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Trevi, City on a Hill

A town of central Umbria: 42°52.5N, 12°44.9E. Altitude: 424 m. Population in 2003: 7800.

[image ALT: A small town, consisting of several hundred 2‑ to 4‑story houses and buildings, on a hill sloping at about 40 degrees. It is a view of Trevi, Umbria (central Italy).]

Trevi is an ancient town and comune (township) in the province of Perugia in east central Umbria, on the lower flank of Mt. Serano over­looking the wide plain of the Clitunno river system. It is 10 km SSE of Foligno and 20 km N of Spoleto.

As you can see, most of Trevi lies on sharply sloping terrain, and makes a striking appearance over the Umbrian plain: only the very center of town is more or less flat. Even the casual visitor will notice the two sharply contrasting faces of Trevi: it is a densely inhabited, inward-looking warren of narrow streets of decidedly medieval aspect, enclosed in two circuits of walls dating to the Middle Ages; and it commands some of the best views in Umbria, extending over 50 km (30 miles) in most westerly directions.

Trevi has a dozen medieval churches: the most important are the Duomo (S. Emiliano), a Romanesque edifice the interior of which was significantly reworked in the 18th century; the shrine of the Madonna delle Lacrime notable for a fresco by Perugino; the former church of S. Francesco, now a museum; and S. Martino, with paintings by Mezzastris.

Beyond the town itself, the rural areas of the township are particularly rich in Romanesque churches: some of those in the plain, erected on the Roman Via Flaminia when that road was in use, remain as markers of the road's course.

The Renaissance is pleasantly represented in town as well: the acme of Trevi's fortunes was in the 15th century, when its commercial importance was such that this little inland town was called "il porto secco" — the dry port. In 1470 for example, along with Foligno, Trevi became only the fourth town in Italy to have a printing press, managed by the first known printing company. The wealth of this period can still be seen in a number of Renaissance mansions.

Put it all together, add the convenient little train station (on both the main rail line from Rome to Ancona and the line from Florence and Perugia), and toss in the unusual number of good restaurants in town — I'm not one to pass over such things — and Trevi is a very good base for visiting central Umbria, especially for those relying on public transportation.


In Antiquity, Trebiae is mentioned by Pliny (N. H. III.XIV.114) as a city of the ancient Umbrians, which has been confirmed by the find of an inscription in the Umbrian language, a relative of Latin: such inscriptions are very rare. The history of the earliest Roman period is essentially unknown, and although it was of course suspected that the oldest habitations had been on the hill, it was only towards the end of the 20th century that a careful examination of the inner circuit of the upper town's walls showed them to be of Roman origin, dating to the 1st century B.C. The first stage of the development of Trevi beyond the hill took place under the Empire, when Hadrian restored the main road thru the territory, the Via Flaminia, thus spurring the growth of a suburb in the plain at the place now called Pietrarossa, where sporadic excavations over several centuries have brought to light many remains: among them Roman baths that appear to have been still more or less in use in the time of St. Francis, who is known to have visited the area and to have advised people to bathe there.

In antiquity Trevi is said to have had jurisdiction over much of the valley below, all the way to the Monti Martani that form the central backbone of Umbria. The seat of a bishop until the 11th century, Trevi was a Lombard viceroyalty (if the Italian word is of use to you, a gastaldato), then, in the early 13th century, freed itself of outside ruler­ship to become a free commune. It generally allied itself with Perugia in order to defend itself from nearby Spoleto, and fought several wars with other neighboring communes, with varying outcomes, including invasion by Spoleto in the 14th century and a brief but unhappy rule of the Trinci warlords of Foligno. The reëstablishment of self-rule after the Spoletine incursion is commemorated every year in October, by the way, as part of the Black Celery Festival: one of the best of the Umbrian town festivals, not to be missed if you're in the area. At any rate, in 1438 Trevi passed under the temporal rule of the Church as part of the legation of Perugia, and from there on its history merges first with that of the States of the Church, then (1860) with that of the united Kingdom of Italy.

As you can imagine by now, I'm slowly building a detailed site on Trevi. Here are the first few pages:

[image ALT: A small Romanesque church with a shell-shaped apse and a little open belfry of the type called 'campanile a vela'. The church is sited on the sharp slope of a hill over­looking a vast plain. It is the church of S. Donato of Matigge, Umbria (central Italy).]

The Churches of Trevi — both in town and in the surrounding countryside within the comune — are of unusual interest. For some reason, many Romanesque chapels have survived in this area of Umbria. I've seen some of them: frescoes, Roman inscriptions . . . and attractive, too.

[ 11/5/04: 18 churches, 10 of which at least partly online here.
26 pages, 57 photos, offsite links ]

[image ALT: The upper part of a diminutive plastered building with a deep semicircular arched recess and a pitched roof. It is an edicola, or wayside shrine, in Trevi, Umbria (central Italy).]

Not all our devotion and piety goes into churches; in Italy, much of it can be seen in little shrines in city, town or open country. Trevi has its share of these edicole, and a small collection of them is onsite, some of them with a story to tell — the others, the story is just not one that I know.

[ 3/25/16: 4 pages, 14 photos ]

[image ALT: A stretch of stone wall with an arched doorway.]

But before the Christian Middle Ages, Trevi was a Roman city. Several Roman inscriptions have been found in the territory of the comune, and it's with one of them that I'm opening my Roman subsite: you will see why!

