Terre Arnolfe: between hills and fresh waters
Umbria has always been considered a land of saints and great feudal lords.
In the streets of its villages a story is whispered that is made up of wars, raids, loves and knights ready to fight for their possessions. From Perugia to Terni, passing through Narni, up to the gates of the region, there is a wonderful story to tell about which Acquasparta is the heart.
Nestled among rolling hills and mineral water springs that make it famous not only in Italy, but all over the world, Acquasparta owes its fame to several lords who have succeeded it in the course of centuries.
The first, one of the most important is undoubtedly the Count Arnolfo of Carinthia, the one to whom Ottone I assigned some territories of the low umbria that included, besides the village of Acquasparta, also Montecastrilli, Avigliano Umbro and, perhaps, Farnetta. However, the Arnolfi controlled from the mountainous area north of Spoleto to the borders of Amelia. An incredibly large and rich territory that was ceded to the Church by Henry II, the last King of Germany. With this pact, the descendants of Count Arnolfo, became in effect the vassals of the Church, but they continued to control the area on which they had reigned for many years.
It is the period in which Arnolfo and his descendants controlled these lands that witnessed the phenomenon of the fortification, that is, the process that allowed the centralization of the population in fortified areas, with the aim of protecting itself from the barbarian invasions in a more efficient way. This is why in the territories mentioned above, but also in areas near Acquasparta – just think of Montalbano or Casigliano – there are numerous small castles.
Of the Arnolfe Lands the capital was the city of Cesi, located halfway between Acquasparta and Carsulae, which certainly deserves a visit.
Cesi, a small town not too far from the village of Acquasparta, preserves a sometimes ambiguous, certainly fascinating history.
Already on the etymology of the name, historians and scholars do not agree: some want to give the name to the Cesi family, still present in the area thanks to the descendants who occupy the family palace, but we know that in the period in which the town was born, the Cesi were still called Equitani or Chitani, so the hypothesis is unlikely.
The reference to the Latin word “caedere” is more likely, although in both meanings attributed to it:
“Cut to pieces, or massacre” as suggested by Livio, claiming that in this area the ancient Romans made massacres of men
“Cut” as Pliny suggests, asserting that in that area it was forbidden to cut the trees or the forest, because they were useful to hold stones and earth, thus avoiding landslides that could have endangered the houses.
More recently, Professor Farinacci, a scholar of the ancient Celtic populations, argued that the name derived from a physical characteristic common to all the local inhabitants: green eyes. A saying, still used today, says in fact “cesani de cesi have the eyes of a cat”.
Despite the disagreement on the etymology of the name, all historians and scholars agree that Cesi was built following the abandonment of the nearby Carsulae, apparently destroyed by a very strong earthquake that prevented the city from rising again. The hypothesis, therefore, of the barbarian invasions that put the city to fire and sword, seems to be completely unfounded.
What is certain, however, is that the lands between Terni, Narni and Spoleto belonged to the Arnolfi and that they were given to the church in 1042, thanks to a transfer of ownership wanted by Henry II.
The name of the Arnolfi “nos omnes Arnulphi” can also be found in documents relating to a donation made to the monasteries of Montecassino and Farfa towards the end of the year one thousand and which involved the church of Sant’Angelo, present in the lower part of Cesi di which today remains almost nothing since it was completely remodeled during the following centuries.
Subsequently, in the upper part of the town the church of Sant’Andrea was built and, in the same period, the Rocca di Cesi placed on the peak of Mount Eolo.
The Rocca is mentioned in various 13th century documents, especially those in which Pope Innocent III forced the Duke Corrado di Spoleto to return to the Church the Terre Arnolfe, the Rocca di Cesi, the Duchy of Spoleto and the fortresses of Gualdo and Assisi and once having returned as owner of those territories, he established that the Rocca di Cesi was guarded and defended by the soldiers.
In this same period the city of Todi tried to expand, threatening the area of Porcaria (today Portaria) and that Porcaria was part of the Terre Arnolfe, owned by the church, as demonstrated by the bards of the rector of the fortress of cesi who, every year, they gathered the fruits of the earth.
