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The Stonecutters of Niccone
the "ciaccabreccia" of the Tiber

curated by Francesco Deplanu

This is a beginning, a research perspective with few news and sources that we intend to follow, however: workers and jobs lost in our territory linked to physical and productive characteristics that have changed over time.


We have news of the stonecutters of Niccone da Giovanni Bottaccioli who in 1985 fixed his memories on the " stonecutters " of the hamlet where his family came from within his text on the victims of Penetola . In fact, among the victims of the Forni family there was Canzio and Ferruccio was also killed for the Nencioni family: both stonemasons. In this regard Bottaccioli wrote:  As I have already mentioned, Canzio was part of that large group of Niccone stonemasons, for whom it is necessary to say a few words since their work was in demand and very important. In fact, most of the stonecutters of the municipality and neighboring municipalities were concentrated in the hamlet of Niccone. I list them according to my memories: Giuseppe Medici and his son Orlando (Guido), Menotti Nencioni, the Testerini brothers (Dante, Primo, Secondo), Canzio Forni and Ferruccio Nencioni (victims of Penetola), Magino Faloci, Antonio Nanni, Carlo Mattioni , According to Magrini and, the only living ones, Marino Baccellini and Duilio Truffelli; the latter is the rebuilder of the Rocca fountain, which was rebuilt in 1978 by the municipal administration. Their specialty was the processing of “sandstone” or serena stone which they extracted mainly from the “Giappichini” quarries near Molino Vitelli, “Fariale”, near Mita and from Monte Acuto. This type of stone was used for pavement of sidewalks, for gutters, fireplaces, columns and doorposts, stairs, window sills. Some important works of these stonecutters are the facade of the parish church of Niccone, the external columns of the Collegiate church, the door of the town hall and some chapels of the various cemeteries scattered throughout the territory. ". 

Giovanni had also kept some instruments of the Medici family, the family of his wife Renata, a beloved lifelong companion:  hammer and chisel dating back to the end of the nineteenth century and left by him  father Orlando. It is the action that is done with the tool that gave life to the name of their trade: “scalpére” is in fact a Latin term which means to carve, engrave, the term “chisel” and then “stonemason” derived from it. According to what Giovanni's nephew Giampaolo Bottaccioli reports, the chisel was hardened "with water" and not with "oil." That is, the tip was hardened with a series of successive immersions in water. Giampaolo also remembers the "acute ”Characterizing the hamlet of Niccone since the morning when he was little: the intermittent noise of the chisels on the stone.


Again thanks to the Bottaccioli family, thanks to the availability of Giovanna, daughter of Giovanni and Renata, we were also able to  photograph the 1893 hammer, which had belonged to Giuseppe Medici and then to his son Orlando, known as Guido. They were important tools, prepared precisely for the processing of stones and were passed from father to son. The gesture of hitting the chisel to model the yellow sandstone and the more gray one, that is the pietra serena, bent the metal giving us the sense of fatigue, blow by blow, which allowed their achievements.  This instrument was the "mallet" or "stonecutter's mallet": it was composed of an untempered iron head with two quadrangular mouths and a central eye for grafting the wooden handle.

The work of the stonemason in our areas probably did not have the same distinction that existed in other parts of Italy between real "quarrymen" and "stonecutters",  the type of possible works and the realizations visible in the area. Our "stonecutters" moved among the  roles  of laborers, workers for structural work, craftsmen for the precise realization of architraves or other simple decorative elements and,  if necessary, they had to respond to requests for skill and sensitivity almost from  artists for  the realization  of more complex decorations. Surely the "bulk" of the activity was aimed at the construction of steps, sidewalks, building finishing stones, etc ..., and it was a tiring job: sitting on the ground with the constant risk of being hit by a splinter in the eye. Isotta Bottaccioli remembers the immediate and peremptory warnings to go away for this reason that they received as children when they got too close to the "stonecutters".  Angeletti Angelo, in his book “ If only the Stones are left to speak ”, where he tells  his childhood and the life he took to  Montemigiano, also reports the child's games they played at Niccone: " Every now and then, interrupting the game, I would start looking at the stonecutters who, sitting on the ground, beat and beat with strange hammers on large stones and hit their hands and their faces thick with dust and sweat, but above all their eyes amazed me, because they reminded me of those of the rabbits my grandmother raised, so red they looked like burning coals. "(Cit. P.41).

