The Land of Men of War

As you near Tuoro you immediately grasp what the great Carthaginian general Hannibal also innately understood when he chose this as the place to surprise the Roman troops of his enemy, the Roman Consul Caio Flaminio Nepote, in what became known as the Battle of Trasimeno, one of the bloodiest of the 2nd Punic War. At dawn on June 24, 217 BC, Hannibal took advantage of the thick fog and led a ferocious attack against the Roman troops. Ten thousand of them died in battle that day, some killed by Hannibal’s men, others by the sword of their fellow soldiers in order to avoid capture, while many also died drowned in the Lake.  That notwithstanding, many were nonetheless captured.  The battle remains an integral part of the area and its history, and visitors today can tour the fields, which apart from its archaeological interest are also set in beautiful surroundings, and read about the events of that terrible day.

Another of Trasimeno’s towns is also famous for the warring activities which took place there: Castel Rigone, a hilltop town near Passignano sul Trasimeno.  In 543 AD, the story tells, the Ostrogoth Arrigo (or Rigone), a lieutenant under General Totila, set up an operational base here in his efforts to sustain the siege of Perugia.  Towards the end of the 13th century a castle, of which the walls, the keep, three towers and two gateways still survive, was built here to defend its local inhabitants.

Standing on the top of the hill of Castel Rigone, if you look out towards the shore on the other side of the Lake, you can still hear the clip-clop of a trotting horse ridden by a great adventurer who lived in the mid-1300s.  His name was Boldrino Paneri and he was born in Panicale in 1331.   Thanks to his many victories in defense of Perugia, he was honoured with the keys to the city. The episode was immortalized by the artist Mariano Piervittori on a large tapestry which now hangs in the Teatro Caporali, a tiny architectural gem made of wood and entirely embellished with stucco decorations. Walking the streets of Panicale you can stroll along via Boldrino Paneri and admire the 13th century building in which he was born. His family heraldic shield still adorns the façade. 

Moving towards the south-west we find Paciano, on the slopes of Mount Petrarvella, with its ages old castle.  In 1509, for their loyalty to the Church, the Pope exempted all of its citizens from taxes because in the ongoing power struggle between the noble Oddi and Baglioni families of Perugia, they sided with the Oddis.  Legend has it, in fact, that Adriano Baglioni was actually poisoned in Paciano in 1502. Along the panoramic Ceraseto road  that connects Paciano to Città della Pieve one can still see the ruins of the ancient Giano temple, and it is likely that the town of Paciano got its name from being a “Passaggio al tempio di Giano”, or “a stop along the way to Giano”.  

Leaving Paciano in a southwesterly direction one arrives in the area of Città della Pieve and Castiglione del Lago, both towns with ancient medieval origins closely tied to the famous adventurer Ascanio della Corgna.  In their very centre and embraced by their majestic walls, rise the fascinating renaissance buildings constructed ay the behest of the Della Corgna family in both towns, designed by architect Galeazzo Alessi.  They are still graced with original frescoes painted by Niccolò Circignani, known as “il Pomarancio”, and they depict episodes of Ascanio’s many adventures and service to his fellow citizens.  Ascanio della Corgna (1514-1571) was the perfect example of a gentleman and adventurer, blessed with the strong humanistic vein typical of the Renaissance. He was one of his era’s most illustrious figures and distinguished himself in many fields.  He studied architecture and was an excellent swordsman, well acquainted with both the art of battle and the humanistic passions typical of his times. He fought in almost all of the wars that raged around him, soldiering under different banners at different times.  He was renowned far and wide for his swordsmanship, so much so that some three thousand people travelled to see him in a duel with Giannetto Taddei, a man who had offended him.  A fresco portraying the duel can be admired in Palazzo della Corgna in Castiglione del Lago.  He died in 1571 after having fought in the Battle of Lepanto and his body still rests in the Della Corgna Chapel in the Chiesa di San Francesco in Perugia.    

Andrea Fortebraccio (1368-1424) was known as Braccio da Montone in honour of a village not far from Città di Castello and was another fine soldier and adventurer. His life was spent fighting in wars and battles, during which time he perfected a military technique  based on quick maneuvering and rapid movements.  It was something of a new way of doing battle and became known, in his honour, as the braccesca technique.  It was not unsimilar to the style of attack used by Hannibal when he defeated the Romans in the bloody Battle of Trasimeno.    

Braccio had several exceptional pupils, one of whom was Niccolò Piccinino, born in Caligiana di Magione in 1386. He took part in the Battle of Anghiari and led his troops to glorious victory.  Leonardo da Vinci immortalized this battle in a fresco which can be admired in Florence, a copy of which – made by Peter Paul Rubens – hangs in the Louvre in Paris. 

Magione also played something of a role in the often sanguine events of the Renaissance, records of which are preserved in Niccolò Machiavelli’s The Prince, his famous political doctrine. This “immortal” book recalls the importance of the Castle of the Knights of Malta in Magione, where one of the most famous military conspiracies was hatched against the powerful Cesare Borgia, known as “il Valentino”. Machiavelli had seen him as the ideal military man and, above all, the ideal Italian Prince who could have achieved the unification of Italy.   In 1502 Cesare Borgia survived a conspiracy plotted against him by the military leaders of various central Italian cities.  These men had gathered at the Castle of the Knights of Malta, a fortified hospital built in the 12th century, to find a way to stop his expansion of power.  The plot was discovered, however, and the traitors either killed or sent into exile. 

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