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(edited by Simona Bellucci and Francesco Deplanu)


Flat land  towards Montecastelli  view  give her  hills of  Spedalicchio di Umbertide: note the landscape characterized by the scattered settlement.

The territory of Umbertide, like that of almost all of central Italy, was "shaped" by the very long choice of economic management of the properties that began at the end of the Middle Ages,  it went into crisis after the war  and ended in 1964 with the legislation that put an end to the new sharecropping contracts.

Even the landscape of our area  it can be defined with the terms of the rural landscape used for the whole of Europe, that is, it falls within the agricultural landscape a  bocagé and does not belong to the other large category of openfields. Openfields  that developed  where the property came from  managed directly by large landowners or jointly. In central Italy it was instead the indirect management of the land, through sharecropping, which gave rise to the division into plots and the distinction by hedges, trees and ditches, of the various plots. Plots that often went unevenly to form a farm, the economic unit of indirect land management typical of our areas. Thus from above the territory appeared completely fragmented. This subdivision, although decreased after the sixties, is also clearly visible from the satellite images that can be seen with "Google Earth": ditches, ancient oaks and other types of trees continue to be inexplicable functional elements within the fields without "seeing them. "with historical eyes. The plots of different positions and types that made up the farm  they are a consequence of the need to make the family that settled there work well in several periods according to the different crops or maturation times.

The economic management of the territory in an indirect form has therefore given rise to a particular rural landscape:  the scattered settlement and polyculture. Particularly stable type of settlement with isolated houses in the plains and hills  which today sees the replacement of the old farmhouses connected to the "Poderi" where the sharecroppers lived with houses  often second property and, for 20 years and more, birth  of a new economic use of the rural territory devoted to tourism. Farmhouses, country houses, holiday homes with swimming pools, often in the area of the old "ara", enrich our hills and flat areas. Polyculture was clearly visible in the so-called "Alberata", that is, in the mixed cultivation of vines alternating with cereals and in the small crops around the farmhouses.

What is sharecropping

The sharecropping is an agrarian contract under which the agricultural exercise was carried out on a farm. On the basis of the sharecropping agreement, a subject (grantor), holder of the right to enjoy a rustic land, associated himself with another subject (sharecropper), on his own and as head of a farmhouse for the cultivation of the land and the exercise of related activities, in order to divide the products and profits in half. In particular, the grantor conferred the enjoyment of the farm, while the sharecropper lent his own work and that of the farmhouse, with the obligation to reside permanently on the farm. On the day of San Martino, on the decision of the "owner", the change of farmhouse could take place based on the real ability of a "family", also for this patriarchal and numerous one, to make the "farm" profitable in an adequate manner.

The first forms of sharecropping were born around the year one thousand but had a rapid growth in the fourteenth century. starting from the areas of the municipal counties. This form of contract dominated in our areas until the twentieth century, when after the war there was a rapid decline in sharecropping not only due to the push towards the direct cultivation of the farms, which took the form  of the law n. 756 of 1964,   but  also   due to the growing refusal of farmers to reside in old farmhouses, often without electricity and running water.


Plain of the Tiber at the crossroads of the road to the Umbertide cemetery in the 1960s: you can see the use of the rural territory with the  promiscuous culture of the vine, probably with field maples as a support, pruned like a candelabra, a useful form also for collecting vine shoots at the time of pruning and wood collected to dry.


Plain of the Tiber at the crossroads of the road to the Umbertide cemetery in 2019, unfortunately in summer, among the leaves of the "downy oaks" you can see the complete disappearance of the arborata  with the  promiscuous culture of the vine; the division with the ditches of the plots remains.


The same plain of the Tiber at the crossroads of the road to the Umbertide cemetery in the IGM "Tablets" with relief carried out in 1941, where you can see the cemetery  on the right  in the middle of the image  and the land completely cultivated with the promiscuous culture of the vine: in fact it can be seen how the plots are characterized by  "circles" to indicate  the presence of a crop, with a sort of wavy line inside with shadow that characterizes the type of crop of the plots themselves, or  the symbol of the vine. The "Tablet"  thus represents the  dominant presence of the arborata  with the  promiscuous culture of the vine.

The Mezzadria in Umbertide

Simona Bellucci who dealt with the sharecropping system and the relations between the two worlds of "owners" and "workers" writes about it  in its   " The incomplete modernization. Umbertide farmers and owners between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries ": 

" The form of land management determines the type of farmer prevalent in Umbertide, the sharecroppers, who are flanked by the laborers:" The sharecropping contract applies everywhere, There is a good number of laborers. "The sources never mention the small owners direct farmers because in the Municipality we find only medium and large land ownership.

