Accordingly, the majority of the urban nobles joined the Guelfs and were driven into exile. But before long, as the Swabian power declined in Italy, the Guelf party was again predominant.

Then followed a long period of confusion, in which, by means of conspiracies and crimes of every kind, the Malatesta succeeded in becoming masters and tyrants of Rimini. Giovanni Malatesta had died in 1247 and been succeeded by his son Malatesta, born in 1212, and surnamed Malatesta da Verrucchio. This chieftain, who lived to be a hundred years old, had ample time to mature his ambitious designs, and was the real founder of his house. Seizing the first suitable moment, he placed himself at the head of the exiled Guelfs, and restored them to Rimini. Then, as the empire acquired fresh strength in Italy, he quietly bided his time and, on the descent of the Angevins, again assumed the leadership of the Guelfs who now had the upper hand for a long time. Being repeatedly elected podestà for lengthy terms of office, he at last became the virtual master of Rimini. Nor was he checked by Rome. Pope Boniface VIII was fully aware of the rights and traditional pretensions of the Holy See, but preferred to keep on good terms with one who had so largely contributed to the triumph of the Guelfs in Romagna. Accordingly he not only left Malatesta unmolested, but in 1299 conferred on him fresh honours and estates, so that p345his power went on increasing to the day of his death in 1312.

Four sons had been born to Malatesta — Malatestino, Giovanni the Lame, Paolo the Handsome, and Pandolfo; but only the oldest and youngest survived him, Giovanni the Lame (Sciancato), a man of a daring impetuosity only equalled by his ugliness, had proved so useful a general to Giovanni da Polenta of Ravenna as to win in reward the hand of that potentate's beautiful daughter, known to history as Francesca da Rimini. But her heart had been won by the handsome Paolo, her brother-in‑law; and the two lovers, being surprised by Giovanni, were murdered by him on the spot (1285). This episode of the story of the Malatesta has been immortalized in Dante's Inferno. Giovanni died in 1304. Thus in 1312 Malatestino became lord of Rimini, and on his decease in 1317 bequeathed the power to his brother Pandolfo.

Pandolfo died in 1326, leaving two heirs, Malatesta and Galeotto. The former was nicknamed Guastafamiglia,º because, although at first willing to let his brother share his power, he rid himself by violence and treachery of other kinsmen who claimed their just rights to a portion of the state. His intent was to become sole lord and to aggrandize his tiny principality. But the reigning pope, Innocent VI, despatched the terrible Cardinal Albornoz to Romagna, and it was speedily reduced by fire and sword. In 1355 the Malatesta shared the fate of the other potentates of the land. Nevertheless, it was the cardinal's policy to let existing governments stand, provided they promised to act in subordination to the papal see. Thus he granted the Malatesta brothers the investiture of Rimini, Pesaro, Fano and Fossombrone, and they arranged a division of the state. Guastafamiglia took Pesaro, which was held by his descendants down to the brothers Carlo and Galeazzo. The former of these, who died in 1439, was father to the Parisina beheaded in Ferrara, whose tragic love story has been sung by Byron. The latter won the title of "l' Inetto" (the Incapable) by the foolish sale of his rights over Pesaro to the Sforza in 1447.

Galeotto, on the other hand, retained the lordship of Rimini, ruling tranquilly and on good terms with the popes, who allowed him to add Cervia, Cesena and Bertinoro to his states. Dying in 1385 at the age of eighty, he left two sons — Carlo, who became lord of Rimini, and Pandolfo, who had Fano for his share. Carlo (1364‑1429) was energetic, valiant and a friend of the popes, who named him vicar of the church in Romagna. He was a patron of letters and the arts, and during his reign his court began to be renowned for its splendour. As he left no issue, his inheritance was added to that of his brother Pandolfo, and Fano was once more united to Rimini. Pandolfo (1370‑1427) had led the life of a condottiere, taking a prominent part in the Lombard wars following on the death of Galeazzo Maria Visconti, and held rule for some time in Brescia and Bergamo. He left three natural sons, who were declared legitimate by Pope Martin V. The eldest, Galeotto (1411‑1432), was an ascetic, gave little or no attention to public business, and, dying early, bequeathed the state to his brother Sigismondo Pandolfo. The third son, Novello Malatesta (1418‑1465) ruled over Cesena.

Sigismondo (1417‑1468) is the personage to whom Rimini owes its renown during the Renaissance, of which indeed he was one of the strangest and most original representatives. He was born in Brescia, and when called to the succession, at the age of fifteen, had already given proofs of valour in the field. His knowledge of antiquity was so profound as to excite the admiration of all the learned men with whom he discoursed, even when, as in the case of Pius II, they chanced to be his personal enemies. To him is due the erection of the church of St Francis, or temple of the Malatesta, one of the rarest gems of the Renaissance and the greatest of Rimini's treasures (see below for description).

