|UMBRIA - GEOGRAPHY:
The region of Umbria, located between
Tuscany, the Marches and Latium, is equal to 2.8% of the country of
Italy and encompasses an area of 8,456 sq km. A somewhat small region,
it is the only one in central Italy without a coastline. With
no access to the sea, Umbria's rainfall drains almost entirely into
the Tiber River. Ancient history played only a
small part in indicating its current
borders. Today they are the outcome of political decisions made after
the unification of Italy.
The sparsely-populated mountains are the middle range of the
Apennines, with the peak of majestic Mount Vettore on the Marches side
of the Sibillini Hills. The mountains constitute about 30% of the
Umbrian region, while the mainly hilly area covers about 60% and the
remaining approximately 10% consists of the fertile plains. The
eastern side of the Umbrian Valley is more severe, favoring
settlements and olive groves, while the western slope has a more
|According to old literary sources, the territory
occupied by the Umbrians ("Ombrikoi" in Greek) was much
larger than the present one, and expanded along the eastern bank of
the Tiber up to touch the Po Valley. In Umbria the presence of man
(documented by lithic handiworks) goes back to the Earlier Middle and
the Later Palaeolithic (50,000, 100,000, 200,000 years ago), down to
the so called "Pebble Culture". In the Amerino, Middle
Palaeolithic finds have been found around Guardea. They are now
visible in the seat of the Archaelogic Club of Guardea. Neolithic Age
too, characterized by the permanent occupation of the territory and by
an agricultural economy is documented by many stone and fictile finds,
found in some underground sites, especially those of the Grotta
Bella of Avigliano Umbro. The Grotta Bella has had a long sequence
of settlements, from Neolithic (5,000-3,000 B. C.) to Later Bronze
Age. The clay material which has been found testifies the lively
contacts established in such distant ages, with the "facies"
settled in Centre Italy at Ripoli and the Sasso di Furbara (Rome).
After an intermission of four centuries, in historic age the cave was
used for cult purposes, as proved by the place of worship found in the
The Town of Amelia, with its powerful Megalithic Walls
(6th and 4th cent. B. C.) testifies a very old urban organization. Its
origins going back to the 12th cent. B. C. so far narrated in literary
sources (Pliny quoting Cato), have been lately confirmed by
The first contacts between the Umbrians and the Romans, at the
beginning mostly commercial, then political and military, strengthen
during the 4th cent. B. C., when the decline of the Preroman
Necropolis of Montecchio starts. The necropolis is to be referred
to a dwelling, which has been identified on a hill overhanging it. It
is supposed that in the area there was a great commercial centre
where, due to the nearness of the Tiber then navigable, goods coming
from different cultures arrived. Afterwards Rome, taking advantage of
the crisis of Etruria, tries successfully to substitute the Etruscans
in order to control the Tiber Valley and to expand towards the regions
of the Middle and Upper Adriatic.
With the defeat of the Gallic-Etruscan-Italic league by the Romans
(295 B. C.), the Umbrians were subdued and the process of romanization
of the territory was realized with the foundation of colonies such as
Spoletium (Spoleto) in 241 B. C.. As a consequence of this we had the
centuriation of the territory and the opening of important lines of
communication, as the Flaminian Way (from Rome to Rimini).
At the same time the Roman colonists arrived and with them the
urbanization of the Umbrian towns begins and around the "oppidum"
the urban space starts to expand. In this period the Amerinian Way is
reorganized. It linked Nepi (the old Nepet) with Clusium (Chiusi).
With the emperor Augustus the romanization of Umbria is completed. It
becomes the 6th "regio". In many towns, once turned to
municipalities, as for Amelia, radical changes happen: the walls are
renewed or enlarged, thermae, theatres, aqueducts and waterworks are
built. Like the Monumental Cisterns of Amelia.
In private dwellings "opus reticulatum" and mosaic for the
floors is frequently used as we can see in the remains of the "Villae
Rusticae" in Lugnano (Pogglo Gramignano), Guardea (Cocciano)
and Alviano (Popiliano), which testify the good cultural and economic
standard of the owners. The phenomenon of the implantation of "villae"
begins in the 1st cent. B. C., with the rearrangement of the
territory, with the centuriation of a lot of lands already rich in
olive-groves, vineyards, orchards (Umbria, and this area particularly
were famous for the fertility of their soils). The Roman aristocrats,
grandly combining business with pleasure, created the concept of
"villa", that is a country house that, besides the main
function of a place of production, had that of a place fit for "otium"
(leisure). It seems that in this area there were about 50 of them.
The "villa" was a great farm-house including, besides the
elegant "domus" of the master, rural buildings and huts for
the hundreds (sometimes) of slaves and, scattered in the fields, the
"casae" of the farmers. In the successive centuries these
rural settlements seem to be thinning out. Quite often they gather in
larger properties. Between the 5th and the 6th A. D. the territory
already struck by famines and plagues, was the object of devastation
and pillage by barbarian peoples.
In the Middle Age, between the 9th and the 11th cent., we see the
foundation of Castles, built mostly on hill tops, and scattered
throughout the Amerino, as a spontaneous reaction of the great
landlords, who, due to the fact they couldn't count on public
authorities (Feudal Anarchy), they had to face the Saracen and Magyar
It is the structure of the castles of the Amerino towns, often
unaltered, to amaze the ever-increasing visitors.