Situated on a hill overlooking the Tiber valley, the town of Montecchio still preserves the character of a medieval village with its curious little streets and mighty walls. However, the history of this territory starts much further; already in pre-Roman times, in fact, the territory was known and inhabited, as evidenced by the vast Necropolis of the Vallone di San Lorenzo, discovered in the mid-1800s by the archaeologist Domenico Golini.
The first sources written about Montecchio date back to 1154. The original nucleus of the castle dates back to around 1165 by the Chiaravalle di Todi family who retired here following the struggles between the Guelphs and Ghibellines, while in 1190 the second fortified circle was built, both for a greater defense of the village, both for the increase in population; the enlargements continued until the middle of the 13th century. On the possessions of the “Castrum Monticuli” the Chiaravalle, the Alviano, the Basque and the Colonna ruled; in the XVI century it was then the turn of the Atti family of Todi, as the names of some streets of the historical center still show. Starting from 1607 it was under the control of the Corsini.
With the foundation of the Kingdom of Italy in 1860 the territory of Montecchio came under the jurisdiction of the Municipality of Baschi and so it remained until 1948 when Montecchio became an autonomous municipality with the hamlets of Tenaglie and Melezzole.
The ancient village, slightly elliptical in shape, is one of the best preserved medieval towns of Teverina; in particular, a good part of the perimeter walls with the ancient defense towers and the architectural layout of the old houses are clearly visible.
MUNICIPALITY OF GUARDEA
The first documented settlement was in the locality of Marruto, where the inhabitants emigrated and founded the castle, called Castello del Poggio, around 1035. In the 12th century a descendant of a Count of the Baschi della Guascogna founded, on the top of the hill overlooking the current town, a castle guarding the territory. The origin of the name, from the German “wart” (guardian), shows that Guardea was born as a “lookout post”.
In the XIII century the castle became the property of the family of the lords of Alviano who kept it until 1581 when Caterina Cervara, nephew of Bartolomeo d’Alviano, brought it as a dowry to her husband Ludovico di Marsciano. Subsequently the inhabitants moved further downstream, giving rise to the birth of the current center of Guardea, which from that moment belonged to the Papal States until its annexation to the Kingdom of Italy (1860).
The oldest traces of human presence in the area date back to the Paleolithic, as evidenced by the instruments and the numerous flint splinters preserved in the site of the Archaeological Group. Interesting the megalithic walls (locality Fossi), dating back to the III-II century BC: the imposing sections of walls are the remains of a system that was used to stem the waters of the streams and the Tiber to preserve the agricultural lands.
On the hill behind the village stand the remains of the ancient castle of Guardea Vecchia: most of the eight towers (six quadrangular and two semicircular) and the large central keep are still visible. The Castle del Poggio, the ancient defensive system that has remained unchanged over the centuries, is almost opposite Guardea Vecchia. Currently, after a careful restoration, it is the Italian headquarters of the Club of Budapest, an international organization that deals with the development of universal civil conscience.
In the city, on the elegant Piazza Panfili there is the church of San Pietro and San Cesareo from the 18th century, which houses the remains of the Blessed Pascuccio, patron saint of the city.
Next to the schools, in the middle of a large equipped park, rises the Arch of Planetary Consciousness in which stones sent by mayors from all over the world are set.
Nearby, just outside Guardea, are the remains of the church and the Hermitage of Sant’Illuminata (year 1007): not far away is the cave where St. Francis retired to prayer, sleeping on a boulder of travertine that is still a cult object.
MUNICIPALITY OF AVIGLIANO UMBRO
The small town maintains the charm of ancient villages. The houses line up around a stepped street that rises towards the upper part of the town, once occupied by a castle built with defense functions of the Byzantine corridor and protagonist of various historical events, including the presence in 1495 of the King of France Charles VII, with 3000 Frenchmen, who set up his camps on the spot, also occupying Toscolano and asking for redemption in Todi. An interesting urbanistic detail is given by the fact that the same houses, leaning against each other and reinforced by some towers, act as walls. Access to the village is guaranteed by four doors. The primitive fortified nucleus rose higher up, on Mount Pianello, where it is still possible to find some remains.
In the parish church of Santa Restituta inside you can admire frescoes and a wooden statue called the Madonna del Pero, a 15th century work.
Church of San Michele It is the church attached to the cemetery: it has a simple Romanesque layout.
Paragnano. It was once a powerful fortified village with Forte Cesare and Civitella. Currently it is only a farmhouse near Santa Restituta.
An important economic resource of Santa Restituta, as of Toscolano, is given by the chestnuts, very valuable for their quality.
