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Solomeo is a typical Italian hilltop village situated
10 km to the north west of Perugia.
By the 3rd century B.C. the area around Perugia enjoyed increasing demographic growth and consequent wealth, the numerous necropolises witness the existence of suburbs or of more modest settlements distributed around the countryside, whose wealth came from farming. The area of Solomeo in particular, situated along a route from Perugia to Chiusi, which had always cultivated wheat in the fertile plains of the Caina torrent, became a rural centre gravitating in the area of the big city.
Travertine funereal urns dating back to the 3rd century BC currently being used as garden decorations in the Park of the Villa Antinori -Tocchi, the villa Mencarelli and Montefrondoso Castle come from tombs discovered in the area.
The existence of necropolises leads us to believe that a community of farmers existed in Solomeo (the name perhaps derives from an Etruscan god (lumn?), which, in the passing of the centuries became San Lumeo). Furthermore, they were probably among those who supplied the wheat at the time when Perugia sent help to Rome during the Second Punic War as told by the Latin historian Tito Livio in his book XXVIII delle Historiae.
Together with the cultivation of cereals one must not forget the importance of the grape, which are mentioned in Plinio's Naturalis Historia; he writes of a "Perugian grape" that was much appreciated in Modena".
Furthermore, towards the middle of the 18th century at Mandoleto, approximately 3 kilometres to the south of Solomeo, an Etruscan tomb was unearthed containing a trousseau made up of 3 vases decorated with red figures made in Apulia. These constitute the only known proof to date of the importation in Etruria of this kind of ceramic-ware.
Con With the end of the Etruscan era and the consequent Roman influence villae rusticae (i.e. farms) started to multiply in this part of Umbria as elsewhere. The remains of these settlements have been unearthed along the slopes of the Solomeo hills, in the outlying hills of Rugolano and Montefrondoso and in Mandoleto. On the hill where the village rises today, there must have been a villa of large proportions; a water cistern that was discovered there in 1992 is testimony to this. The walls were used as foundations for a small 18th century church dedicated to S. Maria delle Grazie, in the park of the Villa Antinori -Tocchi.
The end of the Roman Empire and the consequent invasions by foreign populations brought about drastic impoverishment to this once fertile land. The war against the Goths, instigated by Bisanzio to reclaim the Italian peninsula for the Empire, certainly did not help central Italy.
The Goths attacked Perugia, the only city in Umbria to offer any kind of resistance. During the two years of siege the city was subjected to by Totila's troops, the rural area of Perugia suffered violent devastation by the invaders.
When in 528 the siege ended with victory for Totila and the martyrdom of Bishop Ercolano, the area surrounding Perugia ought to have already paid dearly enough for the war with the raids on cattle and foodstuffs.
If it is true that Totila ordered the whole population of Perugia to be killed by the sword, it is easy to imagine what violence his soldiers must have carried out in the area during the two years of siege.
Shortly afterwards Umbria, like much of Italy, was submitted to a new invasion, by the Longobardi. Once again Perugia resisted with force, so much so that the population was reduced to abject poverty.
At the end of the 6th century the area surrounding Perugia must have been very similar to that described by Pope Gregorio Magno: a deserted city, ruined castles, farmland no longer cultivated where wild beasts wander undisturbed.
It was at this time that the Caina torrent and the streams that were no longer supervised burst their banks, the fields were abandoned and the plains became marshland. Traces remain of this in the toponyms such as Barca, Navicella, and Pantano.
However, not all of the area should be shown in this apocalyptic light. Some rural areas where the activity of farming continued were to be found adjacent to these desolate lands. This was the case of a settlement on Rugolano Hill, approximately one kilometre from Solomeo where a farm house had been built during the Roman era.
The settlement continued to flourish even during the invasions by the barbarians and was equipped with defensive apparatus. It was from here that the recovery started and the slow reclaiming of land for agriculture began in around the 10th century. The work of reclaiming spread southwards and, in the 11th century, the church of S. Maria del Mandoleto was built (or re-built), a late Roman inscription points to it as being ecclesia Angelorum.
Around the middle of the 12th century this southern part of the area was completely reclaimed and under the control of a new settlement, this time it was built in a defensive position on the top of a hill and protected by surrounding walls. Even by 1258 it was known as the castrum Muntis Frondusii. Between the 12th and the 13th century reclaiming work began on the plain to the North of the heights on which Solomeo is located, mentioned for the first time in 1258 as Villa Solomei. In 1361 the inhabited nucleus of villa Solomei was made up of a palace, a casamentum (a block of flats), twelve domus (houses), two cottages and the church of S Bartolomeo.