Of so dissolute a life that, although married, he had children by several mistresses at the same time, he gave vent to all his passions with a ferocity that was bestial rather than human. And — as the crowning contradiction of his strange nature — from his youth to the day of his death he remained the devoted lover of the woman for whose sake he became a poet, whom he finally made his wife, and whom he exalted in every way, even to the point of rendering her almost divine honours. Yet this love never availed to check his excesses. On assuming power in 1432, Sigismondo was already affianced to the daughter of Count Carmagnola; but when that famous leader was arraigned as a traitor by the Venetians, and ignominiously put to death, he promptly withdrew from his engagement, under the pretext that it was impossible to marry the child of a criminal. In fact, he aimed at a higher alliance, for he espoused Ginevra d'Este, daughter of the duke of Ferrara, and his entry into Rimini with his bride in 1434 was celebrated by splendid festivities. In 1437 a son was born to him, but died within the year, and in 1440 the young mother followed itº to the grave. Every one declared that she died by poison administered by her husband. This, however, was never proved. The duke of Ferrara remained his friend, nor is it known what motive Sigismondo could have for wishing to get rid of his wife. Two years afterwards he married Polissena, daughter of the famous condottiere Francesco Sforza, who in 1443 bore him a son named Galeotto Roberto. But by this time he was already madly in love with Isotta degli Atti, and this was the passion that endured to his death. The lady succeeded in gaining an absolute ascendancy over him, which increased with time. She bore him several children, but this did not prevent his having others by different concubines. Such being the nature of the man, it is not astonishing that, as his ardour for Isotta increased, he should have little scruple in ridding himself of his second wife. On the 1st June 1450 Polissena died by strangling, and on the 30th of the same month Isotta's offspring were legitimated by Nicholas V.

It is only just to record that, although Malatesta's intrigue with Isotta had long been notorious to all, and he had never sought to conceal it, no one ever accused her of either direct or indirect complicity in her lover's crimes. Isotta's history, however, is a strange one, and opens up many curious questions. She was of noble birth and seems to have attracted Sigismondo's notice as early as 1438, for at the age of twenty he produced verses of some merit in praise of her charms. She was indeed widely celebrated for her beauty and intellect, culture, firmness and prudence; and even Pope Pius II proclaimed her worthy to be greatly loved. When Sigismondo was absent she governed Rimini wisely and well, and proved herself a match for the statesmen with whom she had to deal. The leading poets of the court dedicated to her a collection of verses entitled Isottaei, styled her their mistress and the chosen of Apollo. Artists of renown perpetuated her features on canvas, on marble and on many exquisite medals, one of which has a closed book graven on the reverse, with the inscription "Elegiae" in allusion to poems she was said to have written. Nevertheless, Yriarte, in his book on the Malatesta and Rimini, asserted that there was documentary evidence to prove that Isotta was unable to sign her own name. But it is not at all surprising that Isotta should have her letters written and signed by another hand, when such was by no means an uncommon practice among the princes and nobilities of her day. Lucrezia Borgia, for instance, frequently did the same. It is besides simply incredible that a woman of the Italian Renaissance of Isotta's birth, standing and reputation should have been unable to write.

Her marriage with Malatesta did not take place until 1456; but of the ardent affection that had long bound them together there are stronger proofs than the lover's juvenile verses, or than even the children Isotta had borne to him. For, more than all else, the temple of St Francis has served to transmit to posterity the history of their loves. Malatesta decided on building this remarkable church as a thank-offering for his safety during a dangerous campaign undertaken for Pope Eugenius IV about the year 1445.

The first stone was laid in 1446, and the work was carried on p346with so much alacrity that mass was performed in it by the close of 1450. Sigismondo entrusted the execution of his plans to Leo Battista Alberti, who had to encase in a shell of classic architecture a 13th‑century Franciscan church. The original edifice being left intact, it was a difficult question how to deal with the windows and the Gothic arches of the interior. Alberti solved the problem with marvellous skill, blending the old architecture with the new style of the Renaissance, and giving it variety without destroying its unity of effect.

