The Upper Tiber Valley: More History Along The Hillsides

“The landscape is amazing: imagine a boundless amphitheatre that only nature could create”,

–  Pliny the Younger (61 – 113 AD) about Valtiberina

Valtiberina, view from Citerna

The Upper-Tiber Valley has a great number of various paths, like those rich in Franciscan lore, linking Assisi and La Verna, the two spiritual poles, where piety, along with art expressions, flourished in all the places that Saint Francis passed through.

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The Sanctuary of La Verna (in Tuscany), where The Franciscan Trail begins. It crosses the region in 16 steps, through flourishing woodlands, farmed valleys, paths and places that inspired the saint.

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If you like hiking, you’ll discover the untouched natural beauty of  the valley with its fascinating history, towns, isolated abbeys, places where miracles took place, the ancient artworks inspired by peace message and love for all living creatures. As you walk, you can admire hillsides dotted with old stone farmhouses, beautiful churches, mountain streams and the amazing panoramas – a wonderful excuse to stop often, catch your breath, and snap some amazing photos.

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The Baroque Sanctuary of Madonna di Belvedere, a short distance from Città di Castello (5 km following the SS Apecchiese). Built between 1669 and 1684 with a dome between the two majestic bell towers, it offers beautiful vistas of the town, the valley and the mountains of La Verna and Monte Acuto near Umbertide.

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The imposing complex dominates the valley, like the Sanctuary of Canoscio, which I mentioned in another post. From a distance, it appears to me like the one from Raphael’s Marriage of the Virgin, which he painted in 1504 for the Church of St. Francis in Città di Castello.

Colle Plinio – Pliny’s home in the Upper Tiber Valley.

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The remains of the ancient ‘Villa in Tuscis’ of Pliny the Younger, brought to light in the 1970s, along with its thermal plant – a Calidarium (hot bath), a Tepidarium (warm bath) and a Frigidarium (a large cold pool), as well as a temple of Ceres, harvest cellars, earthenware, etc.

Villa Magherini Graziani, a splendid example of the early 17th century architecture. This noble estate was completed in 1616 on commission by Carlo Graziani.

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The villa houses a museum with numerous finds of the archaeological excavations carried out in 1974, ancient Roman mosaics, tiles and other objects of daily use are on display. Open on Sundays and holidays, tickets €3.

The Republic of Cospaia

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For centuries the valley was subjected to the political and military interests of the main powers of Tuscany and Umbria. In 1441 when The Florentine Republic and The Papal States decided to define the borders, the little hill of Cospaia nestled between the two streams flowing into the Tiber, both named Rio and maximum 500 metres away from each other, wasn’t taken into account. This mistake granted the tiny republic (twenty times smaller than San Marino) independence, with no written laws, heads of the state, soldiers or taxes. Cospaia was so small that neither of the bordering powers would fight a war to conquer it. The Republic ran great deals with both the Grand Duchy of Tuscany and the Church. Its inhabitants lived independent lives for almost four centuries. An early centre for tobacco production (started in 1574), this small strip of land became the capital of Italian tobacco.  Today, Cospaia is a hamlet of the comune of San Giustino.

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Terme di Fontecchio, Città di Castello, 3 km away from the city centre. These thermal baths were already known in Roman times, when Pliny the Younger accompanied his wife Calpurnia to “maintain her beauty and grace”. Equipped with diagnostic and therapeutic centers, the Spa offers various treatments and genuine relaxation thanks to the properties of its sulphurous waters and mud.

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La Verna Sanctuary, Peace of Mind and Franciscan Lore

La Verna, rising above the valley of the Casentino, a few kilometres from the small town of Chiusi della Verna, is one of the most important places of devotion for Franciscans. Numerous visitors find the place really moving. I guess because it awakens your senses and combines all the crucial elements for reflection and communion with nature. Here you can relax and restore your spirit.

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The Sanctuary can be reached by car, driving along the winding road lined up with spruce and beech trees of the National Park of Casentino forests.

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This pilgrimage site, situated in the centre of the Tuscan Apennines, about 43 km northeast of Arezzo and 120 km northwest of Assisi, offers priceless views and silence of the remote countryside, which justifies the special affection of the visitors.

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The mountain known as La Verna was given to Saint Francis by Count Orlando of Chiusi in 1213, as a retreat for contemplation. In 1224 St. Francis withdrew to it to pray and fast. During this time he received the Stigmata (the wounds of Christ).

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The main entrance to the Sanctuary, easily reachable from the parking area, and the welcoming statue of St. Francis with a child.

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The Chapel of the Stigmata is reached by a long corridor frescoed with episodes from the life of the saint. Along this corridor the friars have walked in procession every day at 3pm since 1431.

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Halfway down the corridor is an ancient door that leads to a grotto with a large slab of stone at the end – ‘the bed‘ where the saint rested.

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The Precipice, with a short walkway around the rock. Located at 1228 mt above sea level, it offers stunning views of the valley below. Soak in the silence, take time to enjoy it all.

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The Quadrant – the paved square with a view, a large wooden cross, a sundial on the wall of the bell tower and a 16th-century well, that was used for pilgrims and guests.

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The Basilica of the Sanctuary, which houses La Cappella delle Reliquie, and Santa Maria degli Angeli, a chapel founded by Saint Francis in 1216. Today, there are several small chapels conductive to prayer and meditation to visit, as well as a museum. The sanctuary has many important historical artefacts and a number of beautiful Della Robbia lead-glazed terracotta artworks.

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The Sanctuary of La Verna is open daily from 6:30am until sunset. Masses are held several times a day.  A visit here can be truly inspirational!

Happy Easter everyone!

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Assisi, Peaceful and Blissful

“Start by doing what is necessary,

then do what is possible,

and suddenly you are doing the impossible”

– Francis of Assisi


Once owned by the Roman Empire, Assisi is a beautiful Umbrian town of worldwide fame and an important place of pilgrimage.

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The Romans, who took control of central Italy in 295 BC, built the flourishing municipium Asisium on the western slopes of Monte Subasio. The city walls, the Forum, the Temple of Minerva are all Roman remains that can be found in Assisi today.

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Converted to Christianity in 238 AD by bishop Rufino, Assisi is bound with its native son –  St. Francis, born there in 1181/1182. Like Jesus, Francis taught by example, living without worldly goods and cherishing the beauty of nature and God’s wonderful creation.

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St. Francis of Assisi founded an order of friars in the town in 1208, while his female counterpart, Clare, went on to establish the order of the Poor Clares.

The magnificent Basilica of St. Francis, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2000

This stunning 3-level Romanesque-Gothic Basilica was built in the 13th century and is decorated from top to bottom by precious frescoes by the leading Sienese and Florentine artists of the time. The crypt houses the body of St. Francis himself.

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In the nearby Basilica of St. Clare hangs the wooden crucifix St. Francis knelt before in 1206 to ask for guidance, and then followed the call to rebuild the Porziuncola Church in the valley right below Assisi. Today you will find the huge Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli built around it.

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Francis was proclaimed a saint by Pope Gregory IX in 1228, and shares honours with St. Catherine of Siena as the patron saint of Italy.

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