Small peasant property is scarcely present in all of Umbria, limited to certain Apennine areas, only "in the immediate post-war period there is a whole movement for the formation of small peasant speculative of the sharp rise in land and without adequate support for the necessary transformations and the exercise of the activity itself, it was quickly wrecked around 1930, after which it quickly returned to the pre-war structure. "" The large owners adopt the sharecropping management system, long-standing contract, dating back to the Middle Ages, which generally provides for the division of products in half, due to its characteristics of a corporate pact particularly suitable for maintaining social peace. In Umbria, however, there are clear signs of a worsening of the sharecropping contract at the end of the nineteenth century due to a relationship that becomes more unfavorable to workers due to excess labor.

However, sharecropping is not a real corporate pact, because the settler suffers injuries to his individual freedoms, from those concerning marriage, to education, for which he must ask for and obtain the master's consent. The contracts, all disadvantageous, also provide for a series of obligations for the sharecropper, in fact he is subject to additional donations of poultry and eggs on certain festive occasions such as Easter and Christmas, he must also bear part of the land tax, the wife of the settler, in addition, she has to do laundry for the owner's family.

The sharecropping contract has different clauses from area to area, in Umbertide «in principle the division of the products takes place in half; only for grapes to a third in favor of the owner ». In the general condition of poverty there are, however, sharecroppers who live in a better way than others, they are those who cultivate farms in the plains, more fertile than those of hills or mountains and where the number of arms is in balance with the extension of the earth. ".


Consequences of indirect management

Over time, this type of management of agricultural property also imposed a cultivation method: polyculture, exemplified in our area by the mixed cultivation of the vine mixed with cereals but also by the fruit and walnut trees in front of the house. It characterized the typology of human settlement in the Umbrian-Tuscan-Emilian countryside, that is  the scattered settlement, or our "landscape" with our hamlets called "Ca '" or "Cai", the water mills, the country churches with their viability necessary for a world of faithful who moved on foot, and microtoponyms still alive in those who frequent the countryside.  The characteristic of polyculture was combined with the need to produce cereals and grapevines taking the form of the “mixed cultivation of the vine”: that is, parts of a cereal field divided by rows of vines.  Often "married" to trees, to favor their growth. In Umbria, especially in the south,  usually the vine was associated with maple, even today, which has been replaced by concrete poles, the maple is visible in our countryside as a "residue" of the ancient way of farming. For aesthetic / affective reasons, the landscape has continued to maintain "survivals" that are no longer functional to the economic context that had generated them as in the residues of "promiscuous culture" that are sporadically encountered in the countryside. An example of "survival" can be seen just beyond the junction of the road that climbs to the cemetery in the direction of Montone, near the junction for S. Lorenzo.

The end of Sharecropping

the law N ° 756 of 1964 discouraged the stipulation of these contracts  then prohibiting the establishment of new ones  starting from September 1974, while acknowledging those already existing. The law  No. 203 of 1982 then imposed the termination of sharecropping or middle-range contracts with their conversion into rental contracts.  

Rural architecture and appliances


There is a commendable text, published by the Umbria Region and written by the professors, Melelli, Fatichenti of the University of Perugia that can guide us to re-read the historical stratification of the landscape both in terms of rural architecture and the appurtenances and open spaces of our Region and also of our Valley:  Alberto Melelli Fabio Fatichenti Massimo Sargolini. “ Architecture and Rural Landscape in Umbria. Tradition and contemporaneity. "Umbria Region, Quattroemme Srl.  

But there are many human elements that are found in the apparently natural agricultural landscape, the fruit instead of one  historical economic stratification that has remained stable for hundreds of years and then  has changed rapidly, in the text indicated by prof. Fatichenti indicates  in fact, as "historical assets" a series of elements: 

Minor elements of religious architecture (chapels, oratories, farm churches, country cemeteries, road crosses, niches or votive plaques, tabernacles, newsstands);

- service goods (public springs and wash houses, taverns, springs, aqueducts, masonry huts, stone boundary stones);

- appurtenances to buildings (farmyards in beaten or paved earth, wells or cisterns with or without cover, wash houses, fertilizers, ovens, dryers, barns, sheepfolds);

- agricultural arrangements (terracing and embankments, dry stone walls);

- hydraulic arrangements (embankments, canals, dams). "


It must be said that in our area, unlike the rest of Umbria, the "barns" were not used, the hay was instead collected and  left to dry outdoors, in the large "sheaf" near the threshing floor, a space that was also the small "square" of the farm house or of the groups of neighboring houses.

