Born Alessandro Farnese to a powerful family in Rome, he led a dissolute youth amassing mistresses and children. When his sister, Giulia, became the mistress of the Borgia Pope, Alexander VI, Alessandro became known as the “Borgia-Brother-in-Law”, starting his climb to power. He received a humanist education at the University of Pisa and in the court of Lorenzo de’ Medici, joined the Roman curia and was quickly appointed Cardinal by Alexander VI. Elected Pope in 1468, he became an avid patron of arts and architecture, commissioning Michelangelo to supervise the building of St. Peter’s Basilica; Titian painted portraits of him.
Pope Paul III visited Piegaro, Umbria on five occasions on trips from Rome to Perugia. In the book, Storia di Piegaro e della Sue Vetrerie (History of Piegaro and its Glass Works) by Sanofonte Pistelli: “He visited Piegaro for the fifth time in 1547 and wanted to thank the Piegarese for their warm welcome and affection during his visits. He gave them three gifts: the clock with the church bell tower, an exemption from the Gabella dei Quattro Piedi (duty/tax “of the four feet”) for eighteen years and he proclaimed Piegaro a Terra (estate), the highest title for a town during that period. Even after Pope Paul III died in 1549, Piegaro remained in great consideration at the Roman Curia.”
As much as he loved Piegaro, he hated Perugia. Rewind to 1540, during the Salt War instigated by an onerous tax on salt. For centuries after being absorbed into the Papal States, Perugia’s nobles had enjoyed a semi-autonomous relationship with the Curia, free from paying taxes on salt. In the 1400’s the Vatican started to reign in Perugia’s power and, after a particularly horrendous harvest in 1539, Pope Paul III enforced a heavy salt tax on all the Papal States. Perugia rose up in resistance, thus starting the Salt War. In 1540, the Pope’s Army, led by his son Pierluigi Farnese, forced Perugia to surrender. Up went an enormous stone fortress called the Rocca Paolina to enforce Perugia’s utter defeat. It was built upon the homes of the wealthy elite to stand as a symbol of papal tyranny for centuries. The Rocca was finally opened in 1860 during Italian Unification.
Today, visitors to Perugia can stroll through this vast underground city with its streets and the remains of the nobles’ homes and shops, all deserted from 1540 to 1860. Now, escalators travel to the top and book stores, conferences and exhibitions fill the former homes.
Umbrians like to tell the story that they refuse to salt their bread to this day because of the Salt War. However, recent research indicates that this is an urban legend dating to 1860.