This confirms that Cesi, at that time, was undoubtedly the capital of the Terre Arnolfe, as it was there that the highest authority directly appointed by the Roman Curia resided.
We know from the documents of the Contelori and Milj which are the areas that were part of the denomination of Terre Arnolfe: “from the county called Terrarnolfa which extended in length fifteen miles and as many in width, were counted in it in the eleventh and twelfth centuries: Sangemino , Cesi, Portaria, Acquasparta, Massa and the castles of Macerino, Castiglione, Purzano, Acquapalombo, Appecano, Balduini, Fogliano, Rapicciano, Collecampo, Cisterna, Scoppio, Fiorenzuola, Massenano, Arezzo, Palazzo, Rivosecco, Poggio, Villa S. Faostino , Casigliano, Montignano, Mezzanelli, Castel del Monte, Configni, Quadrelli, Cicigliano, Montecastrilli and many other small castellette and villarelle, scattered here and there, some of which no longer exist ”.
What is certain is that over the decades, the list has slowly changed, losing territories and annexing others, above all with regard to the castles on the border with Todi and Spoleto which, more often than not, succeeded albeit for short periods to annex them to their territories.
Around the end of the thirteenth century (1276) a real statute was issued, designed to give legal and behavioral unity to neighboring lands that were substantially different from one another in their customs and habits. It is a rural statute in that it presents few articles and suggests a very simple organization of social life that does not foresee Guilds of arts or crafts, typical elements of a city statute.
The fourteenth century is a century of transition for Italy and, consequently, also for the Terre Arnolfe who lived on their land the absence of the Popes who moved to France, to Avignon, for more than seventy years and the anarchy produced from the Schism that unleashed raids and revolts in all the papal lands.
In the first decade of the fourteenth century, some castles belonging to the Terre Arnolfe passed under the control of Todi, a city that undoubtedly promised protection in exchange for an economic commitment not just indifferent, but that of that period was undoubtedly worth the sacrifice.
Further unrest inside the control of Cesi and the remaining lands, allowed Todi to extend its supremacy to Sangemini, which was conquered in 1328 thanks to the alliance between Sciarra Colonna and Francesco Berardo of Chiaravalle, head of the Ghibellines of Todi.
Towards the second half of the century the Pontiffs tried in vain to recover the lost lands, but without success, leaving a situation of confusion which the Orsinis took advantage of, who enfeoffed the Arnolfe Lands.
The Orsini family, always faithful to the Church, ruled for a few decades, at least until the end of the century when instead we find Pope Boniface IX’s brother as Rector of the Terre Arnolfe.
However the Orsini retained some rights even in the following century, since we find a document in which Paolo Orsini offered the land of Cesi to the city of Spoleto. An exchange that never happened, since it was impossible to cede goods belonging to the Church.
The end of the schism, in 1417, slowly calmed the situation that at that time had become impossible to manage.
In 1420 the pontiff came to terms with Braccio Fortebraccio who in the meantime had taken possession of all southern Umbria, appointing him Vicar General.
In 1433 Cesi made an act of submission to Todi and it was at this time that the Cesi entered the town with Ser Nicolò di Paolo da Cesi and Ser Pietro Paolo Ghitani Cesi.
Yet Cesi will not have peace for the whole century, being at the center of disputes and acts of insubordination at least until the sixteenth century when, officially, they fell apart.
A series of small hamlets are part of the territory of Acquasparta which, to this day, are an interesting tourist destination where you can discover the history of the territory also through food and wine experiences.
In addition to the municipality of Acquasparta, we find in the neighboring areas other splendid towns linked to each other by kinship ties between the noble families who controlled or lived there.
One of the most suggestive hamlets of Acquasparta, is undoubtedly Configni, which watches over it from a gentle hill west of the village.
Configni was built in medieval times, probably shortly after the Rocca di Montalbano and, like the latter, became part of the Terre Arnolfe around the year one thousand.
In 1200 he signed a document of submission to Narni, offering a candle for the feast of San Giovenale. It is not clear why such a pact was signed, perhaps to be protected by Todi and its expansionist aims towards the Arnolfe Lands.
Around 1629 it was occupied by the Orsini who, during their brief stay, fortified it and then passed it back to Narni on the orders of Pope Clement XI around the first half of the eighteenth century.
