When I was asked to paint the spectacular hill town of Monte Santa Maria Tiberina (MSMT) in the Upper Tiber Valley, it came with the caveat that the local market town of Citta di Castello and the Canoscio monastery above Fabrecce be included.
My initial reaction was…. “Ohh way too much there missus” but thinking about it later the beauty of MSMT is that the sugar loaf mountain on which it perches can be seen from everywhere in the area. As far south as Umbertide and Montone, across the border in the Tuscan towns of Sansepolcro and Anghiari, as well as Castello, Trestina and San Giustino.
So the painting is a kind of road map to its location. The two villages at the bottom are Fabrecce on the left, with Canoscio above and Sansecondo on the right with Dognano on the hill. These two villages are separated by a stone bridge over the Aggia River and it is along this valley you drive to reach MSMT.
Faintly depicted on the right are the instantly recognisable features of Citta di Castello’s duomo and its notorious bell tower and in the background on the left, the castle town of Lippiano, with the Apennine Mountains filling the skyline behind.
As you approach MSMT through the wooded hillsides the first thing that strikes you are the massive blockhouse buildings on the left, more prominent when you drive from Lippiano but still impressive as you wind your way along the Aggia valley. The two church towers are also distinct features as you approach the town through the woods.
As you arrive, the small, arched town gate greets you, protected on all sides by the dominant walls. Through this gate are hints of the narrow, twisting steps that populate MSMT, enabling both visitors and residents to negotiate the narrow streets. A second gate on the left and the castellated roof of the palazzo inside are further indications of the riches that await hidden behind the town’s walls.
While MSMT is assuredly the site of an ancient Etruscan trading village with the Umbri, its gradual development led to the building of the town’s wall around the 9th century. It uniquely remains an independent state in the region despite many wars, sieges and claims on its title, it was not until Italy’s unification in 1859 that MSMT lost its independence.
It is still renowned as one of the last places in Europe where it was legal to hold a duel to the death and during the Second World War, as the Nazis withdrew from the area, it’s prominent position meant it experienced another hard fought battle for survival.
Now a quiet sentinel, MSMT casts its glance down on the valleys below and steadies itself for the next invasion of people for the fabulous Autumn Harvest that is held in October each year. MSMT is a place that has a distinctive shape you cannot mistake when touring the Upper Tiber Valley but is most definitely somewhere you should visit.