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The Tiber and the water mills

(edited by Francesco Deplanu)

The Tiber was the primary route of connection and supply, it has characterized the history of the populations who lived in this area, essentially leaving the Etruscans to its right and the Umbrians to the left. But above all it defined the identity of the residential agglomerations in the plain: the symbol of our country shows, in fact, the three-arched bridge over it.


Coat of arms of the municipality - Year 1870 - Municipal Archive (from the web)

In ancient times it was "navigable" for commercial and therefore cultural exchanges; in different ways, with the help of pack animals to bring the current up to the boats or with small boats to allow the passage from one then bank. On the Tiber, Dr. Cencaioli writes in her ...: "it was the navigable way for commercial and cultural exchanges between the various cities from antiquity, in the Middle Ages and up to the last century, used for the transport of minerals, wood, food and of building material.   The traf fi c was well organized and special offices were set up for the control of the waters. "..." The discovery of structures and materials and the toponyms along the Tiber allowed the recognition of some places as landing points: we remember for Umbria, Umbertide , loc. Barca, Perugia - Ponte Valleceppi, Perugia - Ponte S. Giovanni, Torgiano ".


Octagonal construction at the "Petrelle".

In the Petrelle area  Luana Cencaioli, in " Umbertide, the Tiber and the territory", work presented within the  "study day" organized by Prof.ssa Scortecci Donatella in 2012,  speculates that the construction in  octagonal plan  about 3 meters high and built in mixed work with stones and bricks may be older than the post-classical age to which it seems to refer. It could have been used as a service room for a landing on the Tiber, as a garage or, given the variations in the course of the river, as a docking point. Cencaioli also speculates  which may have been a "stakeout to control the river" (Cf. pg. 148).

Probably the inhabited areas of the plains or along the rivers required more effort to be inhabited than those of the hills where the slope favors the flow of water, there are no marshy areas or you do not have to fight with torrential floods or the great river. Maria Cecilia Moretti in the volume "The Tiber and Umbertide" edited by Sestilio Polimanti reminds us how, in fact, the Tiber has often required containment works, reporting a news from the Umbertide archive of 1780 which confirms this need for containment: Gaspare Mazzaforti , parish priest of Migianella tells how in 1754 the Jesuit father Sivieri, an expert in mathematics for erosion problems in the area defined as "Prato", was consulted in Perugia for the problems of the Tiber near Fratta by means of certain "struts" which then seemed to a certain sense, then similar to a   "rake" (Cf. pg. 24). 

We seem to find in the detail of this photo from the first half of the twentieth century, the evolution of this river erosion control technique  in several places  of the left bank of the Tiber just before the "Bocaiolo" area north of the city. This favored the deposition of materials from the Tiber with which it was then possible to consolidate the bank or "lengthen the fertile soil of the bank.

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Umbertide:  particular early twentieth century photo

This technique seems to be attested also by the details visible in the painting of  Ernesto Freguglia from 1874 which represents the "Mulinaccio" area where, in addition to the canal that was used for the old mill now destroyed, you can see poles that look like the "struts" placed to protect the Tiber bend from erosion.


Detail of  Ernesto Freguglia of 1874 visible at this web address of the Municipality of Umbertide:

The Tiber had to be taken care of, that is, its banks had to be continuously reinforced to be protected from the force of the river which could be destructive with the floods: see in this photo from the first half of the 20th century  which in addition to being sailed for fun and certainly to fish the shore opposite the pebbly beach (the "breccione") has some protection works with long poles planted vertically, the  "pontoons",  and other woods or fagots  inserted horizontally which gave life to the protection "weeping".  According to Maria Cecilia Moretti,  the term "piangola" derives from the local dialect variant of the Po Valley where the term " pnèl " is still found today. thus the toponym "Pennello" in Umbertide would indicate the place of beginning of this technique (see note n. 26 in the text cited below).  

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The floods of the Tiber could be destructive, especially if they were full of medium size, they had taken timber and residues to build natural barriers that could bring the river right into the city.

But the Tiber was used above all in summer and spring for washing, a female activity that could increase the family budget although very tiring. In winter, country women preferred spring water which was less cold than that of the Tiber. The river was used  also for fun, to browse it and as a meeting place:   along the "patollo" area, in fact, in the thirties of the twentieth century, before the flood of '39 that destroyed it, a Lido Dancing was built which became the meeting place of the people of Umbria of the time.


Before industrialization, the large machines linked to the power of water, available in our areas as well as along the Tiber also along the Niccone River and other tributaries,  they played a role in the transformation of crops such as maize and wheat, less frequently olives and sometimes even walnuts for the production of lamp oil. Other times they were important for the "gualcheria" for the fulling of the fabrics such as the famous "Mill of Sant'Eraclio" just south of the current confluence of the Reggia torrent in the main river, in the area of the current Piazza San Francesco. Cereal growing together  of the scattered settlement, mostly of sharecropping origin, the little practicability of the communication routes and the frequency of streams and rivers allowed the notable diffusion of the "retricine" mills, or horizontal wheel, rather than the one mentioned above in Sant 'Erasmus with a vertical wheel. In the tense by the  prof. Melelli and Fatichenti of the University of Perugia numbered 9 in the Fratta Territory and then, after the Unification, they increased to 15 at the end of the century ("L'UMBRIA DEI MULINI AD WATER edited by Alberto Melelli, Fabio Fatichenti, Quattroemme, Perugia 2013).