Grotta Bella. The Grotto was discovered in 1902, but explored between 1971 and 1973. It opens on the side of Mount Aiola: access is partly covered by vegetation. From the initial opening – it measures about 9 meters – it leads to a large room full of stalactite and stalagmite concretions. From here, a series of smaller rooms branch out, where it is possible to detect significant karst phenomena. They are connected by two tunnels one of which has such a network of intersections that give rise to a real labyrinth. However, the cave turned out to be a particularly interesting discovery for the knowledge of human history. In addition to its environmental values, it has historical and archaeological importance since, in the cavity, ceramic materials from different eras have been found that attest to the presence of a settlement as early as the Neolithic. The discovery of a votive deposit also shows that the cave, from the sixth century BC and until the 1st century BC, it had become a place of worship. Probably, given the characteristics of the site, these were divinities linked to water – natural cavities were a direct link with the underground world – and agricultural-pastoral ones.
Beginning in the early 1700s, the surrounding mountains were particularly rich in woods that provided precious wood and plenty of chestnuts and were contested by Guardea: the dispute was resolved only after two centuries in favor of Santa Restituta. On Mount Pianicel Grande and on Mount Aiola, in the area between the centers of Santa Restituta and Toscolano, chestnut woods prevail – but there is no shortage of holm oak and oak trees – which are a fundamental part of the economy of these countries both as regards the production of chestnuts that of timber. Hunting is widely practiced: that to the palombe was so profitable as to guarantee, until the whole 800 to the inhabitants of the place, the possibility to pay the taxes of the emphyteusis.
On the reliefs of Santa Restituta a tree has been found that counts many hundreds of years and therefore constitutes one of the oldest specimens in Europe. It is a maple commonly called “Acerone” due to its size.
The toponym derives from the gens Toscola. The medieval village is distributed on the slopes of Mount Croce di Serra, in a splendid panoramic position and is immersed in thick chestnut woods. It has a circular urban layout, enclosed within a solid boundary wall with mighty towers that were restored in 1442. The houses, inside the village, lean against the walls following the trend. Already developed at the beginning of the 13th century, the castle guaranteed the defense of the border area with the nearby Melezzole and Santa Restituta. It was part of the territory of Todi, as shown by the coat of arms that stands above one of the access gates to the castrum. The original site of the fortress can be found in the ruins of Toscolano Vecchia.
Church of Sant’Apollinare. The building dates back to the 18th century. Inside you can admire: Crucifixion between the Madonna and the saints Francesco, Carlo Borromeo and martyr bishop of Andrea Polinori (XVII century); Madonna of the Rosary by Pietro Paolo Sensi from Todi (XVII century); Madonna and Child with Saints, not attributed. In a missal preserved in Toscolano in the church of Sant’Apollinare you can read the signature of Charles VIII king of France, who occupied the castle in 1495.
Church of the Santissima Annunziata – Votive shrine of Toscolano. The chapel, an ancient votive aedicule, is located on the outskirts of Toscolano. It was discovered in 1985. In it, in addition to many ex voto donated to the church following a plague, a large fresco is visible, a “Maestà”, by Federico Zeri attributed to Piermatteo d’Amelia. The sky of Piermatteo d’Amelia (1481 – 83 ca.). On the arch of the forehead is depicted an Annunciation with the Angel on the left, the Madonna with open book in her right hand and, in the upper center, the Eternal Father.
Newsstand. On the back wall there is the Madonna on the throne with the Child, the saints Rocco and Sebastiano and the Angels with signs of eighteenth-century repainting. This image mirrors the Madonna of Porchiano of Amelia and the Madonna of Berlin, also by Piermatteo d’Amelia. In the vault the four Evangelists are represented. At the center of the vault is the blessing Eternal Father. On the sides, on the walls, there are remains of frescoes of eight saints, including St. Francis, St. Catherine of Alexandria, St. Mary Magdalene, holy martyr, St. Anthony the Abbot and St. Lucia. Fra Faostino (1595-Trevi 1679). A native of Toscolano, the friar traveled to the Holy Land. The account is found in his “Itinerary of the Holy Land” where he describes peoples, customs and traditions of Arab society.
Mogol, the famous author of successful song lyrics, for a long time in partnership with singer Lucio Battisti, has created the City of Music in Toscolano: it is a real school for musicians, lyricists and singers from all over the world that aims at the knowledge and deepening of the basic instrumentalities of music, combining them with the free expression and creativity of each one.
MUNICIPALITY OF BASCHI
Baschi, which rises on the left bank of the Tiber not far from the confluence with the Paglia, is the capital of a large municipality that includes, in addition to its ancient territory, other towns and groups of houses set on the hills, towards Todi: Acqualoreto, Morre, Morruzze , Collelungo, Civitella del lago, Cerreto, Scoppieto and Vagli.
We know little or nothing about its history in pre-Roman times. Instead, the Roman period is well documented: in fact it was “the ancient city of Veascium, where, according to Diodorus of Sicily, the Gauls, led by Brenno, were defeated by Furio Camillo seven months after the battle of the river Allia, 16 July 364 from the foundation of Rome and 390 years before the birth of Christ “.
