History of Gualdo Cattaneo, Italy

See Gualdo Cattaneo guide for highlights and historic monuments

In the Middle Ages Gualdo Cattaneo was called "Gualdum Captaneorum". Gualdo Cattaneo was certainly an ancient castle, but the documentation does not go back beyond the 12th century, although a Roman inscription was found in this area. In fact, Carlo Pietrangeli said:

"We have only one datum about Gualdo in Roman times, that is the discovery of a Roman inscription of a citizen from Mevania, but ascribed to the Lemonia tribe, found in 1720 near the church of SS. Anthony and Anthoninus" [7]. He was called "Edusius", and he said he was "natus Mevaniae", but died in the territory of Todi" [8]

The first reliable reference to Gualdo Cattaneo is a document of Frederick I [1122-1190], drawn up in Coccorone in 1185, when the Emperor granted the town to Abbot Berardo of the Monastery of St. Peter of Mount Martano:

"At Gualdo, in the church of St. Benedict and St. Christopher, with all its appurtenances" [9].

From the 12th century in Gualdo Cattaneo

We have more reliable information on the small town since 1198, when Innocent III (1161-1216) reorganized the territories of the Papal States, and particularly those of the Duchy of Spoleto, under the authority of which Gualdo was subject, making room for the small rural Commune in order to weaken the powerful Dukedoms.

In fact, Gualdo Cattaneo was a rural Commune which tried to be independent even if it was included in a context of powerful cities and the Papal States.

Over the centuries the village was under the authority of Foligno and in particular of the Trinci, a noble Guelph family of Foligno, whose influence on Gualdo Cattaneo started from 1219, when Napoleon Trinci, Ranaldo's [or Rinaldo] son, captured the village and other castles near Foligno with the approval of Frederick II (1194-1250).

In essence, Gualdo Cattaneo was always under the authority of the State of the Church, although ruled by several Lords, generally as Papal Vicars, such as the Baglioni, the Trinci or Ciccolino Michelotti (born 1353), who was invested with the Vicariate by Pope Gregory XII (1326-1417).

When Corrado Trinci rebelled against the Pope, losing his life in the castle of Soriano in 1441, Pope Alexander VI (1431-1503) granted the investiture of Gualdo Cattaneo to the city of Foligno, despite the fierce opposition of the Baglioni, who tried unsuccessfully to prevent the occupation of the castle by Foligno.

This was the time of the beginning of the construction of the fortress, later known as the Borgia’s Fortress, a symbol of the Papal power, and these days one of the most significant monuments still perfectly intact in Gualdo Cattaneo.

The village, as we said above, was a rural Commune that towards the end of the 15th century provided itself with a statute. Nico Ottaviani points out that the statute of Gualdo Cattaneo [“Statutum Nobilis Castri Gualdi Captaneorum"]:

"is not very different from that of (…) other rural towns of Umbria and (…) it is divided into five books (De officiis, De causis civilibus, De malefitiis, De extraordinariis, De dannisdatis) [10].

The dependency of Gualdo Cattaneo on the Papal States is confirmed by a series of documents that confirm the relationship between the castle and the Apostolic Chamber in Rome, such as payment of taxes or the appointment of “Difensori Ufficiali” [Advocates] as collaborators of the Podestà.

Gualdo after the Middle Ages

Thus, the Umbria region of the 17th and 18th century was a province of the Papal States, where local governments were in the hands of élites, who still had to deal with Rome.

The Napoleonic period was of some account, with restructuring in the administrative region of Umbria, but the French had to struggle with the ancient tensions of Medieval origin that divided the Umbrian cities, such as the strained relations between Foligno and Gualdo Cattaneo. Suffice it to say that the motto of Gualdo Cattaneo was: "Gualdo Cattaneo by force" and the phrase, in the course of the Palio, was repeated three times [11].

In practice, however, during the years of French domination, Gualdo Cattaneo was a fief of Foligno until 1816 [12]. After the Napoleonic Era Umbria returned to the State of the Church and the city entered into the Kingdom of Italy in 1861.

Origins of the name Gualdo Cattaneo

The Lombard origin of the name "Gualdo" is undoubtable; in fact, it derives from the German "wald" [=wood]. M. G. Nico Ottaviani, author of an authoritative study on Gualdo Cattaneo, says that we can:

"confirm the Lombard origin of 'Gualdum', a term widely used in the names of the Marche, Tuscany and Umbria regions, and widely used in medieval documents (…) D. Bullough argued ... the Lombard origin of the word with its meaning of 'wood', and more specifically of ‘Royal wood property' or 'subject to common low principles' " [1].

In this regard, A. Sansi had already in 1870 observed that:

"the German word 'gualdo' ('wald' = wood) lends credence to the idea that the castle of Gualdo Cattaneo in the beginning was a Lombard village built at the mouth of a wood, according to a common custom among these people” [2].

With regard to the second term ("Cap[i]taneorum"), it is:

"a rather generic term, which indicated the 'Capitanei', also known as 'Cattani', who from Kings and Emperors over the 10th and 11th centuries earned property rights over many castles" [3].

