History of Valtopina, Italy

See Valtopina guide for highlights and historic monuments

The village these days known as "Valtopina" rose in the Early Middle Ages, but the area was known in Roman times.

Valtopina in Roman and ancient times

The Valley of the river Topino was well known by the Romans. F. Lugano [1] pointed out that:

"sailing up the river Topino, after several miles of mountain road, we enter the territory of Foligno, which is called 'Valtopina.' Here, in a solitary position, stands a very ancient church which is called 'Pieve Fa-n-onica', but that it’s better to call 'Fa-v-onica', because a population were settled here when Pliny (23-79 AD) described Umbria, the town of Nocera and its inhabitants, calling them 'Nucerini Camellanii' and 'Nucerini Favonenses'.

In our opinion, the 'Nucerini Favonenses' and the 'Parish Church of Fanonica' are the same thing, by which instead of 'Fanonica', it should be called 'Fa-v-onica'. It is located near the ancient Flaminia Road, and it was built with large blocks of stone taken from ancient Roman buildings, situated on the banks of the river Topino" [1].

As F. Lugano pointed out, the village called "Cerqua" stood around the Church of St. Christopher. According to A. Fortini in this area around the Castle of Poggio, which was the administrative center of the whole area:

"on the farthest hills of the Assisi 'contado', which slope toward Valtopina, people had lived for more than two hundred years who had been transferred from Apulia at the time of Pandolfo Testadiferro, duke of Spoleto [died 981 AD]” [6].

In fact, this area was subject to control by Spoleto, because in a document dating back to 760 AD, we read:

“At the time of Desiderius, King of the Lombards [died 786], this definition of the boundaries was performed by their "missi" (=envoys of the lord) Tybalt and Turpno; these boundaries include some places like Martano, and on the same mountain there is Cerqua and behind it a place called Iane*"

*Note: Iane = Janus: the village derives its name from a pagan temple dedicated to the god Janus, a deity with two faces, worshiped by the ancient Italics in the woods (“Lucus Iani”)].

Valtopina from the Middle Ages

Around 1282 Cerqua was subjected to Assisi, as is proved in the “elenco dei focolari” [list of homes] and in the “Libro dei castelli di Assisi” [Book of the castles of Assisi], a payments book where many villages were mentioned, including Cerqua [7].

The social reality of the Lords who ruled the territory of Foligno was very complex; in fact, the genteel aristocracy who controlled the territory of Foligno belonged to a lineage of Lombard origin. The most important of the Lombard families were those of the Monaldi and Atti.

In the 13th century the Trinci (heirs of the Monaldi) had dominion over Foligno, making it the capital of a small state, and over the territories, castles and fortresses of Bevagna, and Valtopina [8]. The Trinci dominion over the whole Valley of the Topino ended in 1439, when Cardinal Vitelleschi (died 1440) besieged Foligno and executed Corrado Trinci XII:

"Corrado XII, son of Ugolino, after the death of his father in 1421 had dominion over Foligno, Trevi, Bevagna, Montefalco, and Valtopina Bettona, and Pope Martin V (1368-1431) confirmed him as a Vicar of the Church, and he was also confirmed by Pope Eugene IV [1383-1447] (...) Then Corrado was declared a rebel by Cardinal Vitelleschi, who besieged him in Foligno, took him prisoner with his sons Ugolino and  Niccolò, and sent him in the Fortress of Soriano, where all were executed in 1441" [9].

After the death of Corrado, Cardinal Vitelleschi confirmed the governing of the Valtopina Valley to Foligno. In a document of 1481, but dating back to 1439, we have the text of the granting of Valtopina by Cardinal Giovanni Vitelleschi:

"We grant Foligno the district of the  Topino Valley with all its appurtenances. We also want that all officers assigned to the control of this valley are all of Foligno. M. Faloci Pulignani noted however that "Valtopina was dependent on Foligno, but it governed as an independent municipality" [10]

After the rule of the Trinci, the Valley of the Topino was submitted to the Pope’s Legates, dependent on the Holy See:

"The Government of the Viscounty of the Topino Valley was frequently assigned to the Community of Valtopina, but the Chancellor of the Duchy was represented by a vicar".

This "Vicaire" received adequate remuneration from Rome:

"Supplemental benefits are provided for the Valtopina Governors designated by the Church" [11].

Valtopina was subject to Pope’s Legates from the early years of the 13th century and various castles of the region were governed by some village worthies [12].

Valtopina from the 16th century

The documents of the 16th century mention the names of various Valtopina Pope’s Legates, such as G. Paolo sentio from Gubbio (1559), Cardinal Strozzi (1560) and Gerolamo Bentivoglio, Count of Serra and nephew of Pope Paul III (1468-1549) [13].  Afterwards, the Papacy gave the government of Valtopina to the Bentivoglio of Gubbio; in particular, Ottaviano and Cesare Bentivoglio:

“The deaths of Cesare and Ottaviano Bentivoglio of Gubbio freed the Valtopina Valley from every Lordship. In 1610 Pope Paul V (1552-1621) ordered the Pope’s Legate of Perugia to regain possession of it in the name of the State of the Church, which was immediately implemented" [14].