The precise indications of Giovanni Bottaccioli should be confirmed at least by working documents or indications of payments, if any, especially as regards the external columns of Santa Maria della Reggia. We are left with the existing decorative / architectural and the material sources. As for the church of Maria SS. del Carmine di Niccone, the work of the last "survivors" of this workforce is also visible in the decorative element of the portal of the facade, now actually completely covered with ivy. There is very little news on the net but on a site of the "Catholic Church" dedicated to the description of the churches in the various Dioceses you can read:  " entrance portal consisting of an opening surmounted by a round arch surrounded by a large molded frame ". This  At first glance, the "entrance portal" appears to be in "pietra serena" even if it is not specified on the site ... as certainly are the entrance and interior steps;  instead, "Lisciano Niccone" rather than "Niccone" is indicated as the location of the church. The church, as reported on an internal plaque, was consecrated in 1947 by Bishop Cipriani and commissioned by Don Pericle Tirimagni. Cement, the building material it replaced  the stone was used to structure " two large concrete parallelepipeds protruding from the plane that houses the openings and the portal. These projections that occupy the facade for its entire height are decorated with a series of horizontal bands that are repeated from the base to at the peak ". Isotta Bottaccioli has a clear memory of Orlando Medici, known as "Guido", who worked incessantly to create the external "decoration" of the forepart.

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The church of Niccone, with the façade still visible in the 70s-80s and as it is today.

Photo 1:

Photo 2: Francesco Deplanu

Isotta also remembers the instrument with which "Guido" medici worked, "beat" or "tapped", to prepare the decorative stones of the facade of the church of Niccone and the external steps in pietra serena and those that allow you to go up to the Presbytery. A different hammer from the one preserved and visible above, with a notched plate on the surface. A hammer that Isotta recognizes among the historical ones that were certainly used in Tuscany that can be traced on the web: the "bocciarda". This instrument was also called "bocciardà" in the marble quarries of Bassano del Grappa. Duilio Truffelli, in the memories of his son, used to call this instrument is the "liar", an evidently distorted modality of the local dialect. We report the definition of a company of the "Tuscan boulder" that has recovered the tools of the ancient "stonecutters": " Big hammer having the end of the mouth equipped with several points pyramidal one next to the other, used in the processing of stones to make them rough (beating). Also known as a grain hammer. ".  "bocciarda" was to hit the stone  with the notched part so that all the points touch together. The surface of the affected stone thus becomes dotted and is defined as an "orange peel". An estimate can be made of how many stones that adorn the facade have undergone the "beatings" based on the old images of the church: the ornamental bands are about 60 for each "tower", each band has between 4 and 6 stones on each side ( are 3 sides), this leads to a number between 700 and 1000 stones worked probably one by one since in the immediate postwar period modern technologies were not available. It was certainly a collective work of the "stonecutters".  


Isotta on the steps of the church of Niccone in the 1950s. The decorative stones of the façade are still visible.


The "bocciarda" to "tap" the stone. Image from the web.


The "beating" of the exposed stone in the decorative stones of the facade of the church of Niccone with its "orange peel" result.

Details of some internal and external ornamental stones of the church, with signs of aging and flaking together with the visible "fine-grained punching"  in the entrance step. Commemorative plaque of the consecration (1947). Niccone building with openings on the facade all decorated  in pietra serena.

