In medieval times Sansepolcro was known as "Burgus Sancti Sepulchri" (“Sansepolcro Village”), due to the fact that two holy pilgrims, Arcanio and Egidio, coming from the Holy Land, founded a church-chapel here to house the many relics they had found in the "Tomb of Christ".
According to other sources (much debated) it seems that the ancient name of the Village was Biturgia, and that it was here that Pliny the Elder (23-79 AD) had his sumptuous villa.
The ancient Village of Sansepolcro developed around the 10th century, initially as a fief belonging to the monks of Camaldoli. The people then freed themselves from their dominion and became an independent municipality, thanks to the support of Aretins.
In the 14th century the city was subjugated by the family of Tarlati in 1318, and again towards the end of the century by Galeotto Malatesta (1299-1385).
After the Battle of Anghiari in 1440 the Florentines imposed their domination. Under the Medici, Sansepolcro had a significant level of building development and the fortifications were also extended by Giuliano da Sangallo (1484-1546). Under Cosimo I (1519-1574) the civil building development had another major impulse with the construction of the palaces of the local nobility, such as the Pichi, Rigi, Ducci and Graziani. Sansepolcro became a bishopric in 1515 under Pope Leo X (1475-1521).
The civil and religious building activity continued into the 17th century, although it was a century of demographic crisis. The city started some important reclamation works to enhance an area devoted mostly to agriculture and manufacturing (wool and silk).
During the 19th century Sansepolcro had a certain economic importance for the cultivation and processing of tobacco and food industry. Even today, agriculture (wheat, tobacco, potatoes, corn, wine), next to the food industry and shoe factories, is one of the important economic aspects of the contemporary town.
Is Sansepolcro the ancient town of Biturgia?
Over the centuries there has been much discussion over whether Sansepolcro may or may not be the old “Biturgia”, which Ptolemy (90-168) placed among the towns in Tuscany nearest to Umbria.
Even today there is much uncertainty on the assumption that Sansepolcro corresponds exactly to the ancient settlement founded by the "Bituriges" Gauls (from whose name is derived "Biturgia"). Contemporary archaeological studies near Sansepolcro would suggest rather a "Roman settlement".
Despite the doubts, the people of Sansepolcro have never given up on the idea that their city was the ancient Biturgia. The really interesting thing about this relationship between Sansepolcro and Biturgia is that this was founded by the Bituriges Gauls, who came from the region of Berry (north-central France), from Avaricum (modern day Bourges).
As explained very well by Pliny the Elder, the Bituriges Gauls were divided into two tribes, the "Biturigi Cubi", living at Avaricum (Bourges) and the “Biturigi Vibisci”. The Bituriges Gauls, who founded their colony in Tuscany, calling it “Biturgia”, were the “Biturigi Cubi” of “Avaricum”; hence Bourges and Sansesepolcro are in a sense 'twin cities'.
See the Sansepolcro guide if planning a visit.