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The Mill of Sant'Erasmo was certainly active in 1470, in the word Botani, when it was given to the Rectory of Sant'Andrea by the Bishop of Gubbio, until 1610 when the great flood of the Tiber on 20 October made it less functional, which which was repeated the following year, bringing the Mill to the sale and change of use. The "gualcheria" was moved to a mill further south, in the Pian d'Assino area. There  structure of the factory benefited from a reservoir, always visible in the image of the Piccolpasso just above the Mill where  you can see a horizontal bubbling strip on the course of the Tiber, which according to the text of Melelli and Fatichenti made it possible to use grinding wheels for the grinding of sickles and other tools produced by the blacksmiths of Fratta to then make it possible to punch the clothes.

As for the Mills, Fabio Mariotti reworked (you can read here in " Fratta-Umbertide nell'Ottocento ") the information from an unpublished manuscript by the local historian Renato Codovini where a statistic from 1880 appears. Here are still 9 Mills indicated:

- Molino in Umbertide owned by Luigi Santini. It has three millstones, it is moved by water, it grinds grain, corn, olives eight months a year.

- Molino known as "il Molinello" owned by Ciucci, in bankruptcy. It is one kilometer from Umbertide, it has three millstones, it is moved by water, it grinds grain eight months a year. corn and olives.

- Molino known as "Vitelli" owned by the Marquis Rondinelli. four kilometers away from Umbertide. It has three millstones, it is moved by water, it mills seven months a year for lack of water.

- Molino known as "di Casa Nuova" alla Badia, owned by Marignoli. It has five millstones and grinds cereals all year round. Molino inside the Badia owned by Marignoli. It has a single millstone and it grinds seven months a year due to lack of water.

- Molino known as "dell'Assino" owned by Anacleto Natali. It is two kilometers from the town. It has three millstones and grinds all year round.

- Molino di Pierantonio owned by Florenzi (the marquis, husband of Marianna Florenzi, from Ascagnano). It has two millstones. It grinds seven months a year.

- Molino owned by Florenzi (other). It has two millstones. Seven months a year.

- Molino di Paolo Sarti in Montecastelli. It is four kilometers from the town. It has two millstones, it grinds seven months a year, only cereals.

- Molino della Serra. Property of the Ecclesiastical Fund. It is five kilometers from the town. It has three millstones. Grinds cereals all year round.

All these mills grind 33,400 hectoliters of wheat flour, maize and a few cereals.

In the area near the river there are today the remains of 5 mills:  Mulinello, Truncichella, Mulinaccio, S. Erasmo, Mola Casa Nova, Pian D'Assino mill. Along the Niccone stream it must certainly be remembered  that of the area of the current "Mulino Vitelli".

The best-known mill on the Niccone stream is instead that of "Molino Vitelli" along the road that leads from Umbertide to 'Spedalicchio di Umbertide and then to Mercatale or Lisciano Niccone. This mill is already present in the "Gregorian Cadastre" (Montemigiano Map, part. 943) but we have news of its presence already in the eighteenth century under the ownership of the noble family of Città di Castello  Bocompagni Ludovisi. It worked for the grinding of cereals and olives until 1955 when it was used for another use. A part of the "bottaccio" and the drainage channel are still visible, although it is filled with earth. The existence of Mills in these areas, where the flow was certainly less than that of the Tiber, reminds us that the population in our lands was mainly linked to the sharecropping system in the countryside.  this page .

On the basis of Umbertide's map of 1883 present in Guerrini's text "Storia della terra di Fratta", the "Molino di Umbertide" with three millstones that grinds 8 months a year was located on the course of the Tiber, in the position visible below, north of the bridge.

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The mill "Mola Casa Nova" also on the banks of the Tiber river, known as "Molino Gamboni", the last one that remained active, had been abandoned in the 90s. Here we insert two photos granted by the teacher  Anna Boldrini.

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How the Mulino di Mola casanova looked in 1990: first side photo towards the Tiber river; second side photo of the current entrance area of the Park.

Today  the Mill of Mola Casa Nova   it can be visited and is  became a Mola Casanova Educational Science Park and has been managed so far, mid 2020,  from Alchemilla sas with the nearby power station of the Municipality of Umbertide. The ancient mill sees its three floors arranged with themed rooms and workshops. The Alchemilla company offers valuable teaching to schools ranging from the past to energy news; here the link to the " brochure " for  schools.


-  Cenciaioli Luana , Umbertide, the Tiber and the territory, (p. 145-162) in  Scortecci Donatella (edited by):  The middle and upper valley of the Tiber from Antiquity to the Middle Ages: proceedings of the study day ; Umbertide, May 26, 2012  - Daidalos, 2014.  

-  UMBRIA OF WATER MILLS edited by Alberto Melelli, Fabio Fatichenti, photographs by Bernardino Sperandio, files by Giovanni Gangi, Fabio Fatichenti, Rosa Goracci, Alberto Melelli, Remo Rossi, Bernardino Sperandio, QUATTROEMME, 2013.

- "The Tiber and Umbertide": Maria Cecilia Moretti, Lorena Beneduce Filippini, Fausto Minciarelli (edited by Sestilio Polimanti), Historical Society Umbertide Edizioni, 2018. The work originally came out in 1995 thanks to the Municipality of Umbertide but above all thanks to ALLI - Linguistic Atlas of Italian Lakes - and to Prof. Giovanni Moretti and to the Chair of Italian Dialectology.  




-  Photos: historical photos of Umbertide from the web and from various private archives  to which  we applied the " umbertidestoria " watermark  in this way we try to avoid that the further disclosure on our part favors purposes not consonant with our intentions exclusively  social and cultural.

Help us remember

Henry Pirenne


If I were an antique dealer, I would have eyes only for old things. But I am a historian. That's why I love life "

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