[ 11/29/98: 1 page, 1 photo ]

[image ALT: The upper part of an elegant arched stone doorway of the Renaissance period. It serves as the icon for my transcription of a book by Tommaso Valenti, 'Curiosità storiche trevane'.]

A series of articles by Tommaso Valenti on Trevi's history, folklore, and monuments appeared in serial form in the town's fortnightly newspaper, La Torre di Trevi, in 1898‑1899: the set was reprinted in 1922 in a slightly edited form as a book, which I have transcribed onsite (in Italian of course, although I've translated four of the essays into English and may at some point translate others). It bears the title Curiosità storiche trevane.

[ 3/27/16: 160 printed pages
presented in 24 webpages; unillustrated ]

[image ALT: A very elegant stone rose window, formed of two concentric circles of almost circular arches: the inner of eight petals, the outer of sixteen. It is the rose window on the façade of the church of S. Felice di Narco in Umbria (central Italy). It serves here as the icon for my transcription of the book by Mariano Guardabassi, Indice-Guida dei Monumenti dell' Umbria.]

The 19c artist and scholar Mariano Guardabassi wrote Indice-Guida dei Monumenti . . . dell' Umbria, a well-known and very detailed art-history guide to Umbria, which I'm in the process of transcribing onsite (in Italian of course, although I may eventually translate parts of it into English). His section on Trevi is naturally of interest.

[ 4/29/17: 13 printed pages
presented in 2 webpages; 7 photos ]

Pending a more complete set of formal pages, those of you planning trips, especially, may also find the following pages of my diary useful:

Oct. 22, 1997

Museo S. Francesco; a restaurant; Bovara.

Oct. 29, 1997

S. Donato di Matigge.

Oct. 21, 1998

The Celery Fair: Sagra del Sedano Nero. The Teatro Clitunno. Bovara.

Nov. 7, 1998

S. Pietro a Pettine; Roman walls; a restaurant.

Jun. 28, 2000

Churches; olive oil; a restaurant.

Feb. 28, 2004

The Pro Loco; the Piazza Garibaldi and urban expansion; the Palazzo Comunale; the Perugino in the church of the Madonna delle Lagrime; a theater performance; a restaurant.

Apr. 11, 2004

Museum of S. Francesco; the Duomo.

Apr. 24, 2004

"Trevi de Planu", or the part of the comune in the plain: the little town of Cannaiola; the train station.

Apr. 27, 2004


May 7, 2004

The finding of a Roman inscription in S. Francesco; a restaurant.

May 15, 2004

A restaurant.

May 16, 2004

Matigge, Manciano, Ponze; churches.

Minor entries:

Sep. 11, 1998 Sep. 21, 2000 Feb. 27, 2004 Mar. 5, 2004

The Frazioni

Like most of the comuni in Italy, Trevi includes in its territory some smaller towns and hamlets, of a few hundred inhabitants if that, with a certain administrative identity of their own: as elsewhere in Italy, these are referred to as the frazioni of the comune (singular: frazione, literally a "fraction"): a complete list of them follows. I've been to four of them:

Bovara is about ancient Roman cattle, and a beautiful 12c Benedictine abbey; and the oldest olive tree in Italy (which hasn't made it onto my site yet). One of the best of its wayside shrines is also covered.

[ 2 pages, 9 photos ]

[image ALT: missingALT]

Cannaiola, in the reclaimed wetlands at the foot of the hill, is the newest of Trevi's towns, no more than seven or eight hundred years old. Rich farmland and modern expansion, but requiring protection against flooding by the Maroggia River and its sister creeks.

[ 2 pages, 8 photos ]

[image ALT: missingALT]

Manciano and Ponze are peaceful, isolated hamlets; excellent places for picnics and summer cottages, but their old churches have a rough time of it; S. Stefano in particular is a gem and deserves far better than it has got in recent years: will one of you who read these lines just maybe step up and repair it?

[ 4 pages, 8 photos ]

[image ALT: missingALT]

In the plain to the north, the medieval watchtower of Matigge can be seen for miles, and the town's light industry makes it the economic motor of Trevi; but as you climb the hill it's another world altogether, with beautiful old churches amidst roses and olive groves.

[ 7 pages, 18 photos ]

[image ALT: missingALT]

Completing the list, with the occasional link: Borgo Trevi • Coste • Lapigge (less properly, La Pigge or even Pigge): 1 — 2 • Parrano • Picciche • S. Lorenzo • S. Maria in Valle

Bibliographical Note

The earliest comprehensive work on the history of Trevi is Historia universale dello Stato temporale ed eclesiasticoº di Trevi, 1233pp, by Durastante Natalucci, 1745: for further information, see my capsule biography of him; at some point, I may be putting excerpts of the work onsite as well.

Tommaso Valenti's book Curiosità storiche trevane has been mentioned above; it leans heavily, although by no means exclusively, on Natalucci.

An important work for the plain below Trevi is Cannaiola, Memorie storiche raccolte negli anni 1873‑74 by Fr. (now the Blessed) Pietro Bonilli.

The best comprehensive modern work on Trevi, superseding everything before it, is a set of 3 volumes, bearing different individual titles, by Carlo Zenobi, Trevi, 1987‑1995.

Pro Trevi, a volunteer organization roughly corresponding to an American Chamber of Commerce, has been successfully encouraging the ongoing publication of new books on various aspects of the history, flora and fauna of Trevi and its rural surroundings.

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Page updated: 6 Dec 21