The Etruscan King, Lars Porsenna, was from Chiusi and he conquered Rome in its early days and is believed to have also been the last King of Rome (you really need to have an open mind when talking about this stuff as there are actually court proceedings presently being held to determine the facts, which becomes comical when you think of history professors fighting their thesis out in front of a judge). Porsenna was evidently buried in a massive tomb that has been a mystical mystery for centuries now. There seems to be some consensus that the tomb was indeed like nothing else ever seen in the world and there is also some speculation that it has finally been located. Regardless, the area offers many Indiana Jones type moments of which you can partake to whatever degree you so desire. Keep in mind that a large part of the Etruscan collection at the Louvre is from Chiusi. There are also many tombs to see, an underground labyrinth which contains a pond, a good museum, and two catacombs.
The area has had a bloody history. Hannibal’s great defeat of the Romans occurred just twenty minutes away. Up the road from the house a number of skeletons were found during some ditch digging that were determined to have been from this episode. Evidently the Carthaginians didn’t have hand cuffs so they nailed their prisoners hands together and that is how they were found.
Castiglione del Lago, which is about seven miles away, was settled initially by the Etruscans and later by the Romans. It is the most important town on Lake Trasimeno. It had been fought over for many years by Perugia and Cortona and the inhabitants usually always sided with the Tuscans. It has a wonderfully fortified castle that was built by Frederick II. The town was ruled by the Baglioni family and later came into possession of the church as did much of the surrounding area. Both Leonardo da Vinci and Niccolò Machiavelli were guests here with Leonardo drawing the castle in 1503.
The local area has also produced some important artists. Pietro Vannucci (Perugino) was born in Città della Pieve and there are many works of his to see in the area and also Tommaso Fini, known as Masolino da Panicale who was born in Panicale.
More recently the area hosted a couple of weeks of ferocious fighting during WWII. At about the same time as the landings at Normandy were occurring the retreating Axis forces were stuck in the mud at what became known as The Trasimeno Line. I have seen pictures of my house with a Panzer tank parked in the garage. The house was hit many times and I have shell fragments that I pulled out of the walls and the header beam of the roof. I have found mortar shells, loaded Lee Enfield magazines, an old revolver, and ammo cans. I pulled up an unexploded 88 shell with a back hoe and thought that it would be ironic that my grandfathers had both made it through the war without a scratch and I am about to be killed from it sixty years later. Thankfully it didn’t explode.
After the war the area began to rebuild. An economy mostly dependant on agriculture, tourism and construction slowly developed. There is also a fair amount of small to medium sized industrial and artesian production. Unemployment is atypically low and home ownership is very high. It is not a flamboyantly wealthy area but it far from being poor. Umbria and Tuscany never suffered from the mass exodus of its citizens as other parts of Italy did and most of those who did leave did so only to get off the farm. Many of these people were extremely poor and moved to the bigger Italian cities while many others abandoned the countryside to move only a few miles away to the main towns were the conditions for living were more hospitable. Thanks mainly to the English practice of investing heavily in the Tuscan countryside (Chiantishire) the local countryside began making a comeback about twenty years ago. It is difficult to find an old farmhouse for sale now and when you do the prices are relatively high and the restoration costs are usually prohibitive for most people. The EU invested heavily in the area by giving subsidies for rural development in activities such as converting farms to country inns, learning centers, landscape preservation and promotional ventures, etc. It is my opinion that the foreign investment in the area has not upset the cultural balance or undone the local social fabric or scenery so I don’t really experience the Disney World – Medieval Style Syndrome that you feel when you step into many of the overly polished towns of Chianti and hopefully you won’t either.
The locals tend to demonstrate a mixture of cool properness and warm hospitality. I must honestly say that I seldom encounter many of the stereotypical things that I had heard about Italy before moving here. Italy differs greatly from region to region and I believe that Umbria and Tuscany have created an atmosphere that offers a good balance between old methods and modern times. It is difficult to generalize an entire population but I can almost guarantee that you won’t find a hostile personality while you are with me. You will however meet many funny and clever individuals that are serious about what they do and eager to demonstrate to you what it is that makes this area so special.