Acquasparta: one of the most beautiful villages in Italy
The Municipality of Acquasparta is one of the most beautiful villages in Italy for its story to be told, which is still preserved in the alleys and squares of the historic center, in the churches and in the monumental Palazzo del Duca Cesi which stands right in the heart of the city.
Although we do not have certain testimonies prior to the tenth century, we know that Acquasparta already existed in Roman times, probably as a vicus next to the Via Flaminia which today passes just outside the town, in the splendid complex of San Giovanni in Butris. Not far away, there was Carsulae, a Roman city, located along the Via Flaminia and for this nerve center of the territory.
Acquasparta begins to appear in official documents when Count Arnolfo, a powerful lord of the area, becomes the owner of the fiefdom that also included Todi and Spoleto, thanks to the generous gift of Emperor Otto I of Saxony.
It is precisely the Count, in the 10th century, who commissioned the construction of the Abbeys of Santa Barbara and San Nicolò around which the town of Acquasparta would later develop.
The Arnolfe lands, so called because they belonged to the very rich and powerful Count, then passed under the control of the church, in an exchange that took place in 1002 between the Emperor Henry II and Pope Benedict VIII. Exchange that decreed an important change: Arnolfo’s descendants became vassals of the church after decades.
A century later, thanks to a document from 1115 we know that the Castle of Acquasparta came under the control of the Farfa following the umpteenth exchange between the descendants of Arnolfo and the Abbot Bernardino di Farfa. This exchange is confirmed by a document signed by Emperor Henry V, which confirms the Acquaspartani possessions to the Farfa.
We know, therefore, that the fiefdom remained somehow in the hands of the descendants of the Count who, in those years, were called Bentivenga or Nobili di Acquasparta.
It was Cardinal Matteo Bentivenga d’Acquasparta himself – also mentioned by Dante, in the 12th canto of Paradise – to have the complex of San Francesco built in 1290 inhabited by the order of the Conventual Fathers.
At the Poverello di Assisi, the foundation of the Franciscan baths in Acquasparta, now known as the Terme dell’Amerino, whose Amerino water is still sold in large supermarkets throughout Italy, is also attributed. The Acquasparta thermal plant will be a reference point for the whole nation, at least until the middle of the twentieth century.
Acquasparta, remained under the control of Todi until the end of Quttrocento, when Pope Innocent VII, in 1489 declared it “land frank”, that is free. A freedom, however, constantly threatened by the infighting in Todi which saw opposing Guelphs and Ghibellines. The small Umbrian village, in fact, hosted the Guelphs and consequently the bloody assault by Altobello da Chiaravalle which, in turn, triggered the Guelph intervention. The latter asked for the intervention of Lucrezia Borgia, a guest at that time in Spoleto, who sent a real army to support the village, thanks to the intervention of Pope Alexander VI.
This move will be useful to the Pope to reunite Acquasparta with the Terre Arnolfe to remove it from the aims of Todi, Spoleto and Terni.
In 1538 the Church decided to sell the fief of Acquasparta to Pierluigi Farnese who, in turn, exchanged it with the possessions of Isabella d’Alviano, daughter of Bartolomeo d’Alviano and wife of Giangiacomo Cesi.
It is precisely under the Cesi family that Acquasparta experiences its moment of maximum splendor and importance, especially when Prince Federico II Cesi decided to move permanently to the Ducal Palace of Acquasparta, preferring it to Rome.
In 1630 Federico the Prince of the Lincei died prematurely and the possessions passed under the control of Giovanni Federico, brother of the first who, residing in Rome, was represented by a Governor.
Following the fate of Acquasparta were more or less common to those of the other papal territories, especially in the Napoleonic period, when the emperor Bonaparte descended into Italy and conquered and plundered numerous treasures.
At the fall of Napoleon the papal power was restored and, from the 1800s, it returned to owning the territories of Acquasparta, taking over from the Cesi family, to which only the title remained.
In 1861 the small Umbrian village became part of the Kingdom of Italy and in 1927 it passed under the province of Terni, established in those years.
The Ducal Palace belonging to the Cesi family, whose greatest exponent Federico II was the founder of the Accademia dei Lincei, is undoubtedly the main attraction of the village, since it is the largest example of Renaissance architecture in Umbria.
His cycles of frescoes inspired by Ovid and Plutarch and the famous coffered ceiling, which celebrates the importance of the Cesi family, are of absolute value.
Seat of the first Accademia dei Lincei, in 1624 it hosted the Pisan scientist Galileo Galileo, a friend and colleague of Cesi, who was left with the honor of experimenting with the microscope, called “occhialino” to further his botanical studies.
The Palace, today, is a visitable historical residence, with an experiential museum that allows an interactive visit among the numerous rooms that compose it.
Acquasparta, a medieval village in Umbria, preserves some of the most beautiful and characteristic churches of the region among its alleys and streets, which in turn tell an ancient and fascinating history.
The main church is the Basilica of Santa Cecilia, dedicated to the patron saint of the entire village whose celebrations take place every 22 November.
The Basilica has undergone numerous variations over the centuries, not least the one that provided for the securing and restoration of the interior following the terrible earthquake of 2016 that had damaged the bell tower and some interior spaces.
It consists of several chapels, the most important being that of the Cesi – Liviani, within which the remains of the Excellency Duke of Acquasparta, Federico II Cesi, Prince of the Lincei and other family members were found.