Today the remains of the two fortresses of modest dimensions and part of the walls remain of the old castle.
n the walk from Acquasparta to Configni, you will come across two fountains: the Confino fountain, dated 1820 and the Configni fountain, which was used to bring water to the castle during the First World War.
Built on the ridge of the first hilly system that is encountered west of the Flaminia, it began to appear in the first official documents only around the year 1000, although there was probably some settlement already in the previous centuries, as evidenced by numerous remains of structures such as villas, farms … etc.
In possession of the Abbey of Farfa, it became part of the Terre Arnolfe because it was included in the donation that Otto I made to Count Arnolfo even if Monte Albano is not explicitly mentioned in the official document. At the death of the Count, the territory was divided into two, as were the branches of the family: the Rapizzone on one side and the Albertini on the other.
These last, nobles of Todi, inherited the possession of Monte Albano which shared with the city uses, customs and historical vicissitudes. Among these also the return to the Church at the end of the fourteenth century, to then be acquired by the Farnese in the second half of the sixteenth century.
The exchange that interested the territory of Acquasparta that passed from the Farnese to the Cesi, which remained owners at least until 1629 when it passed to the Orsini remaining, substantially, in family.
In 1669 we have documentation of a dispute that interested the Duke of Acquasparta and the city of Todi on the rights of the villa of Montalbano. The Duke supported its close dependence on its fief, but Todi claimed its ownership. The dispute lasted a long time and was defined only thanks to the intervention of the Rome Chamber of Commerce authority.
In the first half of the eighteenth century it was joined to the parish of Configni, not far away and part of the territory of Acquasparta. Later, due to the death of the various exponents of the Cesi family, the territory passed to Giacomo Cesi of the branch of Narni who became its sole owner and who slowly transformed it into a large farm, ceasing its defensive function.
And yet, in 1831 it again became the scene of a violent clash between the Papal troops and the revolutionaries under the command of a former Napoleon official: Sercognani.
The farm, however, remained the property of the Cesi family which granted it to Giuliano Olivelli, whose family, for decades, took care of its interests until it acquired the property, maintaining it until the twentieth century.
It was in the last century that Montalbano distinguished itself from the other farms to be one of the major agricultural centers of the territory, hosting the families of the settlers who worked there.
Over the decades Montalbano began to become depopulated, until it was completely abandoned in 2001 by the last family who resided there.
Today the castle is being renovated after being purchased by a private individual.
However, it remains one of the most beautiful places in the territory of Acquasparta, easily reachable on foot thanks to a beautiful walk in the surrounding countryside.
In ancient times it was called S. Giovanni de Buttis, a name perhaps deriving from the fact that the church stood on two arches, buttis, which constituted the Roman bridge under which the Naia river passed.
Not far away was the Via Flaminia which led to Carsulae, the city of which one could see the outline of the imperious San Damiano Arch, the entrance to the city.
We do not know if a small settlement arose in Roman times, but it is not a hypothesis to be excluded.
In the XV, it became an important place thanks to the construction of the church dedicated to San Giovanni Battista and the adjacent small shelter, owned by the Hospitaller Order of the Knights of Malta.
The Church of St. John of Budes, of Romanesque style, is one of the many present in the territory that overlooks the Flaminia da Carsulae in Massa Martana. We want to remember the closest ones as S. Maria Assunta in Quadrelli, S. Bartolomeo in Casteltodino, S. Lucia always in the territory of Acquasparta to the east of the Flaminia, the abbey of Villa S. Faustino, S. Maria in Pantano and SS. Terenzio and Fidenzio in the Municipality of Massa Martana.
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.
Known with the ancient name of Porcaria, probably due to the numerous pastures of pigs present in the area and part of the Terre Arnolfe, it was donated in 1093 to the Abbey of Montecassino by a descendant of Count Arnolfo.
In 1499 it hosted Lucrezia Borgia and her court, traveling to Spoleto, to take over the government: it was welcomed by four commissioners and two hundred Spoleto infantry. This link with Spoleto, allowed the small village to be somehow protected by the incursions of Terni troops and tuderti who sought control of that area of Terre Arnolfe.
