Pope Paul III Loved Piegaro, But Hated Perugia

July 7, 2015 / Local Interest

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.



Colleen Simpson

by Colleen Simpson

Colleen followed a long-held dream and made a home in Piegaro, which is a pristine medieval glass-making village south of Lago Trasimeno in Umbria. She is the innkeeper at www.anticavetreria.net.

18 Responses to “Pope Paul III Loved Piegaro, But Hated Perugia”

  1. Bill McGuire

    “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.” He actually became Pope in 1534. Michelangelo was not born until 1475.

  2. William Strangio

    If I remember my history lessons correctly, Paul III was the Pope that
    established and rigidly enforced the Ghetto when the Jews were removed from Trastevere. and other areas in Rome

  3. Colleen

    Please forgive the typo. He was born in 1468 and elected Pope in 1534. He was a contemporary of Michelangelo and although his predecessor commissioned the Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel, Pope Paul III saw it through to completion in 1541. He did commission the elderly Michelangelo to take over the supervision of the building of St. Peter’s. He was ruthless in many ways, benevolent in others, but always consolidating power. My interest was in the contrast between his treatment of Piegaro and Perugia.

    • Colleen

      Christina: Sorry. My research with my art history book titles the painting Alessandro Farnese, Papa and is grouped with several others of Pope Paul III. I just double checked again. My art history book must be wrong. Thanks for the information. From now on I will rely on Google and not on books.

  4. Rosemary Connelly

    We lived in Perugia for 8 months and loved the city so much! We never tired of going to “the Rocca” – the underground part of the city that Pope Paul walled in for his fortress – and climbing the steep streets. It will forever remain a favorite place of mine.

  5. Colleen

    What and who are you commenting on? What language. I never meant to start a controversy!

    • GB

      Not quite sure what happened with Evanne’s account there, Colleen. Will be looking into it.

  6. Iris Mathewson

    I think the contrast between the two cities is interesting. A very interesting article Colleen, thanks for writing it, always enjoyable. Iris


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