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Cannaiola (Perugia province)

A town of central Umbria, a frazione of Trevi: 42°51.9N, 12°42.7E. Altitude: 218 m. Population in 2001: 733.

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The door of the large Ciccaglia house on the main street is typical of old Cannaiola.

The peaceful town of Cannaiola lies in the plain of the great Umbrian valley (the Valle Umbra) at about 3½ km W of Trevi. With its seven hundred inhabitants, it's larger than some full-fledged Umbrian comuni, but it is part of the comune of Trevi.

By Italian standards the town is not that old. It couldn't be, since, at 218 m above sea-level, for much of recorded history it would have been underwater. When the Romans took over central Umbria in the 3c B.C., large patches of the area formed a tentacular swamp or lake, the so‑called Lacus Umber, the surface of which is estimated to have been around 220 m above sea-level. They pushed thru some massive engineering projects: diverting rivers, cutting emissaries to drain some areas, and almost certainly building levees to hold back the rivers that remained. But levees and dikes are high-maintenance, especially in an earthquake zone: when the Roman empire collapsed, so did they; and for several centuries, until Benedictine monks started draining Umbria once again, there was no land here to live on.

An indication of the importance of water can be found in Cannaiola's very name. The origin of the name is, strictly speaking, unknown; but the two most likely possibilities have to do with water: canna, rushes, or cannaviola, canal.

[image ALT: A photo of a flat fallow field in the foreground with a sharp embankment behind it, some six or seven meters high, covered with grasses, broom, and other shrubs. Behind that embankment the top of a church belfry — an elegant square tower with a cupola verging on onion-shape — peeks out; behind that, in the distance, dim mist-shrouded forms of tall mountains. It is a view of the Umbrian floodplain near Cannaiola.]

This photo, taken just a few hundred yards W of town, shows clearly just how much Cannaiola depends on the levees. The church (see separate page for an idea of how large it is) is built on a specially raised foundation precisely because of the danger of flooding: yet you can barely see its roof behind this massive artificial embankment so handsomely covered in flowering broom. What's more, the creek channelled by these banks, the Fosso Ciccotti, is the one of the smallest among 10 roughly parallel watercourses that would, if unchecked, threaten the existence of the town: stronger embankments contain the Tatarena, a few hundred more meters W (behind us here), and the Maroggia, about 1½ km E.

Our town, then, dates to the late Middle Ages; more precisely to the 13c when the Tatarena was shifted west to its present course and the people who had been living closer to the foot of Trevi's hill, but in an unhealthy location, found a place ready-made for them, a few meters higher than their old homes: the old bed of the Tatarena is now the main street of Cannaiola — a very dangerous situation, it should be said, if anything were to go wrong. (The management of water in the Umbrian plain, by the way, remains very much of an ongoing project, entrusted to the Consorzio della Bonificazione Umbra: which had pages with interesting photos, both current and historical — pages, however, which with the continuing shrinkage of the Web have now been removed; see also their publication, La Valle Umbra: Disegni e piante dalla Visita ai Fiumi alla bonifica.)

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The main street of Cannaiola stretches from right to left, its houses partly modernized; to the left, the perpendicular line of new houses follows the SP 447 road towards Trevi.

Cannaiola's medieval past had given it at least two churches, but both have disappeared: a chapel of S. Niccolò di Bari, which had 15c frescoes but was demolished in 1869; and a church of S. Francesco di Paola, which was at La Cuccia near the Maroggia river about 1 km away — although its precise location is now unknown.

Today, in addition to the parish church of St. Michael, there remain these two:

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S. Antonio Abate, built in 1660. Of a painting still to be seen inside, the Bl. Pietro Bonilli wrote that it "is an atrocious depiction of the Virgin, St. Anthony and St. Philip Neri."

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Formerly S. Felice, but restored as S. Fedele in 1805
(the date is on the plaque above the door).

I have spent a total of something like an hour in Cannaiola (see the Apr. 24, 2004 entry of my diary), have not seen the whole town — for example the remains of its castle, now used as a cemetery — and have visited the interior of only one of its three churches, so you shouldn't imagine we've exhausted the place in this small page. I'll leave you with a detail of one of the roadside shrines I saw on my way into town, at the intersection of Via Cavanella and Via Nuova:

[image ALT: A somewhat crude painting of the Virgin Mary holding the Baby Jesus; both are crowned, and they are shown against a backdrop that imitates woven cloth with a repetitive pattern of flowers in circles. It is a 20c wall painting in an outdoors shrine near Cannaiola, Umbria (central Italy).]

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Page updated: 18 Jul 23