It is also assumed that during the duchy of Lucrezia Borgia in Spoleto, the woman lived in one of the houses that now face Piazza Verdi, although no document attests to the truth of the news.
It passed into the hands of the Cesi Duchi thanks to the trade-in that Gian Giuscomo Cesi made with Pier Luigi Farnese, to whom the Castello di Alviano went in return.
In 1550 it was bought by the Apostolic Chamber for 6,000 scudi.
After being part of the municipality of Cesi first and then of Terni, it returned to being part of the municipality of Acquasparta in 1929.
Carsulae was an ancient Roman city that stood near the Via Flaminia, not far from Casventus (San Gemini) and Interamna Nahars (Terni).
The first settlements occurred in the 9th century BC and developed until the 5th century BC but it is with the construction of the Via Flaminia designed by the consul Caio Flaminio that the city had a strong social and economic growth, becoming one of the most important centers of the lower Umbria.
Carsulae, like many cities of the period, divides its history into two strands: the Roman Republican one and then the Imperial one.
Slowly from the third century onwards Carsulae was abandoned for various reasons: the loss of importance of the western branch of the Via Flaminia on the one hand and the attempts to conquer barbarian populations, forced the citizens to fall back on Cesi and Casventum, until complete abandonment in age Medieval.
It remained no man’s land for a long time, until the Church first and then the Cesi family robbed it of the most beautiful and suggestive finds.
Today next to the archaeological site there is a small visitor and documentation center, decdicated to Umberto Ciotti, the man who first excavated the city of Carsulae bringing to light numerous buildings.
For some years, however, thanks to the support of various universities, including foreign ones (Macquarie and Maesh University in Australia), the Astra Onlus Association has been carrying out very interesting excavation campaigns that bring to light, year after year, new finds that help archaeologists to reconstruct the history of this mysterious Roman city.
Not far from the current archaeological area of Carsulae, stands the medieval village of San Gemini, built in turn on the remains of ancient Casventum, a Roman city on the Via Flaminia.
Also of the same era is the “cave of the gypsies” located just outside the center of the village, so called because it resembles a cave when in reality it is a tomb in cement work. Another important Roman heritage is the cisterns, underground environments where the citizens of Casventum probably also kept food supplies.
Famous in the national territory for its water rich in calcium and therefore also and above all used for children and the elderly. The factory, still in working order, is located not far from the city center and is flanked by the so-called “source park”, a splendid park where you can immerse yourself in nature, open only in summer.
Sangemini also hosted the great Antonio Canova for a short time and kept the palace where the artist lived during the period in which, for pontifical will, he worked on the design and restoration of the Cathedral of San Gemini, severely damaged by an earthquake .
San Gemini was also controlled by the Orsini family, related to that branch with the Cesi family who resided in Acquasparta, thanks to the marriage of Federico I Cesi and Olimpia Orsini, parents of the famous prince of the Lincei Federico II founder of the Accademia dei Lincei.
San Gemini, maintains an important link with scientific subjects thanks to GEOLAB, a museum of earth sciences where it is possible to observe the various phenomena that have characterized our planet, thanks to interactive rooms. Also suitable for children, it is undoubtedly a must for those visiting the village of San Gemini.
Going back on the Via Flaminia, in the direction of Massa Martana, we find Ponte Fonnaia, a suggestive Roman bridge dated 220 b. C. and still in good condition.
It was built to overcome the watercourse of the Naia river, today almost always dry and it was built in cement work covered by blocks of travertine arranged by head and cut, alternatively and with a rather unusual characteristic for works of this kind: a strong inclination of the fly with respect to the road axis.
A few hundred meters from the bridge, there is the Grotta Traiana, known for having returned a Christian catacomb, located near the Via Flaminia: it is a unique example, in Umbria, of structures of this kind.
It is formed by a series of underground galleries on whose floors there are ditches and arcosolia destined for the first Christians who, in the area, still secretly celebrated their own rites. Thanks to the materials found it is possible to date the catacomb between the 4th and 5th century AD
Next to the catacomb there are the remains of a small apse basilica with a series of floor burials, probably built when the Christians stopped being persecuted and therefore they no longer had to hide.
