Preci, Earthquake Flagellation of a Mountain Gem

November 9, 2016 / Local Interest
Preci, Umbria

If you follow a curvy wooded road into the Valnerina from Spoleto and then up into the southern Umbria Sibilline mountains, you’ll come to tiny medieval hill town Preci (population: just over 600) – if the road is open and if you can get pass roadblocks: Preci, close to the epicenter of the October 30th earthquake, is now zona rossa (totally off-limits until buildings have been inspected, scaffolded).


I remember a note I wrote after my discovery of Preci a few years ago (describing a bit the gem of a hill town I visited that day):

Born as a medieval rural village near a Benedictine oratory – now the Abbey of Sant’Eutizio (NB damaged too on October 30th…) – time seems to have stood still in Preci.

The serenity of this picturesque mountain village of warm Mediterranean colors belies its bellicose past: in the thirteenth century, feudal overlords battled Papal authority for dominance. After decades of conflict, the town was sacked in the early sixteenth century by nearby Norcia and then later rebuilt by Pope Paul III. His mid-sixteenth century reign coincides with the diffusion of the fame of the medical skills of Preci doctors throughout Europe. Preci’s sought-after surgeons constructed noble palaces and the town soon became an elegant fortified village.

– and you can see the lyrical charm of Preci in the photos I took that day:


Lacerated by the earthquake, Preci now looks like this:

I could find no photos of the fascinating museum of Preci and am hoping it survived quake damage, its rare artifacts safe. Preci hides a curiosity tied to its “medical heritage”: il Museo della Chirurgia, a small museum, housed behind il municipio (“city hall”) in a deconsecrated church, is inextricably linked to the area’s rural traditions.

The museum’s few medical texts and 17th-century surgical instruments once belonged to Preci’s famous surgeons, descendants of a rural mountain people, experts in the butchering – and castration – of pigs and sheep (castration of the males attenuated the meat’s gamey tang, enhancing flavor). By the sixteenth century Preci chirughi were famous all over Europe for hernia and cataract operations – and for castration. Castration became diffuse in Europe after Pope Sixtus V in 1588 banned women from performing or singing in theaters. After the Papal edict, castration was no longer the unfortunate surgical resolution of another illness, but as an end in itself: Preciani surgeons had noted that after a young boy’s hernia operation, his voice became sopranile, holding all the delicacy of a woman’s voice yet enhanced with the force of a man’s.



During the 17th and 18th centuries, the modulated yet forceful and high-reaching voice of the castrati – now wealthy and adored – enthused composers, musicians and music-lovers all over Europe. Many of the celebres castratores performed clandestine operations at the request of avaricious parents hoping to launch their sons into musical careers with la Cappella Sistina or with a great European court.

At the beginning of the 19th-century, a final chapter closed on this immoral use of medicine: one of the last of the famous castrati, Domenica Mustafa’, composer and musical director of la Cappella Sistina, was born in the Valnerina in 1829, just a few kilometers from Preci, town of famed surgeons… (Note: after Mustafa’s death in his hometown of Montefalco, he was buried in the Montefalco cemetery).

No lives were lost in the October earthquake but the flagellation of the artistic patrimony of Umbria and the Marches region has been devastating. May Preci soon be resurrected.



*****How to help restore the economy devastated by the late October earthquakes (epicenter, near Preci and Norcia)? There’s a PALATABLE way to help: buy – and eat! – Norcia prosciutto, capocollo, salami and pecorino. Nursia beer. Norcia dark chocolate. Saffron and roveja beans from Cascia.
Those IGP lentils of Castelluccio.

******I have added daily updates to my blog since the late October tremors. I will continue to put out daily updates: on the situation of the homeless, on quake-related events (“earth-shaking” and not!)

More on the damage to Norcia
News on San Pellegrino near Norcia, damaged in the August 24th, 2016 quake
Information on damage to Visso in the Marches
San Salvatore, near Norcia, lost: che tragedia
Peppa’s home had damage, too, though light damage

Anne Robichaud

by Anne Robichaud

An authorized Umbrian tour guide, Anne and her husband Pino worked the land for many years in the 1970’s so rural life, rural people, rural cuisine are una passione for her. See Umbria from “the inside”: join her May 2017 ten-day tour centered on discovering Umbria, Anne’s Umbria.

See for more on her Umbria tours. Do see for news on the Assisi apartment – and Assisi countryside guest house – she and Pino now rent out.

Anne writes frequently on Umbria and other areas of Italy. Read about her annual U.S. Feb/Mar cooking classes and lectures, as well as her numerous Italy insights on her blog.

7 Responses to “Preci, Earthquake Flagellation of a Mountain Gem”

  1. One of my best memories of my Assisi trip was driving to Norcia with Franca and Andrea. We ate. We shopped. We saw the monks monastery and the most beautiful landscapes of mountain region. We hunted for mushrooms and laughed with joy at our newfound friendships. Breaks my heart that some of Norcias history has been shattered. Prayers going out everyday to them and their families.

  2. Lina Falcone

    Grazie Anne for this article it’s a shame that the earthquake touched this beautiful place, hope that they can rebuilt soon.

  3. Marianna Raccuglia

    How utterly sad. You are always so passionate when speaking of your Umbria that you must be devastated. So sorry.

  4. Judy Thomas

    Yet another beautiful, picturesque town – how many must there be in this asweome country? You’ve featured so many, Anne, in just this region! And yet another tragedy, that so many lovely, historic structures have been maimed or completely destroyed. It hurts to see them……..

  5. Kerry Demers

    First of all I loved the juxtaposition of the photos–and the beautiful comments you originally made. Such a good job and maybe few people would have been able to do it.

  6. Mary Cappiello

    I have been reading your so very illuminating blogs and articles on the earthquake. It is heartbreaking to see this happen in a place like Preci, which may not come back from all the devastation. Your photos accompanying the story show it all. Hopefully help will be on the way sooner rather than later, but there are so many places in Umbria where this has happened that it will probably take years to get help in some areas. We wish you all the best and hope the quakes are over.


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