History of Castiglione del Lago, Italy

See Castiglione del Lago guide for highlights and historic monuments

Castiglione del Lago is located on the western shore of Lake Trasimeno, in a region that in ancient times was dominated by the Etruscans, and particularly by the "Clusium" [Chiusi]. According to recent studies: "

"the shores of Lake Trasimeno were inhabited since the Palaeolithic Age, because of a favorable micro-climate which tempered the rigors of winter and the summer heat (...) The settlement of the banks of the lake has never been interrupted over the millennia; in fact, recently near San Savino proto-historical remains of pottery fragments dating back to the 12th -10th centuries BC have been found....

... there is little information about Lake Trasimeno in Etruscan and Roman times; however we do know that several small settlements devoted to agriculture and fishing were scattered along its shores" [1].

Archaeological discoveries near Castiglione del Lago

Already by the late 18th century very important discoveries had been made in the area, such as the tomb of a member of the "Gens Trebia": "In the area of the lake near Castiglione in 1790 was discovered an underground vault of the gens 'Trepia' or 'Trebia'" [2].

In the late 19th century an ancient Etruscan tomb was discovered and described by Professor L. Milani at the Accademia dei Lincei:

"To the east of the Lake of Chiusi, in Val di Sasso at the Tower of Beccati, in the municipality of Castiglione del Lago, was discovered in the spring of last year (1884), a virgin tomb (…)  with an urn in the form of a rectangular temple (H 0.28; length 0.39, width 0.24 (...) On the top of it stands out an enormous panther head with long ears, big eyes and a moustache...

... The grave from which were extracted the interesting furnishings were composed of a main room dug into the tuff, and two accessory cells (…) The main object of the whole tomb was  a cinerary urn in the form of temple, which was found leaning against the back wall, and placed in the middle on a base of travertine, which is about 60 cm " [3].

Castiglione del Lago in the early Middle Ages

Castiglione del Lago historically belonged from the early Middle Ages to Perugia. Castiglione del Lago is quoted as "Insula Pulvensim" for the first time in a privilege of Louis the Pious (778-840 AD) granted in 817 AD to Pope Paschal [pope from  817 to  824]:

“In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I, Ludwig, Emperor Augustus, confirm to you, Paschal, Prince of the Apostles and Pope, and your successors forever, the towns, castles, and fortifications located in Tuscany, that is Centocelle, Chere, Bleda and Perugia with its three islands, namely the Major, Minor and that called Polvese, with the lake" [9].

As P. Angelucci points out, the ‘Insula Pulvensim’ [Castiglione del Lago] was considered a "historical province" of Perugia:

"In the imperial privilege of 817 the three islands are considered as belonging to Perugia and the lake itself  was called 'Lacus Perusinus' [= Lake of Perugia] in official sources since the 10th century AD, establishing a city-lake link which was reinforced from a judicial and economic point of view a few centuries later" [10].

In the 12th century Perugia was able to conquer the city of Castiglione, and its rule turned out durable. According to the act of submission, Perugia promised to defend Castiglione del Lago against any opponent:

“This was the usual formula. It was in fact an undertaking to send a contingent in time of war ('ad hostem faciendam'), not to declare war or make treaties with other towns without the consent of Perugia ('ad parlamentum'), and to be  subject to tribute ('ad coltam et datam'). In return Perugia gave her protection” [11].

The  document was published by A. Bartoli Langeli: “I, Hugh, Abbot of the Monastery of Campoleone, with the consent of the monks, the Prior Bernard and Chamberlain Ugone, grant in perpetuity "Castiglione Clusinum" with all its possessions to the city of Perugia" [12]. About this document, see also [13]. A. Langeli Bartoli, in his commentary, also observed that "The belonging of Castiglione del Lago to the Abbey of Campoleone was confirmed for the first time by Otto III in 997 AD [14].

According to G. Moroni, “Castiglione del Lago was formerly a strong fortress, which, because of the vicissitudes of wars and the struggles between factions, was damaged and the walls demolished. Calindri said that in 996 Otto III (980-1002) gave the castle to Hugh, Prince of Tuscany".

The Abbot Hugh gave the castle to Perugia, then Henry IV destroyed and burned the castle in 1091, and Pope lnnocent III in 1212 confirmed its ownership by Perugia. The city was often disputed over by Cortona and Orvieto, and during the 14th century it got mixed up in the conflicts between the Pope and the Empire.

Castiglione del Lago in the late Middle Ages

During the civil wars that afflicted Perugia, the Oddi, exiled by the Baglioni, sheltered here, but they were soon forced to retreat. Pope Leo X [1475-1521] in 1515 stayed in the castle when he went to Florence, which gives us proof that at that time there was a main road from Tuscany to Perugia, called the “Road of Chiusi".

Pope Julius III (1487-1555) now conferred the title of marquisate to Castiglione, giving possession of it to his nephew Ascanio della Corgna (1514-1571).

