History of Montefalco


See Montefalco guide for highlights and historic monuments

The town of Montefalco, from its hill, overlooks the plain which stretches from Spoleto to Perugia. Montefalco was inhabited in ancient times by Umbrian people and probably also had Etruscan influences.

Later it was subjected by the Romans, who built many villas here. We find evidence of this in the place-names such as Camiano, Rignano, Cortignano and Vecciano, which, in fact, derive from the names of noble families (the presence of the suffix "-anus" implies the idea of ownership). In Roman times the territory was administered by "Municipium of “Mevania” (Bevagna).

After the fall of the Roman Empire, on the remains of these Roman villas, several settlements were born, which then were fortified by the Lombards. One of these sites was Montefalco, which, in late Middle Ages, however, was called “Coccorone”.

During the Middle Ages Montefalco was submitted to the Duchy of Spoleto, and it followed the political events of that settlement. Montefalco developed around the top of a hill, overhung by a tower. Inside the first circle of walls many churches and palaces were built, that still exist, including the Church of St. Augustine and the Town Hall.

In the 12th century “Coccorone” was an independent municipality, but in 1177, by the will of Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, it was subjected to Foligno and then it became the seat of Curia of Spoleto, between 1320 and 1355. In the following years, Montefalco was enriched with valuable works of art, especially in the churches of “Santa Chiara” and “San Francesco”.

In the late 14th century, Montefalco was granted by the Popes as Vicariate to the Trinci family, lords of Foligno, under whose control it remained until 1439.

Later, Montefalco came under the direct rule of the Church State for a long period in which the city enjoyed a certain economic and social welfare, which lasted for over a century until the town was sacked by Orazio Baglioni (1493-1528).

Montefalco is today a city of art of great merit, which bases its economy on tourism, local crafts and activities typical of the soil, particularly on wine production.

Origins of the original name Coccorone

The present etymologies about Montefalco are based on legends and don't have a scientific basis; and also those proposed by scholars are still uncertain and results of pure conjecture.

According to tradition, the ancient name "Coccorone" derives from the Roman senator Marcus Curio, who had several estates near the city, so "Coccorone" derives from an ancient “Cor Curionis” (“Heart of Curio”), due to the fact that Curio, loved "wholeheartedly" this place, while the current name of "Montefalco" ("Mountain of the Hawk") was instead due to Emperor Frederick II (1194-1250).

The name issue was treated with a blend of history and fantasy, by Stephen Monticelli, who, with a close historical and linguistic analysis, dismissed as a mere legend the derivation of the name from Marcus Curio. Starting from “Cor Curionis”, Monticelli pointed out that the genitive of the Roman name “Curio” is “Curii” and not “Curionis”, a serious grammatical error to be punished, he said, “with the lash”; so, we should have a "Cor Curii" and not "Cor Curionis", which is, in his opinion, a real "nonsense."

Analyzing some archival documents, Monticelli discovered that "Corcorone" or "Coccorone" had a very different origin. He said that Emperor Otto the Great, coming into Italy in 962, would have invested several feuds in his faithful soldiers, among them Enzio Cordiano, who had a feud where the village of Montefalco now stands, and where he built a fortress.

Since the family coat of arms of Enzio Cordiano was a "cor cum corona aurea" (“a heart with a crown of gold”), he called the place, from its coat of arms," Cor-corona ", which the people then changed, according to their own dialect, into “Coccorone”.

As regards the change from "Coccorone" to "Montefalco", this would have been owned, according to Monticelli, by Emperor Frederick I, called “The Barbarossa” (1122-1190), who gave the feud to Ranaldo de Monaldi, giving him a hawk trained to hunt, which was, in those time, a rare privilege, worthy only of the royal households. According to Monticelli, from that moment, in honour of the privilege granted to the Lord of the Castle by Frederick I, the village was called, at the same time, "Coccorone" and "Montefalco".

The latter name stuck permanently to the village since 1249, when Frederick II punished “Coccorone” destroying the castle because it had rebelled against his authority, but rebuilt it soon after. Monticelli then quotes a document dating back to 1250, which says that in those years "Coccorone" was also called “Montefalco”:

"[...] Village in the territory of Coccorone, now called Castello di Montefalco" [1].

The mention of this document by Monticelli is correct, and contemporary studies confirm his assertion. A. De Luca writes:

"[...] Coccorone and Bevagna were razed to the ground. But both they were quickly rebuilt: Coccorone in a better position, a bit more upstream, and with the new name of ‘Montefalco’, a name which  is already attested in a document of ‘Sassovivo’, prepared by the Notary Viviano in September 1250, quoted by Piergili , where it is said: ‘[…] In territorio Coccoroni et nunc castrum de Montefalco [...]’" [2].

Monticelli got some things correct, but, as regards the etymology, contemporary linguistic studies show that the ancient name of the castle, 'Coccorone' or 'Corone' reveals, in the root "Cor" (or "Kor"), a Gallic term that was the basis from which the Gauls indicated "pagi", or villages [3].

Thus, the ancient "Corone" ( “Coccorone” or “Corcorone”) seems to derive from a linguistic base of Gallic origin, “Cor”, which simply means “village” (“pagus”) [some scholars also note that "Cor" could be "doubled", giving rise to a sequence “Cor-Cor”, which resembles to “Cor-cor-one”].

For these reasons, neither Marcus Curio (“Cor Curionis”) nor the coats of arms of Enzio Cordiano (“Cor cum corona aurea”) seem to have any consistency. These are the current results about the etymology of "Coccorone", but, as we can imagine, the issue is still far from a satisfactory solution.

Origins of the name Montefalco

We have the same uncertainty about the etymology of the name "Montefalco". According to present tradition, and since the documents refer the emergence of "Montefalco" to the period in which Frederick II destroyed the "Coccorone" Castle (1249), it was thought that the name derives from the fact that Frederick II was a fan of Falconry, and that the new name was born in his honour.

In fact, on this point things seem more complex, as some scholars have interpreted "Montefalco" as "Mons Faliscus", from an ancient people, the “Falisci”, founders of a city, “Falliene” or “Falina”, destroyed and rebuilt under the name “Faliscus”.

From "Faliscus", with a "corruption" of the name, by a possible "Mons Faliscus", would be born “Mons Falcus” (Italian “Monte Falco”) [4]. This, however, is far from certain, so that the possible etymology is proposed with a question mark: "Falina" - "Falcus?".

See the travel guide for Montefalco.

References

1. See Stephen Monticelli, “Compendio Istorico della Vita, Virtù e Fortuna di San Fortunato” ["Summary of the Life, Virtues and Fortuna of San Fortunato], Foligno, Tomassini, 1829: 94

2. See A. De Luca, “Le Carte dell'Abbazia di Sassovivo: 1223-1227”, L. S. Olschki, 1973: 28

3. See Silvestro Nessi, “Le origini del Comune di Montefalco” [“The origins of the town of Montefalco”], Rocca di Spoleto, 1977: 38-39, notes 75, 77

4. See AA.VV, “ I Dialetti dell'Italia Mediana con Particolare Riguardo alla Regione Umbra” [“The Dialects of Median Italy with Particular Reference to the Umbrian Region”], Gubbio 28 May to 1 June 1967, 1970: 135