The palace was owned by Angelello "Sensoli Iohannis Cole" together with his uncle Meo "Iohannis Cole", both registered in Perugia, in the quarter of Porta S. Angelo, in the parish of S. Fortunato. The block of flats was owned by Donna Nicoluccia, the daughter of Chiercolo and widow of the deceased Lippolo Galassi, who was also registered in Perugia in the quarter of Porta S. Angelo in the parish of S. Fortunato. The houses and the two cottages, however, were owned by people registered in the community of Solomeo- Monte Frondoso.
In the spring of 1391 the inhabitants of Solomeo demonstrated the intention of fortifying their settlement and, on the 7th September of that year they discussed the matter in the Council of Priors of the guilds of Perugia. They voted unanimously to nominate Meo Iohannis Cole Galassi and Cristoforo Petri Tanoli (the latter registered in Perugia, quarter of Porta S. Susanna, parish of S. Giovanni Rotondo), to oversee the building work of Salomei Castle.
The castle had to be built iuxta pallatium dicti Mei (near the palace of Meo). At the end of the14th century the castle of Solomeo must have already been finished.
The castrum was quadrangular and must have had two entrances: one on the eastern side and the other facing South in the direction of Monte Frondoso. To date, the structure of the castle has remained more or less unchanged.
Late 14th century frescoes of fine workmanship, filled with geometric and flora decorations are still present in the interior. Similar ones were found in Perugia, in some rooms of the Palazzo dei Priori, in the ex convent of S. Giuliana, in the old hospital complex of the Collegio della Mercanzia and in Fonte Avellana in the province of Pesaro.
In 1402 Solomeo Castle and Fontignano Hospital fell into the hands of Perugian rebels; but in the same year, on the 16th December the revolt was suppressed; the Priors gave Ser Coluccio de Arquata the power of inquisition over the rebels, the foresters and the inhabitants of the Perugian countryside.
On the 15th December 1503 the Council of Priors discussed the building of a well in Solomeo at a cost of 16 florins. When he observed the abject poverty in which the inhabitants struggled to pay, Simone de Fumagiolis took the onus on himself of integrating the amount set by the Perugian government with funds from his own pocket. The well must have been 50 foot deep (18 metres) and built inside or outside the castle, wherever it was best suited.
On the 4th March 1578 the Council of Priors of Perugia discussed the necessity of conceding building licences on public land against the castle walls. The houses built were few; they can currently be seen in a group on the south-east side of the castle.
Only successively, in 1729, were other houses added to them, on the same side. The population of the village has always been small; a census of 1694 demonstrates that 133 people lived in the area of Solomeo, in 1805 there were 157, while in the second half of the 19th century the number had risen to 400, thanks to the union of the parishes of Solomeo and Mandoleto.
The Church of S.Bartolomeo
The church of S. Bartolomeo was built between the end of the 12th and the beginning of the 13th century and was subordinate to the chapter of Perugia Cathedral. Already in 1332 - 1334 Dompnus (Lord) Andrea, rector, paid Church tithes: for his first payment he paid 40 cortonesi coins, and then a further 4 payments of 30 coins each. This corresponded to two capons a year to the Chapter.
Even if S. Bartolomeo's was a parish church, it didn't have a baptismal font and, in a certain way, was subordinate to the Parish of S. Maria del Mandoleto.
In the year 1740 from the time that the primitive 3rd century construction was almost in ruins, the building of a new church was organised, to be built on the ruins of the previous one and was finished in 1748. The building cannot have been large; however, based on the description that the priest, Pietro Penna gives in 1835, we can deduce that it had simple but graceful lines, as the church of Mandoleto shows today.
In 1841, the parish of S. Maria del Mandoleto was dissolved and the church of S. Bartolomeo became Parish with the prerogative to baptise. The baptismal font was therefore taken from Mandoleto to Solomeo.
Towards the end of the 19th century, at the same time that G. Pecci, Bishop of Perugia became Pope (Leone XIII), a building frenzy spread throughout the diocese of Perugia. It was during this period that many churches were re-built, enlarged or modified.
Solomeo, too, benefited from this renewal and in 1891, the priest Don Enrico Brunelli, demolished the 18th century church (by setting off a charge) to make space for another bigger church.
The design was entrusted to an architect, Nazzareno Biscarini, who was very much in fashion in those years as the creator of many sacred buildings, the best example being Perugia Cemetery Church.
The architect Biscarini designed a very tall church in neo-gothic style. Simple building materials were used, however, the interior had a opulent appearance thanks to the brick and stucco columns and to the stucco cornices, work of Francesco Biscarini who, with Raffaele Angeletti set up a workshop in via del Labirinto in Perugia as decorators.
