The ancient medieval town of Compignano is located on a hill at 262 m above sea level looking out over the valley of the river Nestore, and it is in the province of Marsciano (PG).
The earliest historical references to this town date back to 1240, regarding a circular castle of the former “podestà” of Florence, Andrea di Giacomo. In the 13th century, many noble families and groups were owners of multiple castles (castra) in the lands of Perugia; among these, the Montemelini, who at the time had an extensive number of castles, even if they were dispersed throughout the land. Andrea di Giacomo (Andree Iacobi) was part of this family and in 1240 he acquired the castles of Montegualandro and Valiano from a branch of the Colle marquees. In 1247 the municipality of Perugia found Raniero, Andrea and Avultrone, sons of Andrea di Giacomo, guilty of treason in favor of the Emperor Frederick II and confiscated various castles owned completely or in part by them, including the one in Compignano.
Thus, in passing from feudal rule to municipality rule, Compignano soon had a bridge over the Nestore river which began being built in 1275 and was then interrupted by the municipality of Perugia for about twenty years, to allow for the building of the bridge of Deruta. It was not finished until 1296. In 1312, Compignano was pillaged and burned by the passing troops of the emperor Henry VII of Luxembourg, who systematically destroyed all the castles on the hills. In 1361, amidst continued hostilities between nobles and commoners, the castle tried to remove itself from the rule of Perugia. In 1398 Monaldo di Ripalvella, who had taken shelter in Compignano with some other former Perugians, tried to take over the castle from Perugia. Giovanni di Lallo di Marsciano, Bruscoluccio di Rizio and Nicolò di Giovanni, who had helped Monaldo escape to Compignano, made him a prisoner and declared that he would not be let go if they did not receive a large sum of money. Monaldo turned to the Perugian magistrates, offering them the restitution of the castle in exchange for his freedom. So the castle returned to Perugia, who in turn demanded that Monaldo assure them that he would never bother the Municipality of Perugia or its people again. The three rebels got a sentence of 500 pounds of money, their houses were burned to the ground and all their possessions taken, while to repay the residents who had fallen on hard times, forty plots of wheat were given to them.
In 1368 a conflict began between Gerolamo and Ludovico of the Counts of Marsciano regarding the borders of Poggio Aquilone and Compignano which were then decided upon over the years by the Magistrate of Perugia:
Borders that close in and end the care and parish of S.Christofaro of Compignano of P.S.P.
To the East, the aforementioned parish ends at a knoll called Gagliello and a street that runs from… Spina to S.Ellera.
To the West, it ends in a place called Sto Anicolo and a main road that goes from Mercatello to Orvieto.
To the South, it ends with a church called S.Croce and a place called Costa del Gatto.
To the North, the borders are formed by two rivers, the Genna and the Nestore.
Around the year 1400 there began to be traces in Umbria of a religious movement called the “Bianchi”: there are references to this movement in sources that document the apostolic and pastoral visits of Spina, Compignano and Poggio Aquilone, in the diocese of Perugia. In 1440, the castle was the property of the count Federico di Bernardino of Marsciano, who, however, in May of the same year, placed it under the protection of Perugia.
Dated 1531, a document outlines the laws that ruled life in those times, described by the writer Ascenzo Riccieri in the statue of Marsciano.
The historian Mariotti wrote that “the streets of the castle are divided symmetrically and the people are able to maintain themselves without poverty with the crafts that flourish here, in particular making fabric out of hemp and making barrels for wine and other activities pertaining to the Arts of Woodworking and Carpentry”. In the 16th century, Compignano was a preferred destination for patrician families of Perugia due to the fertility of the land and the beautiful landscape. Among these was the dynasty of the Monaldi family, already present in the first half of the 15th century and owner in Compignano of many houses and farmlands. A descendant of the family, Benedetto Monaldi Baldeschi, was chosen as Cardinal by Pope Urban VIII and in 1631 built a majestic palace still present in all its splendor inside the castle walls, which took the place of the previous building which had peculiar military features, including a fortified tower that was an integral part of the 13th century structure of the town. There are records of visits by Monaldi to the castle in the years 1637 and in 1641, after he was nominated as cardinal.
In the mid 15th century, Compignano was chosen also by Prospero Podiani, a famous literary figure from Perugia, founder of the Augusta Library in Perugia, where he bought houses and land. Historic sources also tell of an architect from Ferrara, Jacopo Meleghino, who had worked in Rome under Pope Paul III as a bookkeeper for the building of Saint Peter’s, supervisor of Palazzo Farnese, and an expert in fortification and supervisor of the works commissioned from Michelangelo Buonarroti. After the death of the Pope, having been removed from his position, he was named Rector of the Church of Compignano in 1550.
The castle of Compignano has almost always been a part of the neighborhood of the gate of Saint Peter.