In essence "Gualdum Captaneorum" means "the wooded village ruled by the ‘Capitanei’ [Royal officials].”

It is pointless to try (as has been done) to identify a mysterious Count "Cattaneo" that would have given his name to Gualdo. The second name of the small town ["Captaneorum"] in the end had to yield to the hard and fast laws that ruled the transformation from the ancient to modern Italian language, which is simply the result of the changes undergone over the centuries because of the regional accent.

We can easily imagine what happened. We know that in the popular pronunciation the final letters of words were the first to fall  and then the internal unstressed vowels fell. In this sense, in the word "Cap-i-taneorum," fell the last three letters (-rum), then fell the internal vowel "i", so we get  “Ca-p-taneo.”

The "p" was an obstacle in the vulgar pronunciation, and therefore inevitably it fell; what remained was precisely the modern name "Cataneo," or "Cattaneo" (with two "t" in modern Italian language). Sometimes the name of the toponym, because of the pronunciation, was so "murdered" that these days it is hardly recognizable, as we can see in some medieval documents, such as in this example, of September 3, 1309:

"Bonis et rebus S. Marie Magdalene de 'Capatis' "[All the goods of St. Mary Magdalene of 'Capatis']". M. Sensi points out that  the term "Capatis" refers to "Ca-p-tanis" [=Cap[i] taneis], a name given to some Lombard settlements such as Gualdo Cattaneo" [4].

Is there a mysterious Edoardo Cattaneo?

Even today we read in various places (and despite the wide and accredited studies on the subject) that the name of Gualdo Cattaneo would be derived from an alleged "Edoardo Cattaneo".

The person responsible for the perpetuation of this myth was the scholar Ludovico Iacobilli, who wrote that the foundation of the city would be attributed to 'Edoardo Cattaneo', a "noble Count," whose name he had found in a diploma of Otto II, with which the Emperor granted him a fief of the land where Gualdo Cattaneo would be built.

In fact, Iacobilli had taken this information from the “Ex Chronicis dominorum de Brunforte”  [Chronicles of the Lords of Brunforte]. This chronic, however, had a fundamental flaw, because it was invented by Alfonso Ceccarelli (Nico Ottaviani, p. XII), a known forger of old documents. We do not know if the document in question was completely invented by Alfonso Ceccarelli - Nico Ottaviani points out that L. Fumi, who studied the work by Alfonso Ceccarelli wondered if Ceccarelli had fully invented the document, "or he had been inspired by an original document which then disappeared and in which he then inserted his forgery" (Nico Ottaviani, p. XII, footnote 6).

Alfonso Ceccarelli was born in Bevagna in 1532, and he was a physician with strong interests, ranging from natural science to numismatics. But he was also one of the most famous forgers of the 16th century, and it cost him his life:

"The adventurous life and the end of Alfonso Ceccarelli from Bevagna have consigned to history a sinister character of a forger and malefactor (...) which led him to death" [5].

We conclude by noting that the legend on the existence of Edoardo Cattaneo was repeated at higher levels of studies for several years, but not after the historical essay by M. G. Nico Ottaviani (1977); so, for example, C. Chelazzi wrote in 1943:

"Gualdo Cattaneo was built by Edoardo Cattaneo, Count of Umbria at the time of Otto III; the city was then under the rule of the Trinci of Foligno and then a feud of Foligno" [6].

See also the travel guide for Gualdo Cattaneo.


1. See M.G. Nico Ottaviani, “Gualdo Cattaneo nel Medioevo”, in   “Lo statuto di Gualdo Cattaneo del 1483”, La nuova Italia, 1977, p. XIII,  footnote 3

2. See A. Sansi, , “ I duchi di Spoleto”, "Foligno, 1870, p. 21

3. Nico Ottaviani, p. XIII

4. See M. Sensi, “Storie di Bizzocche”, Edizioni di storia e letteratura,  Rome, 1995, p. 103

5. See Alfonso Ceccarelli da Bevagna, “Istoria di Casa Cesarina”, edited by D. Romei-P. Rosini, “Banca dati “Nuovo Rinascimento”, 2009, pp. 3-5

6. See C. Chelazzi et alii, “Gualdo Cattaneo”, in “Catalogo della raccolta di statuti, consuetudini, leggi, decreti ...”, Tipografia del Senato,  1943, p. 341

7. See C. Pietrangeli, " Mevania ", Roma, 1953, p. 141

8. Nico Ottaviani, p. 28

9. Nico Ottaviani, p. XIV

10. Nico Ottaviani, p. XXXI

11. See B. Lattanzi, “Storia di Foligno: Le occupazioni francesi 1797-1814”, 1994,  p. 208

12. Lattanzi, p.32: "The City of Foligno from the heraldic point of view is still "Lord of Gualdo Cattaneo", which, in the nineteenth century, however,  from the administrative point of view was under the authority of Bevagna