The finds discovered from the last reconnaissance occurred in 2018 thanks to the will of the parish priest Don Alessandro Fortunati, are made up of some parts of the Prince’s suit, the hilt and some parts of the sword and the wooden shoe sole, perfectly preserved. Furthermore, in the adjacent parish museum, the family tree of the Cesi family is preserved.
In front of the Church of Santa Cecilia, on the opposite side of the small side square, there is the Church of the SS. Sacramento, today used as a parish museum. In addition to numerous valuable pieces, among which the Cesi family tree stands out, there is a mosaic belonging to some environment of ancient Carsulae, preserved at the entrance of the Church and of great historical – artistic interest.
Not too far from the Basilica of Santa Cecilia, stands the Church of San Giuseppe, built and built by the Company of San Giuseppe and Pope Urban VIII in 1626 in the area of the Contrada di San Cristoforo.
A small building that contains an unexpected treasure: the wooden statue of Saint Joseph.
There is also a painting depicting Saint Joseph holding a rather rare Jesus: in fact, Giuseppe has a relaxed and serene expression and is represented in an unusually majestic manner.
A peculiarity that makes the church a little jewel among the streets of the village.
Just outside the Porta Vecchia, instead, not far from the Viridarium Cesiano, there is the Church of the Madonna del Giglio, currently not open to visitors due to the damage caused by the 2016 earthquake.
The Church belonged to the Confraternity of the Madonna del Giglio, the oldest present in Acquasparta and besides having cult purposes, at its side it housed the poor and the sick in its “Hospitalis Sancte Marie de Lilio” of which today the inscription above the door of the current town music school.
The structure is very old, but over the centuries it has been restored several times, even by Giandomenico Bianchi, who designed the Palazzo Ducale, of the Cesi.
Still outside the inhabited center, skirting the walls of the town towards the north, one arrives at the church of San Francesco, strongly desired by Cardinal Matteo Bentivenga d’Acquasparta, also named by Dante in the 12th canto of Paradise, in which in addition to mentioning the prelate, he also mentions the splendid church.
The building stands on an old leper colony, later joined to the Convent.
The interior of the church is very simple and the true richness is given by a wooden Madonna with the child in her arms, called by the Acquaspartans Madonna della Stella to whom they are strongly devoted. The true wealth of the statue was the clothes with which it was covered according to the celebrations, some of which incredibly rich, especially those donated by the Cesi family.
In the Church there are also some Franciscan canvases, one of which is a copy of the Margheritone of Arezzo preserved today in the Uffizi and a very old crucifix brought here from San Giovanni in Budes towards the end of the nineteenth century, when the Kingdom of Italy confiscated the assets of the Knights of Malta and the consequent abandonment of the church itself.
The church of San Giovanni in Budes, which stands on the Via Flaminia, is certainly one of the oldest and most evocative of our territory.
Completely outside the inhabited center, it can be reached by car exiting from Acquasparta and proceeding towards the archaeological site of Carsulae.
Its name seems to be San Giovanni in Buttis, whose banks, bridges in Latin, are somehow the base where the structure rises.
The church was dedicated to St. John the Baptist and was owned by the Order of the Knights of Malta.
This sacred Christian building built on a bridge of a Roman consular road over two hundred years prior to the Christian era, reminds us of the laborious and fertile union, painstakingly realized between Christianity and paganism, between the Latin-Christian world and the Germanic world.
Umbria is undoubtedly the home of good food. A tradition that sees agriculture and animal breeding as the basis of its economy, has allowed the inhabitants to prepare dishes of the highest quality both for what concerns the genuineness of the products and for what concerns the taste. The typical dish of the region, which varies its name depending on the area where you are, are undoubtedly the “picchiarelli”.
It is a homemade pasta, with flour and water and seasoned with simple slightly spicy tomato sauce.
It is a must-have dish in the local village festivals, but also in the tables of the inhabitants of the territory.
Another typical specialty is pizza under the fire, a kind of focaccia prepared with water and flour and slowly cooked under the ashes of the fireplace. Stuffed with ham and cheese or, more typically, with vegetables and sausages, it is certainly a tasty meal and a tasty snack.
In the area of Acquasparta there are several restaurants where you can taste traditional dishes. From the restaurant of the Sorelle Pesciaioli in Portaria (open every day for lunch and dinner and closed on Mondays), up to Macerino immersed in the green heart of Umbria, where both restaurants will be able to delight your palate with their strong dishes where the truffle is the great protagonist.
Wine is also an important protagonist in our area, as is oil. A brief visit and tasting at the Palmadori Oil Mill in Portaria, will allow you to discover the secrets of the fine art of producing a good oil from the most ancient age to today.
Even the youngest have invested in the promotion of the typical flavors of our territory, so it is worth tasting the stone-ground Farina Crispo, perhaps buying a loaf of sciapo bread, typical of the area. Or Sofia Luchetti’s pasta, visiting the farm in the town’s countryside.
For those who want to try the mix of gourmet dishes combined with traditional flavors, we recommend Vigna del Borgo, in the historic center of Acquasparta.
Its splendid countryside, those views that take your breath away and the almost wild nature that laps the boundaries of our territory are the framework in which it is possible to move around in Umbria.
Exploring the area by bike, getting excited by the castles and farms that are located around one of the most beautiful villages in Italy, is undoubtedly a new way to experience the holiday experience in Umbria.
Furthermore, Acquasparta offers its tourists a very respectable sports facility: this is why, during the summer, basketball, ball and tennis sports camps follow one another.
Furthermore, the communal swimming pool with its splendid pine forest and the four pools suitable for all needs, are an essential pause for those who stop a few days in the Umbrian village.