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The balcony of Umbria
Much of Montefalco’ s fascination derives from its geographical position, which has earned in the name” the Balcony of Umbria”. From its high viewpoints, a part of Umbria unfolds below and the towns of Perugia, Assisi, Spello, Foligno, Trevi, Spoleto, Gualdo Cattaneo, Bevagna can be seen, with the Apennines, Monte Subasio and the Monti Martani further away; but most striking of all are the nearby green rolling hills covered in olive trees and vines.
The town’s mediaeval walls form a solid circle punctuated by towers and broken by the gates named Friedrich II., Sant’Agostino (with its tower crowned with Ghibelline merlons), Camiano, Rocca and S. Leonardo.
In the middle ages the town was called Coccorone. According to one tradition, which by the 16th Century was already called “ancient”, this name derived from the of its presumed founder, the Roman senator Marco Curione. Others believe it comes from the Greek oros (= mountain).
Between 1239 and 1240 the town acquired ist present name of Montefalco, which is probably linked to the falcons of the Emperor Frederick II of Swabia, expert in the art of falconry and author of The art of Falconry (De arte venandi cum avibus) who stayed at Coccorone from 9th to 13th February 1240. A visit to the town is today a museum: it represents a synthesis of the history, culture and traditions of Montefalco.
Built between 1335 and 1338 by the Franciscans, it was Montefalco’s third Franciscan community, but the first within the town halls. It was used as a church until 1863, when it became the property of the town council, and in 1895 it became the town museum. Since 1990 the museum has been organised in three sections. The former church, is famous throughout the world for its frescoes of the Life of St. Francis by Benozzo Gozzoli (1452), and it also houses a Nativity by Perugino and frescoes by Umbrian artists of the fifteenth century. TheArt Gallery contains many works (paintings, panels and frescoes) by Francesco Melanzio, a painter from Montefalco; by Antoniazzo Romano; by the workshop of Niccolò Alunno and Melozzo da Forlì; and paintings by the Umbrian School from the fourteenth to the eighteenth centuries.The crypt, contains archaeological material and sculpture from various periods.
In order to appreciate the full wealth of the religious art which makes Montefalco famous and to understand its history, you have to see how faith has become an integral part of Montefalco’s social and urban fabric. This means, therefore, exploring the town. The road from the church-museum of San Francesco leads directly to the beautiful round piazzacontaining the Palazzo del Comune (13th-14th centuries), thedeconsecrated church of San Filippo Neri (18th century) and some fine examples of elegant sixteenth-century houses.
In the oldest part of the mediaeval centre, near the Porta di Camiano, there is he small church of Santa Lucia (late 12th century), and you can also see some Sagrantino grape vines which tenaciously survive as a reminder of the domestic vines which were once grown within the town’s high-walled gardens.
After the church of San Francesco, a tour of Montefalco’s religious art should continue with the Augustinian church of Sant’Agostino.Several painters worked here, including Ambrogio Lorenzetti and Bartolomeo Caporali. The Renaissance gave Montefalco the graciouschurch of Sant’Illuminata (16th century), which is decorated with frescoes by Francesco Melanzio and other Umbrian painters. Facing it is the church of San Leonardo, part of a convent belonging to the Poor Clares and within which there is a large painting by Melanzio.
In the same road lies the architectural hearth of this area of the town devoted to monasteries: the Sanctuary of Santa Chiara. This large building, which is dedicated to the Agostinian St Clare of Montefalco (1268-1308), contains relics of the saint and also the Cappella di Santa Croce, decorated with fine frescoes by Umbrian painters in 1333. Going outside the town walls, roads which wind their way through the countryside and evoke Franciscan spirituality lead to the convent of San Fortunato, which is of artistic interest for the frescoes by Benozzo Gozzoli and Tiberio d’Assisi; to the sanctuary of Madonna della Stella,with fine nineteenth-century paintings; and to the church of Santa Maria di Turrita, which has many devotional frescoes from the 14th-16th centuries.
GATRONOMY AND TRADITIONAL HANDCRAFTS
Montefalco, which lies at the heart of an important area producing wines of the highest quality, is of particular interest for those interested in fine food and wine.
The cultivation of vines in the area dates back to Roman times, and Pliny the Elder in his Natural History tells of a particularly-valued local wine made from a grape called Hirtiola (Irziola, XIV, 37).
Documents dating from as early as the Middle Ages describe how to land was planted with vines and attest to the care that was taken in cultivating the grapes and making the wine. In the first half of the thirteenth century, whole chapters of the Town Statutes dealt with growing vines and wine-making.
Montefalco is noted for the production of high-quality red wines, among which is Sagrantino DOCG, obtained from an indigenous grape which is very rich in polyphenols and tannins, and these give it a full body, an extremely long life and original bouquet which has a hint of blackberry. It is produced in two versions, secco and passito: before being put on sale, it must age for a least thirty months. Thanks to the different versions,Montefalco Sagrantino is the perfect accompaniment for all Umbrian dishes, from harms and salami to roast meats, from first courses to desserts. The area also produces an excellent Rosso “Montefalco” DOC, which is ideal with first courses and game, and a Bianco which is particularly good as an aperitif. Montefalco’s culinary traditions are closely linked to classic Umbrian cooking and make use of the natural products of the countryside and the highly-flavoured local meats, all seasoned with DOP Umbria extra virgin olive oil. Another completely natural product produced in the area is honey made from local hives.
Montefalco also boasts a long tradition of handcrafts, and its craftsmen and women create products of an extremely high quality. Thanks to the clay found locally, ceramic manufacture developed from Roman times on, but today this has almost ceased. Fabrics inspired by traditional patterns are still produced, and the traditional techniques, colours and designs result in finished products of a very high quality.
The Strada del Sagrantino is an itinerary which is built around culture, good food and wine and which wind its way through hills planted with vines and olive trees and dotted with mediaeval towers, villages and castes. At Easter is Terre del Sagrantino, a market of local produce; in May during Cantine Aperte, Montefalco’s wines and other local products can be sampled at local wineries. The week-long Settimana Enologica, which is of primary importance to the promotion of Montefalco’s wines, take place in the first ten days of June / September? and has a varied programme of events, including the presentation of the latest vintage of Sagrantino. In summer the town is enlivened by the Agosto Montefalchese, three weeks of events connected to local history and traditions: the programme includes concerts, dance and theatre, wine-tasting and the Fuga del Bove, in which the four parts of the town compete in crossbow, drumming and flag-waving contests, in a running race called the Staffetta, and in the Corsa dei Bovi, a race with bulls. On the 10th August, the night of San Lorenzo, there are “magical” shows at Sagrantino sotto le stelle, part on an event called Calici di Stelle.
In the second half of September, processions through the town celebrate the grape harvest at the Festa della vendemmia; during Frantoi aperti, in the first ten days of November, visitors can visit oil mills and sample their oils, and finally, at the start of December, there is Andare per Frantoi e Mercatini, a market featuring the new olive oil, especially the top-quality DOP Umbria oil
GUIDE TO SERVICES
Museo Civico di San Francesco
Via Ringhiera Umbra
Tel. 0742 379598
Piazza del Comune
Tel. 0742 378673 fax 0742 379506
Tel. 0742 377978
Ospedale Civile Foligno
Tel. 0742 3391
Via G. Carducci
Tel. 0742 379129
Loc. Madonna della Stella
Tel. 0742 399105
Bus station / car park
Viale della Vittoria
Foligno, Via Mezzetti
Tel. 0742 350730
Tel. 0742 378250
Via A. Gramsci
Tel. 0742 379148