The della Corgna family arrived at the height of their prestige in the 16th century under the protection of Pope Julius III, who created the estate in favor of Giacoma his sister, Fulvio [1517-1583] and Ascanio della Corgna. Fulvio chose an ecclesiastical career, becoming Cardinal, while Ascanio was an able commander.

Pope Paul V (1552-1621) in 1616 transformed the city into a duchy, in favor of Fulvio della Corgna. As he was debarred from his rights, the city was then incorporated directly into the domain of the State of the Church, until Pope Leo XII (1760-1829) in 1828 declared it a feud under the control of the Apostolic Chamber [18].

We add that in 1247 Frederick II (1194-1250) conquered Castiglione and considering its strategic position he destroyed the old castle and entrusted the reconstruction of it to Elias Coppi, well known as Elias from Cortona (died 1253). A native of Assisi, Elias became a respected member of the newly founded Franciscans, journeying to the Holy Land in 1217, where, in 1219, he was appointed privincial of Syria [19].

In 1488 Castiglione del Lago was embroiled in fights between the families of the Oddi and the Baglioni of Perugia. As already remarked by Moroni, the Oddi took refuge in the castle. After these violent clashes between the Oddi and Baglioni, in 1490 Castiglione was in possession of the Baglioni.

Julius III in 1550 granted the estate to his sister Giacoma, and therefore it passed to his nephews, Fulvio and Ascanio della Corgna. Afterwards, Pope Pius IV (1499-1565) bestowed on Ascanio the title of Marquis of Castiglione. Because of the lost of Castiglione, Fulvio, the last member of the family, was accused of treason:

"On June 26, 1643 the castle was attacked by weapons of Grand Duke Ferdinand II (1610-1670), who had allied himself with Duke Francis of Modena (1610-1658) and the Venetians against Pope Urban VIII (1568-1644). Fulvio was assailed by powerful armies and he lost the battle. June 29 Castiglione capitulated and surrendered, while the Duke Fulvio fled to Cortona (...) According to the Chronist Settimanni, it is clear that Fulvio della Cornia was guilty of treason in the rendering of Castiglione (…) and so on September 15 he was declared guilty of rebellion and treason, and punished with excommunication (...) Castiglione returned on July 18 under the control of the Church" [20]

F. De Medici also related that in Castiglione del Lago in this period a mint was instituted: "in the short time that he ran, from 1 July 1643 to 18 July 1644, in which Castiglione was ruled by Grand Duke Ferdinand II, there was opened a mint of very short duration" [21].

After the death of Fulvio, and taking advantage of the lack of direct heirs, the State of the Church confiscated permanently Castiglione del Lago.

During the French Revolution and Napoleonic era Castiglione del Lago was part of the Roman Republic, then finally after the Unification of Italy, the city entered into the Kingdom of Italy in 1861.

Was ancient Castiglione the same as Clusium novum?

From the historical point of view, Castiglione del Lago has aroused since the 19th century conflicting opinions that still have not found a shared solution. Many scholars suggested that Castiglione del Lago was to be identified with "Clusium Novum", whose inhabitants, the "Clusini novi", were mentioned by Pliny the Elder [23-79 AD] (other scholars believe that the town was located near Arezzo). About this issue G. Moroni wrote:

"Castiglione del Lago was named ‘Castiglione Chiusino’, Castula or Castellio and (...) according to Borghi and Gambini, Castiglione was the 'Novum Clusium' mentioned by Pliny the Elder, which is placed by geographers in Casentino" [4].

The problem is still difficult to solve because the real existence of a city called "Clusium novum" has been questioned by many scholars:

"The subject of the existence of a Sullan colony in Chiusi continues to be much debated by scholars. With regard to this Pliny the Elder (Nat. Hist., III, 52) mentioned the existence of the "Clusini novi" [New Chiusini (=inhabitants of Chiusi)] next to "Clusini veteres" [=old Chiusini] (...) but no traces of Roman centuriation have yet been recognized that go back to this time, and epigraphy is not conclusive in this regard" [5].

That the territory of Castiglione del Lago had belonged to the Etruscans of Chiusi is a fact:

"Castiglione del Lago belonged to the territory of Chiusi, as demonstrated by the same name with which the city was called in the Middle Ages, that is "Castrum Clusinum" [Castle of Chiusi] [6].

After noticing a "renewed interest in the antiquities of Chiusi", in the context of the speech about some finds discovered in the city, E. Pack and G. Paolucci also faced the problem of "Clusium Novum", pointing out serious doubts about the existence of it, although some historians almost take for granted the identity of "Clusium Novum" with Castiglione del Lago:

"Despite the absolute statements like those of Brunt [7] (...) there are no certain clues proving the existence of a Sullan colony called 'Clusini Novi" [8]. Therefore, at our present state of knowledge, not only we can not establish with absolute certainty whether Castiglione had been the old "Clusium Novum", but there is a serious possibility that "Clusium Novum" never existed in this area.

