Orvieto, Umbria region located in the center of Italy.
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Umbria, the green heart of Italy

Indigenous and ancient population, the Umbrians were established in present-day Umbria on the eastern area of the Tiber river. While on the west were the cities of Perugia and Orvieto, which, incorporated in Etruscan culture, had frequent relations with the ports of the Tyrrhenian coast and therefore with the whole area of the Mediterranean. Of Indo-European origin, the Umbrians had their own religious and political center in Gubbio. This town, since prehistoric times, was an important point of connection with the Apennine crossings to the Adriatic Sea.

In Roman times

In 295 BC, in the central area of Italy, the Roman Empire conquered the Etruscan and Umbrian territories, bringing them together into a single domain. And it is in Roman times that the term “Umbria”, used to mark the area following the axis of the Flaminia, has appeared. The name Umbria is attributed in the Augustus regiones division to the “Regio VI” (Umbria et Ager Gallicus), the territory that extends from the left bank of the Tiber river to the Adriatic Sea. While the “Regio VII” augustea (the Etruria) stretched from the right bank of the Tiber including Perugia and all the other Umbrian cities to the right of the river.

Flaminian road (Via Flaminia)

Starting in 220 BC, the Via Flaminia began to be built, a road axis intended to connect Rome with Rimini, giving Umbria immense strategic importance. Thanks to this new road, there is easy access to the Adriatic Sea and all the northern regions such as Emilia-Romagna and Veneto. Along the way, new urban areas are formed and extensive works of reclamation of the plains begin with the construction of new roads. As well as vast colonization and centuriation draw the entire territory with the Tiber focal point of this transformation.

The Fall of the Western Roman Empire

After the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476, the barbarian invasions and subsequent struggles between The Byzantines, Lombards, and pontiffs caused a deep crisis in the territory. The marsh is rampant in the flat areas, the road network and the urban system are in crisis. Furthermore, the fertile plains are abandoned, and the population gather on top of the hills and mountains.

The Christian religion

Since the first half of the 4th century, the Christian religion has established itself and spread rapidly in Umbria thanks to the two main Roman roads: the Via Flaminia and the Via Amerina. The first testimony of monasticism is dated 528 and refers to Isaac. A hermit of Syrian descent who spends his life in a hermit in Monteluco. From here was born the extraordinary religious and monastic tradition in Umbria that was to culminate with St Francis, nearly a millennium later.

St Benedict

St Benedict was born in Norcia in 480, a couple of years after the fall of the Western Roman Empire. Towards the end of 520, he moved to Cassino where he founded the monastery of Monte Cassino. In 534 he composed his Rule which, with the monastic order, will have incalculable importance in ensuring the survival of Western culture in the turmoil followed by the fall of Rome. The rule aimed to move men to perfect love of God through a combination of prayer, study, and work. Thus ensuring that countless monks were quietly working, studying and preserving aspects of learning that might otherwise have vanished for good.

The Papal State since 800

With the pope’s blessing, in the second half of the 700s both Lombards and Byzantines were defeated by the Franks. And in the 1800s Charlemagne was crowned by the pope emperor of the new Holy Roman Empire. In return, the Papal State receives vast territories to be incorporated into its control. Unfortunately, at the death of Charlemagne, the harmony between the papacy and the empire disappears. the divisions between his successors and their concerns in northern Europe again leave much of Italy in the throes of invasions and conflicts. The papal state weakens due to the claims of powerful rival families. Without any central authority, it is not long before the whole country returns to chaos.

Walled cities

During this new crisis, between the 10th and 11th centuries, new human settlements are created on top of hills and mountains with fortified cities, favored by the peculiarity of the land. Thus a network of dirt roads and mule-tracks was born. In addition to castles and walled cities, monasteries of different orders are established throughout the Umbrian territory, promoting the rebirth of cities, markets and exchange relations. And thanks to the work of sites such as Perugia and Foligno, favored by their geographical location, Umbria assumes a primary function as a crossroads for the movement of great trade, of men and cultures. And it is in Foligno that the last emperor of the Holy Roman Empire will spend his first three years: Frederick II.

The communal age and spirituality

In 1182, Francis was born in Assisi, the founder of the Franciscan order and recognized as one of the initiators of the Italian literary tradition. He lives in a landscape that is a continuous invitation to meditation and prayer. After he died in 1226, the basilica was built where the most daring tendencies of the Italian Gothic are expressed. Inside, the revolution of the figurative arts takes place, starring Cimabue, Giotto, Simone Martini, and Pietro Lorenzetti. During the 13th century, memorable works were performed throughout the region.

The new decline

In the mid-14th century, the major centers of Umbria suffered a substantial fall in the context of international markets. From the mid-300s the black plague erupts, followed by damage caused by earthquakes. The contrasts between municipal powers and papal authorities are accentuated, as well as between the rich bourgeoisie and the minute people. Consequently, in the second half of the 300s, the papal authority raises on towns summit large and mighty fortresses that mark the end of municipal freedoms. Between the second half of the 300 and the first half of the 400 comes the period of lordships that lead the region to a scenario of war. As a result, the large banking and merchant groups abandon this territory, leading the economy and society to a dramatic impoverishment.

Under papal power

In the 16th century, papal power was finally established in Umbria. The history of this region becomes part of the wider history of the State of the Church that ranges from Rome to Ferrara. Although Umbrian economic and civil life declines considerably under the State of the Church, its space will still be traversed for centuries by travelers, soldiers, and pilgrims.

Umbria today

Umbria is the only land-locked region of the Italian peninsula. The terrain is gentler, but the Apennines run along the eastern border, where, in the Sibillini mountains, Monte Vettore reaches 2476 mt just over the border in Marches. Perugia manufactures food and clothing, and factories dot the Valley between Perugia and Spoleto. But the major industries are in the south, around Terni. Traditional crafts are also significant, especially pottery.

Umbria map