Pale, Its Caves and Waterfalls
A small village near Foligno, Pale is in an area known as Altolina, on the verge of a mountainous region before the land slips into a flat plain. At the time of the Roman conquest of Umbria, this valley was inhabited by a population of shepherds and farmers who lived in small fortified villages built on impregnable hills. The roads that already existed in the area were probably used by the consul Caius Flaminius in 223BC to build an important section of the Via Flaminia. Parts of the Roman road are still visible today after Vescia. The Roman road ran through hilly terrain from the church of San Nicolò, upwards toward Belfiore and behind Carpineto. It then crossed the Altolina bridge and ran over rocky ground to Pale. After Pale the Flaminia continued to Sostino and arrived through another hilly area to the Ricciano plain before reaching Plestia.
From Via Flaminia to ‘Via Plestina’
In 170 BC Sempronius changed the route of the Flaminia, diverting it along the river Topino towards Nocera. The route of the old road was re-named ‘Via Plestina’.
A number of archaeological remains mark the route taken by the old road between Vescia and Pale. Among the most interesting are the remains of a large Roman acqueduct build between the 3rd and 4th century BC using large bricks encased in travertine for the decanting of water.
The Arrival of the Benedictines
The area uderwent a further period of development when the Benedictine order from Sassovivo obtained control in 1273 after a donation. The Benedictines built structures to channel the water from the Menotre between Pale and Belfiore. The castle at Belfiore was also built at this time, to guard the road from Vescia to Pale. Although the abundance of water in the area had already been developed by the Eastern Hermit monks who had arrived in Italy in the 5th century AD, the Benedictines enlarged these structures to make even better use of the natural water resources. The Benedictines were in fact responsible for the building of oil and corn mills in the first half of the 13th century all along the Menotre valley. The area therefore produced corn, oil and fine fabrics. Known as ‘gualchiere’, the cloth mills evolved into paper mills in the mid 14th century, and produced the paper on which the first edition of the Divine Comedy was printed.
The Pale Paper Mill
In the 15th century the powerful Trinci family from Foligno took control of the paper mill at Pale. From this moment onwards all the paper produced here was watermarked with the double-headed horse that is on the Trinci coat of arms. In 1590 the Vatican's librarian Angelo Rocca stated that "the paper produced in Pale and Belfiore has none other that can equal it in finery".
In 1673 Pope Clement XIV decreed the area open to free trade in paper, thereby boosting the commercial activities to such an extent that b y 1810 there were 16 paper mills in the area.
The paper production then underwent a considerable decline, both because of the area's isolation from commercial routes and because the paper mills had failed to modernise their machinery from relying on water power instead of electricity. Pale's was the only paper mill to survive, following the installation of a power production plant in 1929.
A series of hydro-electric power stations have sprung up along the Menotre river in recent years (Pale, Ponte Santa Lucia and Scopoli).
Evidence of the area's humble economy is visible in the lack of any important buildings. Only the sumptuous Villa Elisei, of the Elisei family, was present at Pale. In 1652 Queen Christina of Sweden was a guest here. The house was built near the large waterfall, above the caves of stalactites. Initially surrounded by a park, the house itself was later used as a paper mill while the park became a private vegetable garden.
The Castle of Pale
Built in 1442, the castle was intended to act as a protection for the villagers. Until 1350 there had been a powerful fortress at Pale, built by Ugolino VIII Trinci who had probably enlarged a pre-existing structure. Witnin the fortress there is an old paper mill, next to the small church of Sant'Andrea with its elegant, late 17th century terracotta facade.
The parish church is more important, however. Dedicated to San Biagio and Santa Margherita, records show that a church existed here as early as 1113, when Count Offredo gave it in donation to his brother Alberto, the abbot of Sassovivo. Two important canvases, both by Felice Damiani, hang in the interior. Painted in the late 16th century, one depicts the Madonna of the Rosary and the other the Visitation. The wooden sculpture of the Madonna and Child is 14th century and came from the hermitage of Santa Maria di Giacobbe.
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