Origins of the name Castiglione del Lago

When we talk about the origins of Castiglione we should observe that the toponym has a less transparent meaning than we perhaps think. According to current affairs journalism it seems that "Castiglione" almost certainly derives from "Castrum Leonis" [Lion's Castle], perhaps so-called for its pentagonal shape, which, according to some authors, suggests the Constellation of the Lion.

In Italy there are many places called "Castiglione", which seems to derive from "Castrum Leonis". S. Boldrini noted that "according to Pagnani it was the custom of the Middle Ages Lords to name their castles with original names, heightening the beauty and strength of them. Frequently they adopted the name of "Castrum Leonis" (Castiglione, Castelleone), because the lion is beautiful and strong" [15].

In reality this name is very ambiguous, and for this reason it has been the subject of various studies over time. One of the most significant was that of O. Mazzoni Toselli, who spoke of the etymology of "Castiglione" in the Bolognese area:

"Castiglione ... is certainly an ancient Gallic word composed of "Cast" [= house or castle] and 'Ion' [= Lord], and also God … which does not derive from the Latin words 'Castellum Leonis'. Many places in Italy were called by this name. The term 'Castle', says Davies, is located in the most ancient buildings, whose root is 'Cast' [=house]” [16].

So in this case "Castiglione" means "residence of the Sovereign". Given that the fortress of Castiglione del Lago was rebuilt by Frederick II, it might be plausible. However, since "Castiglione" is also a generic name which has its roots in the Latin term "Castellio,-onis," which means "oppidulum" ["little fortress"], it is very likely that things are in these terms.

Therefore, the name probably has nothing to do with the "lion" in the strict sense, and probably Emanuele Repetti was right when he pointed out that "'Castiglionello', 'Castiglione' and 'Castellione' derived from 'Castellio' ['oppidulum '(= small fortress)] > 'Castrum Leonis': "‘Castiglione’ is a generic place name, which still many small castles have” [17].

If E. Repetti was right, therefore, "Castiglione" means "little fortress."

See our Castiglione del Lago travel guide if visiting.


1. See V. Vincenti, “La tutela ambientale del Lago Trasimeno in età medievale”, in "Thinking about the Environment", 2002, p. 133

2. See F. Inghirami, ,  “Saggio d'iscrizioni romane”, in “Lettere di etrusca erudizione”, poligrafia Fiesolana, 1828, p. 93

3. See “XIII.  Castiglione del Lago.  Nota del prof. L. Milani circa la scoperta di antica tomba a Val di Sasso”, in  “Notizie degli scavi di antichità”, Accademia dei Lincei, Roma, 1885, p. 500 ff.

4. See G. Moroni, “Dizionario di erudizione storico-ecclesiastica”,  1851, Vol LI, pp. 135-136

5. See “Manifattura ceramica etrusco-romana a Chiusi”, edited by G. Pucci and C. Mascione, Edipuglia, 2003, p. 10

6. See P. Angelucci, “Presenze fondiarie e giurisdizioni monastiche nell’area del Trasimeno (secoli X-XI)”, in  “Bollettino della Deputazione di storia patria per l'Umbria”, 2004, p. 7

7. "Italian Manpower", 308: 'the place was a colony'

8. See E. Pack-G. Paolucci, “Tituli Clusini: Nuove iscrizioni e correzioni all 'epigrafia latina di Chiusi”, in “Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik”, 1987, n. 68, pp. 159-191, p. 168 and footnote 42

9. See J. P. Migne, “Patrologiae Cursus Completus”, Patrologiae Tomus XCVIII, Operum Beati Caroli Magni Imperatoris Tomus secundus, Parisiis, 1851,  pp. 579-580

10. See P. Angelucci, “Presenze fondiarie e giurisdizioni monastiche nell’area del Trasimeno”,  p. 9

11. Vedi W. Heywood, “A History of Perugia”, London, 1910, p. 51 and footnote

12. See A. Bartoli Langeli, “Codice diplomatico del comune di Perugia: 1139-1237”, Deputazione di storia patria per l'Umbria, 1983, p. 16

13. E. Binacchiella, “Castiglione del Lago e il suo territorio”, 1977, pp. 11-12

14. "Regesta Imperii", II, 1747)" (Bartoli Langeli, p. 16 footnote 1

15. See S. Boldrini, “Fedro e Perotti: ricerche di storia della tradizione”,  1988, p. 131

16. See O. Mazzoni Toselli, “Origine della lingua Italiana”,  Bologna, 1831, p. 80

17. See E. Repetti, “Dizionario geografico, fisico, storico della Toscana”,  1833-1845, p. 590

18. See G. Moroni, “Dizionario di erudizione storico-ecclesiastica”, 1851, Vol LI, pp. 135-136

19. See “OSV’s Encyclopedia of Catholic History”, Edited by M. Bunson, 2004, p. 313

20. See F. De Medici, Della 'Crazia' e il 'Quattrino'”, in “ Periodico di numismatica e  sfragistica per la storia d'Italia”, Firenze, 1868, Vol. I,  pp.17-18

21. De Medici, p. 19