In Roman times the area was densely populated and numerous archaeological finds have been found. The (rural) municipality was born and developed within a lordship that was one of the longest: lordship that was called the Basque. Prodi and impetuous knights, the Basques (almost of Lombard origin) embraced the Ghibelline cause. We find them involved in great events in central Italy, such as the descent of Henry VII of Luxembourg, and of Louis of Bavaria, and during the struggles against their bitter Guelph enemies. Related to the major families (Aldobrandeschi, Farnese, Orsini, Baglioni, Caetani, Vitelleschi, Baglioni, etc.), in the 13th and 14th centuries they reached their maximum power coming to have 60 castles with estates that extended in Umbria, in Tuscany until sea, in the Marche up to Camerino. Machiavelli in the 2nd book of his History of Florence says that “from the year 1215 the Basques were among the noblest families of Florence”; and in the 8th book that “around the year 1478 the Baschi family was by nobility and wealth the most splendid of Florence without exception even for the Medici”.
The Basques developed into different branches that always remained united in “coterie”, since the rights in their castles and for any company were in common agreed and ready for action. “We often find the Basques of Montemarano, of Vitozzo (Tuscany), of the original branch and others engaged in the attempt, developed throughout the XIV century but not carried out successfully, to create a territorially large and strong feud, replacing itself in the Aldobrandeschi domain by now set to ruin (“Vitozza, an abandoned center, San Quirico, a new center” – Angelo Biondi-1988) However, internal struggles were not lacking: just remember the massacre of Mrs. Bernardina and some of her children in the castle of Baschi, perpetrated by the Basque relatives of Carnano (Montecchio) in 1553.
The first Lord of Baschi we know of is called Ugolino and lived in 1080. The most common names of the family are Ugolino and Ranieri.
In 1809 Rome and the Papal State were annexed to France, after the occupation of Napoleon. Baschi was part of the district of Todi together with Orvieto, Department of Trasimeno.
In 1960 Baschi passed to the Italian government with Orvieto and Todi. In 1891 the Palazzo del Conte Ranuccio, today the seat of the Municipality, was divided into three parts, between the Banca Romana, Signor Gaddi, heir of the last Buccisanti, in turn heir of the Mazzanti, and the Francisci who sold their part to the Municipality, the which established the seat of the municipal administration. The descendants of Angelina dei Baschi still exist in Orvieto.
The Baschi family extended and branched also in France. In 1412 Guiscardo dei Baschi, lord of Vitozzo (diocese of Sovana), of Morano and Latera, together with his wife Giacomina Farnese, daughter of Ranuccio Farnese, and his two sons Bertoldo and Romana, followed Luigi II d’Angiò, king of Naples and Count of Provence; the king had named him his squire of honor. He settled in the castle of Thoard (Basses Alpes); then bought the castles of Barras, Saint-Estève and Tournefort. Thoard always remained the “mother house” of the Basques of France, which developed into two main branches, of Saint-Estève and Saint-Pierre, and in other secondary branches. The Basques are among the nobles of France and many of them have played important roles and held high positions in diplomacy, in the army, in politics. Some lived in close contact with the kings, as Squires, “Maitres d’hotel”, “Gentilhommes ordinaires de la chambre du Roi”, councilors. Many have been awarded the highest honors, such as “Knight of the Legion of Honor”, “Knight of St. Louis”, “Grand Cross of the royal and military order of Saint Louis”, and even “Pari di Francia”. We remember very briefly the Count François de Baschi de Saint-Estève, who served for three years in the second company of the Musketeers of the King, then was appointed Plenipotentiary Minister to the Elector of Bavaria (1748); in 1750 he was sent to Portugal as ambassador and in 1760 to Venice, still as ambassador. He married Charlotte Victoire le Normant, twenty years younger, and became the brother-in-law of Madame de Pompadour, the favorite of Louis XV; together with his wife, he attended the court and was awarded the highest honors, including that of “Pari di Francia”.
Proud of his Italian origins, after 1749 he came to Umbria to meet the relatives of Baschi and Orvieto: Count Francesco Maria di Baschi, Angelina and her husband, Count Mazzanti, establishing an interesting and affectionate correspondence with them. Charles de Baschi, Marquis of Aubais and of the Cayla (Languedoc) is also known as well: he was also a musketeer of the King before retiring to his southern possessions; much loved by his subjects, he dedicated his life to the letters, wrote “Pièces fugitives pour servir à l’histoire de France” and other works of historical research, but it was above all a great “resembleur de livres”: every year he went to Paris with two carriages one of which was filled with books; he collected 30,000 well; to house them he had Aubais add a wing to his splendid castle (which had as many windows as there are days of the year). The castle was burned on April 1, 1792, and even that of Thoard was massacred by the revolutionaries.
The last of the Basques of France was Achille Pierre Antoine de Baschi, Count of Cayla, superior officer, Knight of the Royal and Military Order of St. Louis, Pari de Francia, born in 1775 in Paris in the Palais Bourbon, who died on August 14 1851. His wife, Zoé Talon de Baschi Countess of Cayla, became the favorite of King Louis XVIII, and thus separated from him “de corps et de biens”. They had two sons Ugolino who died before his parents (it was therefore the last generated Basque) and Ugolina Valentina who married the Prince of Craon.