The ideal location of "Cerqua" along the Flaminia Road, where for centuries a fair dedicated to San Bernardino was organized, played a key role in the economic and political development of the town. With the decline of the Castle of Poggio, the administrative functions were later assumed by the new village. Historically, the ancient village was incorporated in the State of the Church.

From 1748 Foligno gathered together Assisi, Spello, Bevagna, Montefalco, Assisi, Bastia, Valtopina, Trevi and Spoleto, while in the Napoleonic period, after the French occupation in 1798, an administrative reform also involved the territories of Valtopina.

At the beginning of the 19th century Valtopina was inserted in the jurisdiction of Nocera Umbra, and after the fall of the Napoleonic Empire Valtopina returned to the Papal States, where it remained until the Unification of Italy in 1861. Later, in 1867, Cerqua assumed the new name of Valtopina.

Origins of the name Valtopina and Cerqua

Valtopina is named after the valley where it is located, that is the Valtopina Valley [trans = "the valley crossed by the river Topino"] but has had this name only in modern times. In the Middle Ages:

"the parish now named Valtopina was called 'Cerqua', from the place where its church was located, dedicated to St. Christopher. The assets of the parish were formed by various lands which were located in the district known as Janus" [1].

The meaning of the name Cerqua reflects the natural environment and especially the vegetation in which the village is located; "Cerqua" is a dialect word which derives from the Latin word “cerc[u]l-aria” (in Classical Latin “quercularia,” a name derived from "quercus" [=oak]).

From the linguistic point of view, presumably "quercus" produced "querqua" <"c-erqua", although according to other scholars "Cerqua" is a typical dialectal metathesis* of the word “quercia” [oak] ("metathesis" comes from the Greek word 'transposition', that is a linguistic process of phonetic change by which the order of the syllables is reversed, "quer-cua" > "cer-qua"] [3].

It was pointed out that these particular place names are very common in central Italy, especially in Tuscany and Umbria, and they are typical of mountain areas [4]. The dialectal word was also used by local writers such as Cesare Caporali (1531-1601), who used "some local forms such as 'Biocca' [=hen] and just 'Cerqua' [=oak]" [5].

See the guide for Valtopina if planning a visit.


1. See F. Lugano, “Le chiese del 'Sexsterium Episcopatus'”, in “Bollettino della Regia deputazione di storia patria per l'Umbria”, Perugia, 1906,  p. 198

2. Lugano, p. 195

3. See C. Battisti-G. Alessio, “Dizionario etimologico italiano”, Firenze,  1950, IV, p. 3177

4. See L. Cassi, “Distribuzione geografica dei toponimi derivati dalla vegetazione in Toscana”, in “Rivista geografica italiana”,  1973, pp. 389-432, p. 411 note 34

5. See L. Brown, “L'italiano nelle regioni”,  UTET, 1992, Vol I, p. 528

6. See A. Fortini, “Francis of Assisi”, 1981, p. 164

7. See A. Grohmann, “Per una tipologia degli insediamenti umani del contado di Assisi” in  “Assisi al tempo di San Francesco: atti del V Convegno internazionale, Assisi, 13-16 ottobre 1977”,  1978, p. 214 e nota 22

8. See F. Bettoni, “Un’area di transito. L’Umbria fra XIII e XVI secolo”,  in A. Grohmann, “Spazio urbano e organizzazione economica nell’Europa medievale”, in “Eleventh International Economic History Congress” (Milano, 12-16 settembre 1994), Napoli 1994, pp. 363-389

9. See L. Leonii, “ Documenti tratti  dall'Archivio Segreto del Comune di Todi”, in  “Archivio Storico Italiano”, Firenze, 1865, Tomo II, Parte II,  p. 35 nota 1

10. See M. Faloci Pulignani, “Le concessioni del Cardinale Giovanni Vitelleschi al Comune di Foligno”, in “Archivio storico per le Marche e l'Umbria”, Foligno, 1886,  p. 727 nota 2

11. See C. Reydellet-Guttinger, “L'administration pontificale dans le Duché de Spolète (1305-1352)”, Olschki, 1975,  p. 19, p. 133

12. See M. Faloci Pulignani, “Il vicariato dei Trinci”, in  “Bollettino della Deputazione di storia patria per l'Umbria”, 1912,  p. 22

13. See “Legati e governatori dello Stato pontificio (1550-1809)”, 1994, Vol. I,   p. 491,  259, 491

14. See B. Lattanzi, “Storia di Foligno”, 1994,  p. 437