The ceiling and the vaults were painted by the Perugian painters, the Coriolano brothers and Osvaldo Mazzerioli with scenes taken from antiquity and from the New Testament. The five alters were brought from the dismantled Church of the Monastery of the Annunciation of Montemorcino Nuovo, Perugia, which is home today of the University. They are the work of Francesco Caselli to a design by Carlo Murena; they were mainly built of marble from monuments from Roman times and date back to 1782. They were bought for the church of Solomeo by a local landowner, Raffaele Bucarini, who, apart from giving funds for the building work, also donated funds for the choir and organ for a total sum of 29, 859 lira and 61 cents.
The acquisition of a wooden crucifix dating back to the 17th century is probably due to the generosity of the same Bucarini. It is made from a painting on canvas, showing the Holy Family and Saint Monica of the "Perugian" school, probably cut in 1700, to blarger than life in size and placed in between the statues of the Madonna and of S. Giovanni, from the church of Passo dell'Acqua, near Bosco, along the Perugia-Gubbio road.
Many objects of sacred ornamentation are the heritage of the preceding churches, such as, candelabras, ornaments, etc. and a small standard e inserted into a wooden support.
Two more 18th century canvases adorn the church, one shows the coronation of the Virgin, St. George, St. Joseph and St. Bonaventura, the other shows St. Monica, they are probably the work of Francesco Appiani (Ancona 1704 - Perugia 1792).
The Church of S.Maria del Mandoleto
Although Mandoleto is included in the Commune of Perugia and Solomeo in the Commune of Corciano, the parish has from ancient times always included both in the same area, so that certain feast days, such as S. Lucia or Our Lady of Sorrows are celebrated in Mandoleto, while others are celebrated in Solomeo.
The cemetery was also subject to this crossing over of borders; even though it was built within the Commune of Perugia, it is subordinate to the Commune of Corciano.
The church was rebuilt from its foundations in 1743, probably on the location of a 10th - 11th century church that, in turn, took the place of an ecclesia Angelorum, and thus bears witness to ancient times. The church, dedicated to S. Maria, is structurally almost intact and, immersed in the green countryside and surrounded by a fortified structure, it is now used as housing.
The layout is extremely simple, with a sloping roof and a vaulted bell-tower. In the interior an elegant alter frame in carved, gilded wood is conserved with a central oil-painting showing the Assumption of the Virgin Mary with Mary Magdalene and S. Antonio, accredited to Francesco Appiani and perhaps originating from the church of S. Severo in Perugia. Much revered by the inhabitants is a wooden statue of St. Lucia dating back to the 17th century.
Church of S.Donato di Montefrondoso
Rebuilt in the 18th century, it has a very similar layout to the church in Mandoleto, with an elegant Vanvitellian facade. Although divest of its 18th century interior plasterwork, a majolica panel showing the Madonna and Child still remains, which, according to tradition, was made by prodigies in1796, during the time of French rule.
The Villa Antinori- Tocchi
The villa first belonged to the Vermiglioli family from Perugia. It then passed into the properties of the Antinori family. It was first designed as a hunting lodge but was enlarged and embellished in 1870 when Maria Bourbon Del Monte married Giacomo Antinori. Towards 1885 Mario Mariano Antinori bought it from his uncle, Raffaele, the brother of the famous explorer Orazio Antinori. In 1904 Lodovico Antinori sold it to his brother-in-law, Domenico Tocchi. The villa is currently owned by the Cucinelli family.
A large garden and park are annexed to the villa where many exotic plants were grown at one time; now just one example of Sophora japonica remains.
Villa di Montefrondoso
Situated on the top of a hill, the villa has a medieval layout, although reconstruction work was carried out and additions made to it during the course of the centuries.
Murals showing pleasant scenes and landscapes can be admired in the rooms of the residence. They narrate in minute detail the places that border with the family's property and are scattered with references to episodes in real life. Even though they were successively retouched and figures of a more popular style added around the margins, the workmanship was carried out by a cultured hand.
This unusual pictorial subject was much loved by the nobleman, Andrea Floramonti who, as Baldassarre Orsini narrates: "owns more pieces of villages than Gasparo Pussino, in which there are some very beautiful figures… Two villages exquisitely painted in water colours with good taste, imagination and naturalness, by Francesco da Capo...". At the end of the 18th century Francesco Ridolfini bought the Montefrondoso dai Crispolti property. The villa then passed to Beatrice Ridolfini, who shared it with her husband, the lawyer Claudio Valentini, minister plenipotentiary of the Real Casa.