Being eager to adorn his temple with the most precious marbles, Sigismondo's veneration for antiquity did not prevent him from pillaging many valuable classical remains in Rimini, Ravenna and even in Greece. Such was the zeal with which Alberti pursued his task that the exterior of the little Rimini church is one of the finest and purest achievements of the Renaissance, and surpasses in beauty and elegance all the rest of his works. But it is much to be deplored that he should have left the upper part of the façade unfinished. Alberti came to Rimini, made his design, saw the work begun and then left it to be carried out by very skilful artists, on whom he impressed the necessity of faithfully preserving its general character so as "not to spoil that music."

The internal decorations, especially the enormous quantity of wall ornaments, consisting chiefly of scrolls and bas-reliefs, were executed by different sculptors under the personal direction of Malatesta, who, even when engaged in war, sent continual instructions about their work. It is difficult to give an exact idea of this extraordinary church to those who have no personal acquaintance with it. The vault was never finished, and still shows its rough beams and rafters. The eight side chapels alone are complete, and their pointed arches spring from Renaissance pilasters planted on black marble elephants, the Malatesta emblems, or on baskets of fruit held by children. The surface of the pilasters is divided into compartments encrusted with bas-reliefs of various subjects and styles. Everywhere — on the balustrades closing the chapels, round the base of the pilasters, along the walls, beneath the cornice of both the exterior and the interior of the church — there is one ornament that is perpetually repeated, the interwoven initials of Sigismondo and Isotta. This monogram is alternated with the portrait and arms of Malatesta; and these designs are enwreathed by festoons linked together by the tyrant's second emblem, the rose. The most singular and characteristic feature of this edifice is the almost total absence of every sacred emblem. Rather than to St Francis and the God of the Christians it was dedicated — and that while Sigismondo's second wife still lived — to the glorification of an unhallowed attachment. Nature, science and antiquity were summoned to celebrate the tyrant's love for Isotta. The bas-reliefs of one of the chapels represent Jupiter, Venus, Saturn, Mars and Diana, together with the signs of the zodiac. And these subjects are derived, it appears, from a poem in which Sigismondo had invoked the gods and the signs of the zodiac to soften Isotta's heart and win her to his arms. The pageants of Mars and Diana seem to have been suggested by the Trionfi of Petrarch. Elsewhere we see prophets and sibyls, personifications of the theological virtues and of the sciences. The delicate bas-reliefs of botany and medicine, history and astronomy, have been judged by some writers to be Grecian, on account of the ancient appearance of their marble, their inscriptions in Greek and Latin, and others that have never been deciphered. But a moment's examination of the sculptures is enough to destroy this hypothesis. Besides, some of the inscriptions are very easily read and record "Apollo Ariminaeus" and "Jupiter Ariminaeus".

In the first chapel on the left is the family tomb of the Malatesta, with sculptured records of their triumphs and of their alleged descent from Scipio Africanus. Better worthy of notice is the third chapel to the right, known as that of the Angels, on account of the angels and children carved on its pillars. It is nominally dedicated to the archangel Michael, whose statue is enshrined in it; but the figure has the face of Isotta, the ruling deity of this portion of the church. For here is the splendid and fantastic tomb erected to this lady, during her life and previous to the death of Sigismondo's second wife. No monument, be it remarked, is raised over the burial-place of Ginevra and Polissena. The urn of Isotta's sarcophagus is supported by two elephants, and bears the inscription, "D. Isottae Ariminensi B. M. Sacrum, MCCCCL". The "D." has been generally interpreted as "Divae" and the "B. M." as "Beatae Memoriae". But some, unwilling to credit such profanity, allege that the letters stand for "Bonae Memoriae". Nevertheless, all who have seen the church must admit the improbability of similar scruples.

The numerous artists employed on the interior of the church were under the direction of the proto-maestro Matteo de' Pasti the celebrated medallist. And indeed the peculiar and fantastic character of the sculptures in this chapel frequently recalls the designs of his famous works. All this decoration is in strange contrast with the grandly austere simplicity of the façade and outer walls of the church. There no ornament disturbs the harmony of the lines. The frieze beneath the cornice, reproducing the lovers' initials and the Malatestian ensigns, is in such very low relief that it only enhances the perfection of "that music" produced by the marvellous skill of Alberti. Also the colour of the stone, a soft creamy white, adds to the general beauty of effect. And everything both within and without contributes to the profane and pagan character which it was Sigismondo's purpose to impress on the Christian church. On each of its outer walls are seven arched recesses, intended to contain the ashes of the first literati and scientists of his court. In the first, to the right, is the urn of the poet Basinio, one of his pensioners, in the second that of Giusto de' Conti, author of some rhymes on the Bella Mano, while the third bore the more famous name of Gemisthus Pletho. This well-known Byzantine philosopher was the diffuser of Platonism in Florence during the time of Cosimo de' Medici, and had faith in the revival of paganism. Returning to his own people, he had died in the Morea. Sigismondo, having gone there in command of the Venetian expedition against the Turks, exhumed the philosopher's bones as holy relics, and brought them to Rimini for worthy sepulture in his Christian pantheon. All this is solemnly recorded in the inscription, which is dated 1465. The fourth sarcophagus was that of Roberto Valturio (d. 1489), the engineer, author of De Re Militari, who had been Sigismondo's minister and had aided him in the construction of the castle of Rimini. The other urns on this side were placed by Malatesta's successors, and the arches on the left wall remained untenanted.

