Imola , an ancient Roman colony called Forum Cornelii, was situated in an already densely populated area in ancient times. Traces of the bronze age have been found on Mont Castellaccio and a large necropolis of the VI- V century B.C. was discovered in Via Montericco.
The plan of the city is a clear reminder of the typical pattern of the Roman foundations with the intersection of decumanus (Via Emilia) and the cardus (Via Appia-Via Mazzini) where there once was the ancient forum. With the decline of the Roman Empire and then the Longobard invasions, the economic recovery and the reorganisation of the town life of the X century was the prelude to the turbulent medieval years marked by bloody feuds for the domain of the territory where Imola was against Bologna, Faenza and Ravenna. Between the 1300 and 1500 Imola is governed by three different powerful families: Alidosi, Manfredi and Visconti. In 1473 the town is under the rule of Galeazzo Maria Sforza who then gives it as dowry to his legitimate daughter Caterina, young bride of Girolamo Riario, nephew of Pope Sisto IV. The Renaissance period that follows is brief but intense and particularly flourishing for the town.
Many urban modifications were made and numerous mansions were built: Piazza Maggiore was expanded and enriched with the construction of Palazzo Riario Sforza , today known as the Palazzo Sersanti. The fortress Rocca was adapted to satisfy the military needs, the walls of the town were completed and the entry doors defined, giving the town the image that it still has today. In 1502 Leonardo da Vinci arrived with the victorious troops of Cesare Borgia, and was given the task to design a map of Imola so as to study the defence system and improve it against enemy attacks. This is the only topographic work that the great artist has ever produced.
From 1504 until the unification of Italy, excluding the Napoleonic era, Imola was part of the Papal State. During this domain the feuds between the different fractions end. Imola improves its facade, as a result of the designs of the architects Domenico Trifogli and in particular Cosimo Morelli, who adds to the churches and buildings of Imola an elegant and aristocratic appearance. Splendid buildings replace the monuments of the past; the Cathedral of S. Cassiano, the church of S. Stefano, the big monastery of the Clares undergo alterations to the facades, and the church of S. Francesco and its convent go under renovation to transform it into the theatre and public library. There is also the construction of the Civil Hospital. It’s only after the unification of Italy, that such urban renovations occur again. In fact, following the social and political changes regarding the region of Romagna, in Imola there is a strong inclination towards the support of the socialist party.
The success of the co-operativism system results in the development of council housing projects and the founding of the Cooperativa Ceramica, which is one of the oldest in Italy, and establishes itself as one of the leading features of the social-economical aspect of the town. During the 1930’s large sanatoriums undergo construction in the surrounding hills of the town, which together with the psychiatric hospitals confirm the hospital tradition which stretches back almost one thousand years.
During the Second World War Imola, which is severely damaged especially in the years 1944-1945 because of the proximity of the front, actively takes part in the struggle for liberation and subsequently the town will be awarded the gold medal for military valour. During the 1950’s the town begins rapidly to expand with the construction of large new suburbs and industrial areas and slowly the town’s economy shifts from a predominantly agricultural area to the industrial and service sectors.