No one has any real idea when the first building appeared on the present site.
It is thought that the original structure could be more than 800 years old and probably included a tower which served to spot travellers crossing the border between Tuscany and the independent Marquisate of Monte Santa Maria Tiberina.
The tower collapsed but original materials are to be found in the walls that remained standing and in later additions, the latest in 1894, which are obvious if you look closely at the outside walls.
La Dogana (translation: the Customs House) collected tariffs due on goods transported down the old road to Cagnano, the village on the ridge behind the house (a parish which now has only 8 ‘living’ houses but whose annual fiesta attracts over 100 people whose roots are here), which passed right by the house.
The original owners were the princely Florentine Buoncompagni family which owned all the land hereabouts that was not owned by the Bourbon family. Their main residence was the castello in MSM Tiberina. The family has fallen on hard(er) times and the land and (mostly abandoned) farmhouses were sold to a Signor Bei, entrepreneur, in 1982.
The last tenants were the Laurenzi family who farmed 18 hectares on the mezzadria (sharecropping) system, traditional in Umbria. They left in 1965 - farming had become almost impossible on this particular piece of land, much of which can only be worked manually.
When the English Tress family, living in Hong Kong at the time, bought the house in 1990, it had been unoccupied for 25 years. The drive was completely washed away, there was no electricity, no gas, no water or telephone, and a sizeable hole in the roof.
The downstairs and barn were used to house animals. On their very first visit to the house two horses came out of the front door (see photograph in the study). The sheep in particular, did not take kindly to being displaced.
THE LAURENZI FAMILY STORY
There were up to 18 people living in the house in later years. Upper rooms were used for storage - prosciutto, grain, wine etc. Shopping was done either in Monterchi or Città di Castello. Each was about 2 hours on foot. A cart was taken but that was to carry goods to market! These expeditions were major events and the Laurenzi laughed as they recalled events, including the time one of them lost a goose on the way to market.
There was a school at MSM Tiberina (but no school bus!). Emilio, the owner of Oscari’s restaurant, tells of how there was a gradual accumulation of children as they gathered up their friends from this side of the valley - more than 20 a day - to walk up the hill to school together.
Animals kept included cows, beef cattle, pigs, sheep, rabbits, geese, chickens and pigeons. Rabbits were kept in what is now the kitchen and games room. The sitting and dining areas were for cattle.
There were vines and an orchard - the odd apple tree remains and vines are entangled in acer trees which, in the old days, were used to support the vines. There is an example half way up the drive.
The road along the valley was only built 35 years ago - before that it was a mule track only - no cars!
The Second World War remains a vivid memory for some of the very older people. 1944 saw relief of the area by a mix of British, American, South African, Canadian, New Zealand, Moroccan, Algerian and Indian troops. They say the land was fought over ‘metre by metre’. Città di Castello was relieved by British (DLI and 3rd Hussars), Indian and Gurkha troops on 22 July (see Alexander's Generals p.156 by Geoffrey Blaxland on the bookshelf, kindly donated by a relative of his).
MONTE SANTA MARIA TIBERINA
The village on top of the hill. It is our Comune with part-time sindaco (mayor), carabinieri, administrative and engineering staff. The only other village in the Comune is Lippiano.
Its origins go back to remota antichita - certainly to early Etruscan and Roman days. It became an independent state in 1250 and remained that way until the Congress of Vienna in 1815 (Italy did not exist as an independent state until 1860), when it became part of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. Borders were changed in 1927 and the area became part of Umbria.
In 1581 Pope Gregory conferred on the Marchesi del Monte the title ‘Bourbon del Monte’. Without ever making world history, many later marquesses made names for themselves further afield - one commanded the army of the Venetian Republic.
Duelling was permitted in the state - the only other European cities in Europe permitting this were Verona and St Petersburg.
Today the population of the whole Comune is a little over 1,000, while only some (100 or so) live in MSM itself. There is an active life with football and fiestas - and Oscari’s.