History of Montefiore dell'Aso
Currently Montefiore has a population of about 2,200, but the region has been inhabited at least since as far back as the Neolithic age. Stone tools as well as copper, bronze, ceramic and iron artefacts, dating from 900 B.C., are testimony to the extreme antiquity of the region, and its significance within the Mediterranean civilization.
The Prehistoric Period (up to 1st Century)
Bronze artifacts (900 - 400BC) of the Piceno civilization
Trying to piece together the origins of the Piceni, the people who lived in this region before the Roman occupation (268 B. C.), is not easy. Apart the Roman power, which lasted over 600 years, the Barbarian invasions, Alaric’s Visigoths first of all, devastated the area and carried off everything of any value that they could find. During these attacks all the local documentation was lost or destroyed, so written evidence from this period is almost non-existent. Those which are extant are testimony to an illustrious past. Around the present historical centre is a succession of tombs complete with large numbers of artefacts, hinting at a successful and sophisticated early culture.
The links with the Goddess Flora, who had been worshipped locally in pagan times (hence the name of the town – the Mountain of Flora) continued during the Roman era. She was the Goddess of the Spring, youth, and flowers. Her role was protecting the town and the countryside. The flower festival, which is so important to the local people each year, is testament to this ancient relationship. This festival was in the spring, and is mentioned by Ovid in the book V of the Fasti (or the Book of Days) as being somehow lascivious.
The Roman Period (1st - 5th Centuries)
Roman Necropolis (1st-2nd centuries AD) in Montefiore dell'Aso
The size and significance of the Roman population is clearly shown by the extraordinary (and little understood) funerary grottoes in the area known as Li Grotti. These were made in the first century A.D. and consist of niches cut out of the bare rock face containing cremation urns. Montefiore, Massignano and Campofilone are the only areas of the Piceni to have such a feature, and almost certainly this indicates that the population of the area had expanded greatly and these ‘grottoes’ were dug in order to accommodate the ‘overspill’ of the necropolis from the Menocchia valley. This would have coincided with the dramatic growth, in size and significance, of the Centurian port of Cupraromana (now Cupra Marittima).
Major periods in Le Marche History
Iron age 1200 - 230 BC
Villanovan culture 1200 BC - 700 BC
(predecessors of the Etruscans)
Picenum civilisation 1200 - 400 BC
Ancient Greece 800 BC - 0 AD
Ancient Rome 800 BC – 476 AD
Middle Ages 500 AD – 1500 AD
Carolingian 780 - 900 AD
Renaissance 1350 - 1650 AD
Napoleonic Era 1799 - 1815 AD
Papal State 752-1870 AD
Roman dominion was consolidated under the reign of emperor Augustus, and great highways were constructed to facilitate communication. The Via Flaminia divided Le Marche, with the northern part becoming part of Umbria and the southern, Picenum.
Christianity was adopted in the region between the third and fifth centuries A.D, but this was also a period of intense military activity. There was a series of dramatic attacks along the coast by the Huns and the Vandals between 413 and 455 A.D. Fortunately, Montefiore was saved from these, being a little further inland. Roman domination officially ended A.D 476 with the collapse of the power of Rome, Italy having been significantly weakened by constant attacks from the Goths and the Vandals.
The Medieval Period (c476 - 1492)
Medieval doorway - Portal Pinnova (1100 - 1200)
The medieval period was one of constant complex political and religious conflict for Le Marche, as for the whole of Italy. There was the most terrible destruction during the wars between the Goths and the Byzantines, between 535-553. Women were taken as spoils of war and old people and children were massacred. The villages were sacked and abandoned, as were the old Roman towns in the plains, as they were impossible to defend, and new, walled, hilltop towns were constructed. Montefiore was among them, and saw the construction of the church of the Syracusan martyred Saint Lucia (the patron saint of the town), with a diocese which was so large and powerful that it’s authority extended almost as far as the coast.
Rome succeeded in retaking Le Marche in 552, but the region was so weakened by decades of strife that it fell again to the Lombards a few years later. They held sway for the next 200 years, except for the northern part of Le Marche which was still ruled by the Byzantines. With the coming of the Holy Roman Empire under Charlemagne the Lombards were finally defeated in the mid 700s A.D., by the Frankish Army and ended with mixing with the Italian population, therefore Blue-eyed and fair-haired people in Italy are also due, nowadays, to those Lombards.
After Charlemagne’s death in 814 control rapidly fell apart and Montefiore, along with the whole region, fell into chaos. With many local rulers constantly at each other’s throats it was a period of strife and insecurity. From this emerged the Guelph and the Ghibelline factions, the former supporting the deposed king, Welf Otto and then the Pope, while the latter supporting the Emperor Frederick II Hohenstaufen. This division focused on a conflict between factions, involving on both sides in particular the old aristocratic families and the newly developing middle class of merchants, who supported either the papacy and the Guelph cause or the Imperialist Ghibellines, often changing their coats. Lower classes, as usual, paid the highest tribute. The Guelph cause finally triumphed and, by the 13th century, France rather than Germany became the dominant power in the region.