In the description of the castles and villas of the Perugian territory made by the priors in 1380, Compignano was listened among the castles of Porta Borgne, just as in the era when the role of captains of counties was created in 1428.
The censuses of the Papal State in the early 1800s provide some statistics and censuses of the Marsciano lands including enfeoffed towns, which reference some hamlets. Among these there is also Compignano, one of the larger towns in terms of number of inhabitants and for how much land it covered. Recent research in the church archives has allowed for the exact recreation of a census of the people in the Campignano lands since 1771. Some historic events linked to Compignano from the unification of Italy to 1899 have been noted in the administrative activities of the Municipality of Marsciano and its lands. In the time of the first census of the young Italian State on 31/12/1861, Compignano had 600 inhabitants and was one of 4 towns in the Municipality of Marsciano. Today the town population is about 350 residents.
Compignano is a town that sits above and looks out over the valley of the Nestore river, which here makes a big horseshoe shaped arc. The town is set in an agricultural area, where the rolling landscape of the hill fades into the rugged terrain that is typical of the western Marsciano lands; it is where the road in the hills meets that which is the extension of the Via Sette Valli, the old Via Orvietana. Today the castle has its original grid layout, even if it is circular due to the surrounding walls, and is still well conserved. The access gate, which opens up onto Piazza della Vittoria, goes into the small village. Above that there is a stone tower that, built in the 13th century and rebuilt in the first half of the 16th century, is all that is left of the five towers that were once part of the castle of Compignano. On the remains of one of these the town bell tower was built in 1925. Going along the road that goes up from the access gate you reach the 17th century noble palace, once belonging to the Monaldi and today property of the Corneli family.
Saint Christopher Church
In front of the palace there is the Saint Christopher Church, the first historical references to which date back to 1266, where it states that it was half under the church of Saint Valentine (which was itself under the Cathedral of Perugia) and the other half under the monastery of Saint Peter.
From a manuscript kept in the church archives, it can be gleaned that in the 17th century the church had a roof with an arch in the middle. Towards the end of the 1700s it was almost entirely rebuilt with a vaulted roof, five altars and paintings done by Anton Maria Garbi. In 1905 the church was again rebuilt in its entirety, although it maintained its original features. Inside it holds a painting on canvas from the 17th century depicting Saint Christopher, which today has been very damaged by the humidity, while in a niche above the entrance on the lefthand side of the church there is a wooden statue of the Madonna with Child. The ceiling vaults have frescos with angels in the background.
Church of the Madonna of the Crucifix
Wandering around the medieval streets of the town, there are many ancient terra-cotta elements that make archways (windows and doors) in 15th century style.
At the end of the other main street of Compignano, perpendicular to the road going up from the access gate, there is the Church of the Madonna of the Crucifix, a small brick church in terra-cotta built at the end of the 16th century and restored in 1966; the private chapel of the Monaldi was built in the mid 17th century, and then it belonged to the Ottavini who maintained their ownership of it until the 1930s when it was given to the Compignano community.
This little church is very important because it houses traces of works by Gerardo Dottori: the frescos on the walls and vaults of the church were done by the great Perugian painter between 1921 and 1922. In 1966, due to the bad humidity that had ruined the frescos, a restoration was necessary and so a good part of the works by the artist were covered with white plaster. Today only two originals can be admired, a scene from the life of Jesus, specifically “Jesus speaking to the crowd” on the right wall near the altar and two large angels, above the entrance door, painted with very soft colors. The frescos on the left wall depicted Jesus driving the merchants out of the temple, but after the restoration in 1966, this scene was modified by the restorer Cascianelli and very little of the original fresco can be admired.
Next to the church there is a courtyard, which can be accessed through a wooden door, which hides a well from the 16th century which has been closed; on a recently rebuilt wall a marble commemorative plaque from 1584 has been put back up on which the will of the priest Baldus Baoldocius is written, in which he states that he leaves all the possessions of the church to his family. Today the building is the headquarters of a volunteer association.
The town trades
Compignano has long been a center of artisan trades: carpenters who built carriages, blacksmiths, coopers, weavers, and kilnmen.
This final and important activity was rediscovered and has recently regained great appreciation, with the opening in 2001 of the first Museum Branch of the Interactive Museum of Brick and Terra-cotta; a small expo, inside the town, that aims to document the castle, its history and, more importantly, its role in the brick production industry. The museum has a section dedicated to a typical local kiln family, who has traced their family tree and has made their craft materials available: productions and equipment. There is also a section set up like a workshop of terra-cotta production, where besides demos, visitors can also see for themselves how complex a craft this is and try their hand at it.
Going down from Compignano towards the old mill, and going over the bridge over the river Nestore, go up a long windy road until the intersection with the ancient Via Orvietana, where you can see the ancient kiln of the 17th century, completely restored, and today part of the itinerary of the Interactive Museum of Brick and Terra-cotta.
Thanks to www.compignano.it for their kind authorization to use the historic texts and images.