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Amelia (Terni province)

A town of SW Umbria: 42°33.5N, 12°24.8E. Altitude: 406 m. Population in 2003: 11,200.

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A view of Amelia from the southeast, from the road to Fornole and Narni.

The Umbrian hilltown of Amelia is a picturesque regional center 22 km W of Terni, 11 km NNW of Narni and 15 km N of the town of Orte in the northern Lazio just across the border from Umbria. As Ameria, it was a much more important place in ancient times, so that it now dominates a landscape peppered with Roman and Etruscan ruins of the hoariest antiquity. Not surprisingly, one of the ancient Roman consular roads also led here and took its name from the town: the Via Amerina.

Its own chief monument is a rather well-preserved circuit of massive polygonal walls, some dating back to the 8c B.C. (and including a gate of the 3d or 4th‑century B.C., rediscovered in May 2008 after it had been buried for so long as to have been completely forgotten); but there is also a perfectly preserved group of huge Roman cisterns under the main square in front of city hall, and several interesting medieval churches, including the massive cathedral of S. Firmina, which houses a pair of well-preserved Turkish standards captured in the naval battle of Lepanto in 1571.

On March 31, 2000 an important Archaeological Museum was slated to have opened in Amelia, where some of the very many finds from the area are exhibited, chief of which is the great Roman statue of Germanicus, of gilt bronze and larger than lifesize, found just outside the main gate of Amelia in the 1960s.

A proper website will obviously appear here by and by, since I've spent several days in and around Amelia, and walked some of the area at one time or another. As a first small step toward that site:

[image ALT: The elaborately carved Gothic lunette over the entrance door to the church of S. Agostino in Amelia, Umbria (central Italy).]

[ 2/22/07: 7 churches, 2 pages, 13 photos ]

My churches of Amelia section, for now a photosampler although I expect to flesh it out with additional pages, is pretty accurate in one respect: it's a good reflection of what I've seen so far. Each time I go to Amelia, I get mesmerized by the Roman and pre-Roman remains, which are exceptional, and don't pay much attention to the churches, which are not. As often, then, stay tuned.

You'll also see a good photo of the ancient polygonal walls illustrating the article Murus of Smith's Dictionary; and a good detail photo of the masonry rather curiously illustrating the article Viae. You will probably find it also useful to read two sequences of my diary, which include 7 good photos and contain much good information, including about the Germanicus of Amelia, albeit interspersed with loving descriptions of my meals:

Sep. 1819 and Oct. 273031, 1998


Like most of the comuni in Italy, Amelia 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 only been to Fornole, a nice little town that I like: you will get 2 pages and 8 photos. Any other links will be offsite.

Collicello •  Foce • Fornole • Macchie • Montecampano • Porchiano del Monte • Sambucetole

Etymological Notes

As for an etymological connection between the name of this Umbrian town and (a) the woman's name; (b) the etymology of America:

The first is quite uncertain. The origin of the feminine given name is unknown, and there is, at least, not a shred of evidence as to any connection. Commonest in Germanic countries, it may be a variant of Amalia, which doesn't help much. More firmly, there is no connection at all between Amelia (in Latin, Ameria) and the gens Aemilia, the Greek philosopher Amelius, or the 8c saint by that name.

As for America, the connection is conjectural at best. I believe it to be very unlikely. To start with, while everyone 'knows' that the New World continent derives its name from Amerigo Vespucci, this is not a solid fact but an assumption based on one interpretation — even if the most natural, frankly — of an appendix to Waldseemüller's Cosmography (see Bourne, Spain in America, p98 ff.), and responsible alternative theories have been proposed. This excellent, detailed page gives some of them, and one more can be found at Elfinspell; noting also that according to R. H. Allen one of the oldest texts written in English about the New World refers to the continent as Armenica, which is pretty hard to pull out of Amerigo or even Americus).

But even if the names of the continent and the 15c‑16c mapmaker are related, the further derivation of Amerigo from the Latin Ameria is yet another assumption, and one that stands up very poorly. To start with, the Latin adjective for a person from Amelia is Amerinus, not *Americus; even in modern Italian where Amelia is spelled with an l, the adjective remains Amerino. Then, medieval Italian names in -igo or -ico are generally related to Germanic names: Enrico, Federigo, Roderigo are the Italian cognates of Heinrich, Friedrich, Roderich; Amerigo is the cognate of Emmerich — nothing to do with our town whatsoever.

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Page updated: 6 Dec 21