MIETITURA-BATTITURA-1928Storiche archivi

Harvest time, Montecorona area, 1928

The rural house


The rural house is an expression of the needs of the production system in which it is located. Its housing structure, the new parts that are built and the annexes are all functional to that economic cell of the exploitation of the property in an indirect form which is the appoderamento, or rather the farm with the typical farmhouse of sharecropping. The space in front of the house is used for the arrangement of agricultural work; new buildings, if they exist, are an expression of production needs, stables, dryers, any barns, even the external bathrooms are usually built in the same area where the excrements of animals taken from the stables for fertilization are kept.

Usually the house has two floors, with an external staircase that ends in our areas with a small roof, in the basement often hens or rabbits were placed; downstairs there is the stable for the animals, now rearranged in beautiful halls; upstairs, with an internal hatch to go up and down with a wooden staircase for the winter, there was space for the settlers.  The second floor always had a large fireplace in the central room which had to be enough to heat all the rooms, where we all ate together.

Especially in the hills the external structure  of the rural house  appears from  far away in harmony with the colors of the surrounding nature;  this happened unintentionally because the building materials were being taken from the surrounding terrain. This last geological typology is clearly visible on the roads leading to Pietralunga or Gubbio with the yellow "sandstone" sections that protrude with "teeth" alternating with gray "marls"; marls also present as on some badlands forms  visible going up from Umbertide towards the Monte Acuto area. The great majority of our rural houses have the use of marly stones, more gray, or sandstone, of a browning yellow, leaving the external appearance of the houses in harmony with the surrounding hills. The fortress of Umbertide itself is built from stones of this type and for the finishing of the portals and the first step is also the "Collegiate". From a geological point of view, the area of the Municipality of Umbertide insists on fluvial-lacustrine sedimentary deposits of the alluvial plain together with a Miocene sedimentation area, of marly-arenaceous type, which characterizes the high hill between the Tiber and the limestone ridge of the Umbrian-Marche Apennines. These geological structures  they are interrupted by some calcareous rocky outcrops of more ancient formation which occupy a limited area of their own near Monte Acuto. Just look at the rural houses once you enter the Gubbio plain to notice  of the difference with those of our area, and of how the limestone quarries have the choice of the construction material of the houses. The housing structures closest to Umbertide have the most frequent use of bricks deriving from clay.


Stratification of architectural elements


Let's have two here  examples  of historical stratification in the still visible rural buildings, an older one, the dovecote tower, and one much closer to us, but now  already a "historical" stratification, or rather the "dryers" of tobaccos.

Among the elements that the sharecropping system has left in our rural landscape architecture are the dovecote (or palombine) towers .

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Example of an Umbrian rural house rebuilt maintaining the previous characteristics, including the "dovecote tower" and with original materials, with the ancient housing structure on the upper floor  with the old "shed"  integrated, however, in the roof. "Buzzacchero" area.


Photo 1. Dovecote tower in the countryside, located on the banks of the "Assino" stream.

Photo n. 2.  Dovecote tower in the ancient  countryside, located towards the Polgeto road.

Photo n. 3  Probable dovecote tower on the border between the urban area and the old one  countryside, placed in front of the walls of Fratta. Other sources would be needed to be sure, but the four-storey height, the "roost" between the third and fourth floors suggest this type of architecture.

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They seem to have arisen earlier than the rest of the buildings and although it is thought that the use of buildings from urban towers has extended, they have become characteristic of the rural environment. They wore  various advantages advantages in addition to the meat of the pigeons, there was the fact of eliminating the seeds of weeds from the farmyard to the fields and providing a precious fertilizer for the cultivation of hemp and flax, but in any case it was also used to fertilize olive groves and vineyards. They could have three, four or five floors (those born with defensive purposes) but usually the last level, still reachable from the inside or with an external ladder, consisted of the real diver. Levels could be used for different purposes. On its walls often  numerous niches were opened with nest functions, they were plastered and made very smooth so as to prevent weasels, stone martens and other predators from climbing up and killing pigeons. "Outside there were the entrance holes for the doves, and the rose window for the ventilation of the compartment, both overlooking the" roost "(or" walk ") which served both as a shelf for the dove but also as a further obstacle to predatory animals. " Today many of these towers in our territory are used for tourism purposes and perform an attractive function for tourism. 

The breeding of doves or pigeons was an activity  of breeding present well  centuries before the construction of the dovecote towers in the area, just think that in the "Statutes of Fratta of 1535" we read a specific rule: " DELI PIGLANTI LE COLOMBE DOMESTICHE or  DE COLOMBAJO ".  The  Statutes deal with "the taking of domestic doves ", specifying the penalty for those who have stolen or killed them: "...  X de dinars worth of money for everyone who steals  in any way, palomba de palomboro or domesticho or casalengho ".

