Umbria - The Green Heartland of Italy

The Provincial Flag of Umbria

Geography

South Ridge of Monte Vettore

Umbria is bordered by Tuscany to the west, the Marche to the east and Lazio to the south. Mostly hilly or mountainous, its topography is dominated by the Apennines, with the highest point in the region at Monte Vettore on the border of the Marche, at 2,476 m (8,123.36 ft), and the Tiber valley basin, with the lowest point at Attigliano, 96 m (314.96 ft).

The Tiber forms the approximate border with Lazio, although its source is just over the Tuscan border. The Tiber's three principal tributaries flow southward through Umbria. The Chiascio basin is relatively uninhabited as far as Bastia Umbra. About 10 km further it joins the Tiber at Torgiano. The Topino, cleaving the Apennines with passes that the Via Flaminia and successor roads follow, makes a sharp turn at Foligno to flow NW for a few kilometres before joining the Chiascio below Bettona. The third river is the Nera, flowing into the Tiber further south, at Terni; its valley is called the Valnerina. The upper Nera cuts ravines in the mountains; the lower in the Chiascio-Topino basin is in a fairly large floodplain.

Poppies growing on an Umbrian hillside south of San Venanzo

The Tiber forms the approximate border with Lazio, although its source is just over the Tuscan border. The Tiber's three principal tributaries flow southward through Umbria. The Chiascio basin is relatively uninhabited as far as Bastia Umbra. About 10 km further it joins the Tiber at Torgiano. The Topino, cleaving the Apennines with passes that the Via Flaminia and successor roads follow, makes a sharp turn at Foligno to flow NW for a few kilometres before joining the Chiascio below Bettona. The third river is the Nera, flowing into the Tiber further south, at Terni; its valley is called the Valnerina. The upper Nera cuts ravines in the mountains; the lower in the Chiascio-Topino basin is in a fairly large floodplain.

In antiquity the plain was a pair of shallow, interlocking lakes, the Lacus Clitorius and the Lacus Umber. They were drained by the Romans over several hundred years, but an earthquake in the 4th century and the political collapse of the Roman Empire resulted in the reflooding of the basin. It was drained a second time over five hundred years: Benedictine monks started the process in the 13th century and it was completed by an engineer from Foligno in the 18th century.

In literature one sometimes sees Umbria called il cuor verde d'Italia (the green heart of Italy). The phrase is taken from a poem by Giosuè Carducci.

History

The region is named for the Umbri tribe, one of those who were absorbed by the expansion of the Romans. Pliny the Elder recounts a fanciful derivation for the tribal name from the Greek ὄμβρος "a shower", which had led to the confused idea that they had survived the Deluge familiar from Greek mythology, giving them the claim to be the most ancient race in Italy. In fact they belonged to a broader family of neighbouring tribes with similar roots. Their language was Umbrian, one of the Italic languages, related to Latin and Oscan.

The Umbri probably sprang, like neighbouring tribes, from the creators of the Terramara, and Villanovan culture in northern and central Italy, who entered north-eastern Italy at the beginning of the Bronze Age.

The Etruscans were the chief enemies of the Umbri, and the Etruscan invasion went from the western seaboard towards the north and east (lasting from about 700 to 500 BC), eventually driving the Umbrians towards the Apenninic uplands and capturing 300 Umbrian towns. Nevertheless, the Umbrian population does not seem to have been eradicated in the conquered districts.

After the downfall of the Etruscans, Umbrians attempted to aid the Samnites in their struggle against Rome (308 BC); but communications with Samnium were impeded by the Roman fortress of Narni (founded 298 BC). At the great battle of Sentinum (295 BC), which was fought in their own territory, the Umbrians did not substantially help the Samnites.

The Roman victory at Sentinum started a period of integration under the Roman rulers, who established some colonies (e.g., Spoletium) and built the via Flaminia (220 BC), which became a principal vector for Roman development in Umbria. During Hannibal's invasion in the second Punic war, the battle of Lake Trasimene was fought in Umbria, but the Umbrians did not aid him.

During the Roman civil war between Mark Antony and Octavian (40 BC), the city of Perugia supported Antony and was almost completely destroyed by the latter.

In Pliny's time, 49 independent communities still existed in Umbria, and the abundance of inscriptions and the high proportion of recruits in the imperial army attest to its population. The modern region of Umbria, however, is essentially different from the Umbria of Roman times, which extended through most of what is now the northern Marche, to Ravenna, but excluded the west bank of the Tiber. Thus Perugia was in Etruria, and the area around Norcia was in the Sabine territory.

After the collapse of the Roman empire, Ostrogoths and Byzantines struggled for the supremacy in the region; the Lombards founded the duchy of Spoleto, covering much of today's Umbria. When Charlemagne conquered most of the Lombard kingdoms, some Umbrian territories were given to the Pope, who established temporal power over them. Some cities acquired a form of autonomy (the comuni); they were often at war with each other in the context of the more general conflict between the papacy and the Holy Roman Empire or between the Guelphs and the Ghibellines.

In the 14th century, the signorie arose, but were subsumed into the Papal States, which ruled the region until the end of the 18th century. After the French Revolution and the French conquest of Italy, Umbria was part of the ephemeral Roman Republic (1798–1799) and of the Napoleonic Empire (1809–1814). After Napoleon's defeat, the Pope regained Umbria until 1860. After the Risorgimento and the Piedmontese expansion, Umbria was incorporated in the Kingdom of Italy.

The borders of Umbria were fixed in 1927, with the creation of the province of Terni and the separation of the province of Rieti, which was incorporated in Lazio.

Economy

The present economic structure emerged from a series of transformations which took place mainly in the 1970s and 1980s. During this period there was rapid expansion among small and medium-sized firms and a gradual retrenchment among the large firms which had hitherto characterised the region's industrial base. This process of structural adjustment is still going on.

Umbrian agriculture is noted for its tobacco, its olive oil and its vineyards, which produce excellent wines. Regional varietals include the white Orvieto, which draws agri-tourists to the vineyards in the area surrounding the medieval town of the same name. Other noted wines produced in Umbria are Torgiano and Rosso di Montefalco. Another typical Umbrian product is the black truffle found in Valnerina, an area that produces 45% of this product in Italy.

The food industry in Umbria produces processed pork-meats, confectionery, pasta and the traditional products of Valnerina in preserved form (truffles, lentils, cheese). The other main industries are textiles, clothing, sportswear, iron and steel, chemicals and ornamental ceramics.

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