The Montefiore ‘castrum’ (13th Century)
The first documented reference to Montefiore as the site of a ‘castrum’ was in the 13th Century. A castrum was a fortified settlement (camp). In two documents from the Bishopric of Fermo there is reference to the presence of two castra and administrative regions ruled by aristocrats from the same origins. The two castles were separated by an artificial plane of less than a hundred metres. They belonged to Egidius and Ugo Tebaldeschi, who had troubles with the archbishop of Fermo; he sent a little army to fight them, the soldiers cutting trees and vineyards around the two castles. The castrum called Montisfloris stood at the edge of the present Piazza Della Repubblica where the Church of San Callisto was built, which was the main hall of the castrum. Subsequently this church was renamed after Saint Peter the Apostle. The town developed on the southern slope between the streets now known as via Ghibellina, via Mazzini and via Garibaldi. The town was probably defended by embankments and fences. The other castrum, the ‘Aspromontem’ was certainly very close to this, because between 1239 and 1247 the two castles were amalgamated into one. The area covered by the castle is roughly that of the present historic centre, between via Garibaldi, Trento and Giordano Bruno, in the area occupied by the historical palaces of De Vecchis, Egidi and Mozzoni families.
The ‘Free Commune’ (1231 - c1350)
Tower of Sant' Angelo, 14th Century
In 1231, under pressure from the inhabitants, the Tebaldeschi family allowed them to form their own Libero Comune (free commune), retaining the power to have themselves elected the Podestà (a sort of mayor and magistrate) and they combined the two castles into one ruling body called Montefiore, to which everyone was obliged to transfer all their vassals. The new, free Commune very quickly became prosperous. With the creation of the Free Commune and the centralisation of administration and demography, other castles in the local area (such as Lamenano, Forcella and Montecelere) were abandoned and, with the exception of Forcella, they disappeared without trace.
Montefiore, on the other hand, flourished.
After a devastating plague in 1348 the population fell to 450 inhabitants, and the status of the town was reduced to ‘small community’ (piccolo comune) by the papal authority, represented by the cardinal of Fermo.
Local despotism broke out again after the devastating plague and the absence of the papacy in Avignon, but this was checked with the restoration of the papacy in 1421 under Pope Martin V and the ruthless Cardinal Albornoz.
A small number of nobles retained power both over land ownership and administration; unfortunately it was not in their interest to develop the wealth and power of the town.
The Renaissance (15th - 16th Centuries)
Porta Aspromonte, 15th & 16th Century
In the medieval period both Fermo and Ascoli had competed for patronage of the area, and in 1421, Fermo signed a solemn peace treaty in the castle at Montefiore. When the libero comune status ended in the 15th century Montefiore came under the direct jurisdiction of the Vatican Papal State, and the fortifications were increased with their assistance.
Because of the continuous growth in the population in the 15th century it was necessary to expand the city walls and open up new gates. Atlong the walls, in strategic points, they constructed towers all with polygonal bases, of which the Egidi tower, built on the north east side, looks bigger and more imposing than the others. It has a pentagonal base.
The height of the renaissance saw a period of relative stability in the region, and this allowed a flowering of great artistic and cultural developments. One of the great centres for learning and art was Urbino, and specifically the court of Federico di Montefeltro.
In 1559, under threat from the Spanish invaders, the treaty of Cateau Cambresis divided Italy between Spain and the Papal States: Montefiore kept being into the latter area. The Papacy then exerted a stranglehold on its possessions and the counter-reformation was established. A series of famines also undermined the economy of the region.
The 18th and 19th centuries
Palazzo Pacetti (1723)
In the last ten years of the 17th century the church of St Filippo Neri was built, along with a convent. In the same period the Dominican Nuns also built their convent and church of Corpus Domini. The Collegiate church of Saint Lucia was also built, but redesigned in neoclassical style a hundred years later. There followed another period of intense upheaval for Montefiore, and the whole of Italy.
In the last years of the 18th century (1797) French Napoleonic troops occupied Italy and Le Marche. As part of the Papal States, which was transformed into the Kingdom of Italy after the invasion of Napoleonic troops Montefiore followed its destiny.
Even though Napoleonic rule was brief, the revolutionary mood that swept in with them encouraged the growth of libertarian thinking and nationalism, which eventually culminated in the unification of Italy on March 17th, 1861. Le Marche broke free from the Papal states by force a few months earlier, in 1860, but Rome did not fall until a full ten years later (September 20th, 1870).
The 20th and 21st centuries
During the world wars Montefiore did not suffer from any physical destruction from bombing. At the beginning of the first war the coast was bombarded by the Austro-Hungarian fleet, but subsequently no more attacks took place. Many local people, though, fought for the Allies on the front line. However, after the victory of the Allied forces, by 1922 the whole country was under the control of the Fascist party with little resistance from religious or civil leaders. However, with the outbreak of the second world war, anti-fascist ideas began to take a hold.
In 1943 parts of the region were bombarded, and the area was occupied by the Nazis. Large groups of Partisans hiding out in the Appennine mountains undertook sabotage attacks against the Nazis. In 1944 the Gothic, or Green Line was established just above Pesaro, and the region became a battle field. The Allied army, approaching from the South, entered Ascoli Piceno on 18th June 1944 and a brutal battle for the Gothic Line ensued up to 3rd September when the German army was driven out of Pesaro. The entire region was liberated.
The Italian Republic was instituted in 1946 after a national referendum.
There have been two major earthquakes in recent history. The first was in 1997, causing major damage and destruction in both Umbria and Le Marche, and most recently in 2016, but Montefiore was thankfully spared from any serious damage from either.
In recent years the population of Montefiore has fallen, mainly due to lack of employment opportunities in the area. In common with villages all over Southern Europe the village is under threat because of depopulation. Fortunately there has been a growth in cultural awareness and local traditions, and the extraordinarily rich local cultural and scientific history is being promoted by organisations such as the ‘Friends of Montefiore dell’Aso’ to revitalise tourism and investment in the area.