As for the origin of the most characteristic material used by the "stonecutters of Niccone", ie sandstones, we have confirmation of  at least two "facts". The first is the existence of a "microtoponym" mentioned by Bottaccioli that is  visible in the  "tablet" of the IGMI with relief from 1941, F. 120 I NO,   where you can highlight the signs of a slope line  represented  by small wedges, with probable  emergence of sandstones, at " i Giappichini ", near Molin de Vitelli. The second is a historical reference to a sandstone "quarry" right near the town of Niccone.  In the text of  Bernardino Sperandio, " Of the Umbrian construction and ornamental stones " a document is reported among the "Inventories"  entitled " State of Mines, Mineral Sources, Quarries, Workshops existing in the Municipality of Fratta, province of Perugia, district of Perugia ", ASCU year 1861. This inventory indicates the " Quarries and Torbiere " of Fratta (cited in the text "Umbertide" also if in fact  his name had not yet been changed). The document reports various types of stones, among these the " Strong sandstone or stone are used for use [...] " (the "pietraforte" in Tuscany is a very solid sandstone) and their presence is indicated as well as in the Parish di Romeggio, also a site in the “ parish of M. Migiano owned by the suppressed Eremo di Montecorona ”. Montemigiano above Niccone.

One thinks that it is no coincidence that such a high presence of "stonecutters" has developed at Niccone. The town acts as a "link" with the road that connects the Tiber Valley and Tuscany where the "pietra serena" was also used as a "stone of art". It's still  famous is the pietra serena ("boulder")  Fiorenzuola, an area where the only quarries still remain economically active today. In Tuoro sul Trasimeno there were some valuable quarries in the past, if you re-read the Bottaccioli pass you can see that the quarries used by the Niccone stonecutters "proceed" towards the lake;  area with  a similar surface geological composition. Proceeding from  Molin de Vitelli and then  towards "la Mita" you arrive at  border with the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, historically, and Tuscany today. In Tuoro this activity is remembered by the sculptures of the "Campo del sole" at Punta Navaccia.  It is probable that the "stonecutters" of our area have borrowed knowledge and working methods from their Tuscan neighbors rather than from the ancient tradition of the "stonecutters" of the Eugubino, where limestone was and is the stone of art and construction. Limestone that needs another type of processing and that has a very different resistance to atmospheric agents. But here there is absolutely no security given what can be found in the quoted text by Sperandio quoted above.  In the Gubbio, in fact,  there are two specific types of sandstone, the " corniolo " and the " palombino ". The first is also called "boulder". The "Corniolo", mainly used since the 15th century,  it is assumed that it came from the Scheggia area or from San Benedetto towards Pietralunga. Also it is mentioned that this stone  when it was found  it was “ set aside in the fields, in small boulders of gray-green colors until they took on a yellow-ocher hue ”. Harvesting action carried out in the winter by farmers since the Middle Ages. Those who know the hills that go from Niccone to Tuscany know well how it is common to find similar "boulders", which are usually present in our rural buildings.  The “Palombino”, a less frequent and more compact straw yellow sandstone, was used instead in the 17th century and was extracted in the upper part of the Bottaccione.

The Collegiate,  Santa Maria della Reggia,  (details and photos from 1929)  with the external columns in evidence;  the fountain rebuilt in 1978 and the main door of the Town Hall, all in pietra serena.

The fountain that someone today calls of  “One thousand lire”, due to the last restoration made with the last “lire” in 2001, after the changeover to the euro, has an ancient history. The previous restorations date back, as Bottaccioli tells us, to 1978 when a refurbishment took place by the “stonemason” Duilio Truffelli. Even before its placement under the fortress it was positioned, as told by prof. Sciurpa, leaning against the ancient church of Sant'Erasmo. Here, writes Sciurpa,  << on 29 September 1849 it was decided to make “the necessary restorations to the public fountain to water the horses, located in the Upper Borgo along the Via Montonese ” >>. As mentioned in 1978 there was a remake of it by the Municipal Administration. Today the fountain  it has been moved and still not repositioned due to the works to refurbish the square in front of the Rocca.