Sigismondo understood the science of fortification. He was also the first to discard the use of wooden bomb-shells, and substitute others cast in bronze. As a soldier his numerous campaigns had shown him to be possessed of all the best qualities and worst defects of the free captains of his time. He began his military career in 1432 in the service of Eugenius IV; but, when this pope doubted his good faith and transferred the command to another, he sided with the Venetians against him, though at a later date he again served under him. On the decease of Filippo Maria Visconti in 1447 he joined the Aragonese against Venice and Florence; but, presently changing his flag, fought valiantly against Alphonso of Aragon and forced him to raise the siege of Piombino. In 1454 he accepted a command from the Sienese; but suddenly, after his usual fashion, he made peace with the enemies of the republic, and had to save himself by flight from arrest for his perfidy. It was then that the letters from Isotta were confiscated. After this he began scheming to hasten the coming of the Angevins, and took part in new and more hazardous campaigns against adversaries such as the duke of Urbino, Sforza of Milan, Piccinino, and, worst of all, the Sienese pope, Pius II, his declared and mortal foe. This time Sigismondo had blundered; for the cause of Anjou was hopelessly ruined in Italy. He was therefore driven to make his submission to the pope, but, again rebelling, was summoned to trial in Rome (1460) before a tribunal of hostile cardinals. All the old charges against him were now revived p347and eagerly confirmed. He was pronounced guilty of rapine, incendiarism, incest, assassination and heresy. Consequently he was sentenced to the deprivation of his state (which was probably the main object of the trial), and to be burnt alive as a heretic.

This sentence, however, could not easily be executed, and Sigismondo was only burnt in effigy. But the pope marked the intensity of his hatred by causing the dummy to be carved and dressed with such lifelike resemblance that he was almost able to persuade himself that his hated enemy was really consumed in the flames. Malatesta could afford to laugh at this farce, but he nevertheless prepared in haste for a desperate defence (1462). He knew that the bishop Vitelleschi, together with the duke of Urbino and his own brother Novello Malatesta, lord of Cesena, were advancing against him in force; and, being defeated by them at Pian di Marotta, he was driven to Rome in 1463 to again make submission to the pope. This time he was stripped of all his possessions excepting the city of Rimini and a neighbouring castle, but the sentence of excommunication was withdrawn. The once mighty tyrant of Rimini found himself reduced to penury with a state chiefly composed of a single town. He therefore took service with the Venetians, and in 1464 had the command of an expedition to the Morea. Here his movements were so hampered by the interference of the commissioners of the republic that, with all his valour, he could achieve no decisive success. In 1466 he was able to return to Rimini, for Pius II was dead, and the new pope, Paul II, was less hostile to him. Indeed, the latter offered to give him Spoleto and Foligno, taking Rimini in exchange; but Malatesta was so enraged by the proposal that he went to Rome with a dagger concealed on his person, on purpose to kill the pope. But, being forewarned, Paul received him with great ceremony, and surrounded by cardinals prepared for defence; whereupon Sigismondo changed his mind, fell on his knees and implored forgiveness. His star had now set for ever. For sheer subsistence he had to hire his sword to the pope and quell petty rebellions with a handful of men. At last, his health failing, he returned to his family, and died in Rimini on the 7th of October 1468, aged fifty-one years.