The characteristic tower probably acquired an aesthetic value and in the twentieth century also the rural houses that did not use them for such purposes   they equipped themselves with towers, as reported by prof. Fatichenti for the Spoleto in  “Architecture and Rural Landscape in Umbria. Tradition and contemporaneity. ". Our country lacks studies on this aspect and so we can hypothesize that the numerous turrets that can be seen which however have a four-pitched roof were built for aesthetic or "rank" reasons.  

We recommend reading the Degree Thesis on the "dovecote towers" of our territory created in 1990-91 by Professor Anna Maria Boldrini who kindly allowed us to show it on this page. 

Photo 1.  Probably a turret built in ememulation of the "dovecote tower" for the fact that it is  different type of cover (four sides). "Poste" area.

Photo 2.  Probably a turret built in ememulation of the "dovecote tower" for the fact that it is  different type of cover (four sides). "Station" area.

Photo n. 3 Probable tower built in ememulation of the "dovecote tower" for the fact that it is  different type of cover (four sides). "Buzzacchero" area.

Among the recent constructions that the introduction of a new culture has left over time there are the tobacco "dryers" , rather tall buildings with many chimneys, today sometimes  replaced by "dormers" when the buildings were reused as homes. These annexes next to or directly separated from the farmhouse were connected to the cultivation of tobacco by carrying out the drying time here with the leaves strung on strings, placed on poles which were then raised to a considerable height. Tobacco production allowed  the birth of a thriving manufacture. just think that in 1946 the "Tabacchi plant in Umbertide, employed 230 people, 180 women. The total rose to 315 people in 1951. Subsequently  the shift to cooperative and mechanized (bulk-curing) forms of production first concentrated drying in large buildings and then replaced it with machinery.  Thus almost all of the "dryers" lost their function. A similar fate also for the large buildings such as those of the FAT company in Città di Castello which today are used in a museum key for the works of Alberto Burri after the relocation to Regnano. Tobacco cultivation that contributed  also to homogenize the use of agricultural land from the early 1900s to the seventies in our flat and low hill areas, contributing to the elimination of the "tree" with the promiscuous culture of the vine.

Figs. 1-4: we show here some of the many  characteristic dryers of the whole upper Tiberina Valley, here photos starting from the border with the Municipality of Montone at Tenute di Montecorona. Buildings of this type can be seen almost in every area of the municipality.

We present here in .pdf a reconstruction of the agricultural use of Tobacco made by Prof. Simona Bellucci who kindly grants us from her  work: “ Tobacco and tobacconists. The tobacco plant in the economy and society of Umbertide ", Crace / Fondazione Museo Storico Scientifico del Tabacco, Città di Castello 2009, pp. 58-61.

PANORAMA - 1933Storiche archivio Bellucc

Umbertide and his countryside, year 1933. In the lower left corner it is clearly visible  the mixed cultivation of vines on the right bank of the Tiber.

To deepen the relationship between rural architecture and sharecropping in our territory, we refer you to the page of the "Graduation theses" where there is the beautiful and accurate work of Professor Anna Maria Boldrini: " Rural architecture in the upper Tiber Valley: Umbertide in the century XVI ".


Clicking on the image below opens the complete work directly.

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We conclude by returning to the present:  today  between Farmhouses, Guest Houses, Bed and Breakfasts, Holiday Homes, etc.  present in the Municipality of Umbertide in the "Alta Umbria" site are counted  96 accommodation facilities ... almost all of them belong to that agricultural system that it has today  changed economic function. Facilities that usually  must  to the scattered settlement born with the appoderamento their existence.


- Alberto Melelli Fabio Fatichenti Massimo Sargolini. “ Architecture and Rural Landscape in Umbria. Tradition and contemporaneity . " Umbria Region, 2010, Quattroemme Srl. We present some elements in summary


- IGMI Tablet, Series M 891, Edition 3, Sheet, NICCONE, 122, I, NO

- Simona Bellucci, " The incomplete modernization. Umbertide peasants and owners between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries ". Edimond, Città di Castello 2004, pp. 18-20.

- Simona Bellucci, “ Tobacco and tobacconists. The tobacco plant in the economy and society of Umbertide ", Crace / Fondazione Museo Storico Scientifico del Tabacco, Città di Castello 2009, pp. 58-61.

- Simona Bellucci, Umbertide in the 20th century: 1943-2000, Nuova Prhomos Editions, 2018.

- Photo: Francesco Deplanu.

- Photo: 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.

Henri Desplanques, Campagnes Ombriennes, 1969

A complex historical stratigraphy is the basis of rural landscapes. . .. "

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