The Church of Santa Maria in Pantano is important because it stands on what was the ancient “statius of vicus martius tudernum”: a sort of station for those traveling along the Via Flaminia.
The statio is also mentioned in the “Itinera picta” with illustrations and texts, but today, after the construction of the church, very little remains. We know, however, that the built-up area stretched behind the building and was not large.
The Church, the legend of which was built in the fifth century by the magister militum Severo above the ruins of an old pagan temple of the Civitas Martana, is housed in a late imperial building whose lateral walls are still visible in opus reticulatum which it also occurs in the external wall, parallel to the same side.
More probably the church was built between the 7th and 8th centuries, adding the presbytery and the abdominal part to the Roman building.
Country located along the Via Flaminia, Massa Martana is the first village in the province of Perugia, which is found coming from the south of Umbria.
In Roman times it was a vicus, known as Vicus Ad Martis, but it became quite important in the Middle Ages, when the noble families of the Bentivenga on one side and the Bonaccorsi on the other governed it before joining the Papal States.
Famous today for being the village that gave birth to the creator of the logo for the 2000 jubilee, Massa Martana was almost completely destroyed in 1997 by a terrible earthquake.
The precious renovation work has restored to the citizens a splendid medieval village, which is still worth visiting today.
A small town that rises just over five kilometers from Acquasparta, immersed in the mountains, Cateldelmonte is located in a strategic position between Todi and Spoleto and due to this, in previous centuries, it was undermined by both. In the end, as shown by the insignia of the city and the coat of arms of the eagle present on the tower of the historic center,
asteldelmonte fell into the hands of Todi.
Today, of the castle, little remains, with the exception of the remains of the defensive apparatus built during the Middle Ages, such as the imposing cylindrical tower at the center of which opens the door of the castle, above which stands the stone coat of arms of the city of Todi.
Today, the country has lived for just over thirty inhabitants and hosts a youth hostel run by the parish where summer camps for young people and children are held.
Coming down from Casteldelmonte, always located on the back of the Martani Mountains, stands the small church of San Michele, also visible from the E45, when you arrive near Acquasparta.
The Church, reachable only on foot, after a pleasant excursion, was built in the second half of the eighteenth century thanks to the contribution of the faithful. The Bishop Chancellor of Todi, Bonaventura Pianegiani, also speaks of it. In 1867, he writes: Inside the walls, where they were built, by devotion of the faithful, relics of some of the Holy Martyrs were placed in lead boxes and in the continuation of the factory in the the year 1736 in a crystal vase guarded by another of terracotta there were put the relics of the wood of the Holy Cross “.
The church, now completed construction, was blessed on May 8th 1743 “in the canonical forms”.
Today, on this day, the Parish of Acquasparta organizes a walk to the small hermitage of San Michele where, after the celebration of a mass in suffrage, a small snack is offered.
The fossil forest of Dunarobba, also known as the oldest forest in the world, was officially discovered in the seventies, although Federico Cesi the Linceo and his Academicians already began their study in the seventeenth century.
It is in fact a Lincea publication that of Francesco Stelluti who, with his “Treatise on newly discovered mineral fossil wood” published in 1637 but which recounted the studies that took place as early as 1620, when he began to catalog and study fossil wood found during the excursions that he used to do with the Duke Cesi. In the academic environment the fossils were curiously called “metallophites” because of their hardness and resistance.
Despite these previous studies of the “metallofites” Lincei no one spoke at least until the second half of the twentieth century, when instead the archaeological site of Dunarobba began to arouse the interest of scholars.
The remains of the approximately fifty visible conifer trunks constitute an exceptional and rare testimony of some vegetal essences that characterized this sector of the Italian peninsula in the period between 3 and 2 million years ago, that is in the geological period known as Pliocene.
The conservation of the trunks in the living position and the almost total maintenance of the characteristics of the original wood, are reasonably attributable to a continuous and gradual burial occurred inside a marshy area situated on the banks of a wide lake. Furthermore, the area was subjected to a gradual collapse, that is to say a geological phenomenon known as subsidence.
The particular characteristics of this paleontological site make it a naturalistic monument unique in the world and of great scientific relevance.