He was succeeded, according to his desire, by Isotta and his son Sallustio. But there was an illegitimate elder son by another mother, named Roberto Malatesta, a valiant and unscrupulous soldier. Befriended by the pope, this man undertook to conquer Rimini for the Holy See, but came there to further his own ends instead (20th October 1469), and, while feigning a desire to share the government with Isotta and her son, resolved, sooner or later, to seize it for himself. This aroused the pope's wrath, and Roberto instantly prepared for defence. Finding an ally in the duke of Urbino, whose eyes were now opened to the aggressive policy of the church, he was able to repulse its forces. Paul II died soon after, and was succeeded by Sixtus IV. Roberto's position was now more secure, and in order to strengthen his recent alliance he betrothed himself to the daughter of the duke of Urbino. The next step was to dispose of his rival kindred. On the 8th of August 1470 Isotta's son was found murdered in a well belonging to the Marcheselli family; and a bloodstained sword, placed in their courtyard by Roberto, made it appear as though they had been guilty of the crime. Towards the end of the same year Isotta died also, apparently of a slow fever, but really, it was believed, by poison. Another of her sons, Valerio, born in 1453, still lived, but he was openly put to death by Roberto on a trumped-up charge of treason. In 1475 the new tyrant celebrated his nuptials with the duke of Urbino's daughter, and, being again taken into favour by the pope, valiantly defended him in Rome against the attacks of the duke of Calabria, and died there in 1482 of the hardships endured in the war. His widow was left regent during the minority of his son Pandolfo, who was nicknamed Pandolfaccio on account of his evil nature. Directly he was of age, he seized the reins of government by killing some relations who had plotted against him, and crushed another conspiracy in the same way. A daring soldier, he distinguished himself at the battle of the Taro against the French; but his tyranny made him hated by his subjects. In 1500, when Cesare Borgia fell on Romagna with violence and fraud, this Malatesta shared the fate of other petty tyrants and had to fly for his life. After the fall of the Borgia he returned, but, being bitterly detested by his people, decided to sell his rights to the Venetians, who had long desired to possess Rimini, and who gave him in exchange the town of Cittadella, some ready money, and a pension for life.

This arrangement was naturally disapproved by Rome, and especially by Julius II; he therefore contrived the league of Cambray on purpose to ruin the Venetians, who were crushingly defeated in 1509. Thereupon the pope, having accomplished his own ends, made alliance with the Venetians, who were now prostrate at his feet, and, with them, the Spaniards and the Swiss, fought against the French at Ravenna in 1512. Here the French were victors, but owing to their heavy losses and the death of their renowned leader, Gaston de Foix, were compelled to retreat. Thus Julius became master of Rimini and the other coveted lands. Malatesta made more than one attempt to win back his city, but always in vain, for his subjects preferred the papal rule, and in 1528 Pope Clement VII became definite master of the town. Thus, after two hundred and fifty years, the sway of the Malatesta came to an end, and Pandolfo was reduced to beggary. He died in 1534, leaving a daughter and two sons in great poverty. The elder, Sigismondo, after various military adventures, died at Reggio d'Emilia in 1543; and Malatesta, the younger, went to fight in the Scotch and English wars, and was never heard of again. Sigismondo had left male heirs who made another attempt to regain Rimini in 1555, but Pope Paul IV declared them deposed in perpetuity in punishment of Pandolfaccio's misdeeds.

From that time the Malatesta became citizens of Venice; their names were inscribed in the Golden Book, and they were admitted to the grand council. With the death, in 1716, of Christina Malatesta, the wife of Niccolo Boldù, the Rimini branch of the family became extinct. The descendants of Giovanni, brother of Malatesta da Verrucchio, who married one of the Sogliano, were known as the Sogliano-Malatesta. The representatives of this branch settled in Rome.

The history of Rimini practically ends with its independence. It fell into obscurity under the rule of the popes, and was not again mentioned in history until, in 1831 and 1845, it began taking a prominent part in the revolutionary movements against papal despotism and in favour of Italian independence.

Bibliography.— Battaglini, Memorie Storiche di Rimini e de' suoi signori, pubblicati con note di G. A. Zanetti (Bologna, 1789); Fossati, Le tempi di Malatesta di Rimini (Foligno, 1794); Moroni, Dizionario di erudizione storico-ecclesiastica (vol. LVII, s.v. "Rimini"); Ch. Yriarte, Rimini: Un Condottiere au XV. Siècle: Études sur les lettres et les arts à la cour des Malatesta (Paris, 1882); Tonini, Storia di Rimini (Rimini, 1848‑62); E. Hutton, Sigismondo Malatesta (London, 1906).

[P. V.]


Thayer's Notes:

a On March 6, 1992, Rimini was created capital of its own province; the 2000 census puts the population of the comune of Rimini at 131,062.

b The Malatesta family, as might be expected of ruthless warlords, have left behind a number of fortresses thruout the adjacent region: at Cesena, at Fano, at Santarcangelo di Romagna, at Montefiore Conca, etc. Their flagship rocca in Rimini, however, has fared pretty poorly over years, and is now reduced to a small fraction of what it once was. For a superb photo, some history and some romance, see Romantic Castles and Palaces, pp354‑359 at Elfinspell.


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Page updated: 12 Jul 08