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Giampaolo Bottaccioli recalls that in Umbertide there was, in addition to the activity of working the most valuable stones, also that of working simple stones and pebbles from the Tiber river, smaller "pieces" used for different activities based on the size. It should be remembered that until the post-war period the same road that connected Umbertide to Niccone was also a road made of "breach". Shortly after the end of the bridge over the Tiber, in the direction of Niccone where the road has a crossroads for the Abbey of Montecorona, it was usual to see men in charge of breaking the stones of the Tiber into smaller parts.


The "ciaccabreccia" (or "ciaccabreccia") Pàrise at work. Photo by Fabio Mariotti.

They were the "ciaccabreccia" probably present along the river in more villages. We transcribe a part of the text "The Tiber and Umbertide" on pg. 46 referring to the work of the "ciaccabreccia":

  “For the stones and the pitrìccio the ciaccabreccia came into action : all day with a mazzétta he ciaccàva i sàssa and capàva the bòni to tira on the walls , 'all day long with a club he choped the stones; he put aside the best ones destined for construction ".


In addition to this, in the text by Maria Cecilia Moretti you can also read a description, always in the dialectal language, of the tools for splitting stones: " A la Fràtta, 'a Umbertide', an old ciaccaìno used three hammers: a larger one for large stones , a mezzanòtta, 'an average for medium stones', ùna more migna plus picini stones ,' the smaller one for minute stones "; quàn s e'ra stew de da ta n sàsso grosso ... change the mazze'tta e déa ta n sàsso picìno , 'when he was tired of using the heavy wad he changed the wad and chopped the smaller stones.' He always knocked on the same point; in Pretola, the point where the blows fell was called the cacatìna ; the montòn de brécia , 'the heap of breccia', was growing. "


The work of "ciaccabreccia" was certainly ancient, but it was found  to coexist for a long time with the mechanization that   started in the early 1900s, it was certainly present in the collection and processing of river stone as seen in this image from 1939. This  document shows us the coexistence in the production process linked to the building material between the cart pulled by donkeys, manual work and the machine in action.

We conclude by always specifying from the work of the Sperandio a synthesis of the others  rock or construction materials present in our territory. As for the quarries and peat bogs, the "substances" indicated in 1861 were "white marble", "dark red or white marble", "cenerino marble", "red veined white marble", "white veined marble", "black marble" , "Sand quarry", "Clay quarry", "Pozzolana quarry", Quarry for Macine "as well as" Strong sandstone stones ". 

The "quarry for millstones" was located at the Parish of San Giuliano, or in the area of San Giuliano delle Pignatte, from whose church comes the 8th century ciborium. today moved to the Abbey of Montecorona. Precisely the Montecorona area, along the Nese stream, was characterized by the presence of "calcarenites", or "marbles".  At Monte Acuto the calcarenites of "dark red marble" and "substances" of "pozzolana" emerged. Finally, sand and clay that were found in areas near the Tiber. 



-Francesco Deplanu and Fabio Mariotti (Municipal and personal archives). Photo of the "bocciarda"  from the web.

-  Photo of the fountain after the 2002 restoration:



  - Bottaccioli Isotta, Bottaccioli Giampaolo and Bottaccioli Giovanna.



- Giovanni Bottaccioli: " Penetola, not all the dead die " - Municipality of Umbertide, 1985/2005. Fully visible and downloadable in the .pdf version  prepared by "umbertidestoria" by clicking here .

- “The Tiber and Umbertide” (curated by Sestilio Polimanti) by Maria Cecilia Moretti, Lorena Benedice Filippini and Fausto Minciarelli.   Text extracted from Maria Cecilia Moretti, "The Tiber, a built and interpreted space" (1986); p. 46.

-  Roberto Sciurpa: Umbertide in the 20th century 1900 - 1946 - Ed. GESP, Città di Castello, 2005 (p. 354).

-  Bernardino Sperandio, Of the Umbrian construction and ornamental stones., Perugia, Quattroemme, 2004 (p. 265, pp 288-289).

-  Angelo Angeletti: “If only the stones are left to speak”, Digital book Srl, Città di Castello, 2019 8p. 41).












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