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ITALY: UMBRIA: אומבריה

  Region: Region Capital: Other Province Capitals: Other Important Cities:
10. Umbria Perugia   Assisi, Gubbio, Orvieto, Todi
, Terni



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 moderate terrain.

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 highest layers.
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 archaeologic findings.
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 raids.

It is the structure of the castles of the Amerino towns, often unaltered, to amaze the ever-increasing visitors.