Thursday, January 6, 2011

Cospaia: Why Hasn’t Hollywood Stopped Here?

When driving the back road (which isn’t the prettiest, but is the only way to see certain things, and is often the most fun) from Citta di Castello to Sansepulcro, you pass by a number of little towns, or hamlets. Perhaps the smallest is just a sign or two on the road, a couple industrial-type buildings, a shop or two, and not much else. It really goes by in a literal blink and is called Cospaia. There is, if you take the turn off right next to the sign pictured to the left, a tiny hill town (see it below), which, if you drive up to it, is pretty enough, but so small as to not even have a bar--outside of the one that’s across the street and next to a small pond, and that bar’s only open in pond season (really, not having a bar is fairly unheard of for any but the most miniscule gathering-of-houses). So (you may be asking, if you’ve read this far) why am I mentioning Cospaia at all? Turns out, this little spot has a very interesting history. First off, smokers, it was the spot where the tobacco was first cultivated in Italy, beginning in 1575. Today, tobacco is a huge crop here (we spent the first month watching the tobacco harvest and trying to pass huge trucks full of tobacco on the road). The impetus for this Cospaia tobacco growing, and where the interest level ratchets up to eleven in my mind, started earlier though, in 1440. Turns out that at this time the Pope (Eugene IV) was in need of a little extra wonga for the church’s coffers (one hopes it was for the church), and so sold Sansepulcro to the Florentine Republic for $14,000 ducats (at this time, Italy was a number of different states, warring and, it seems, trading parts). Somewhat as if, say, Kansas decided to finally sell Kansas City, KS, to Missouri, since Sansepulcro is closer to Florence than Rome. When the sale commenced and the exact lines of what was sold were drawn and figured a small error was made and a 500 meter parcel of land was missed. This land was Cospaia, and once they figured it out, the Cospaiesi declared independence and decided to do away with rulers, taxes, soldiers, laws, pants (for all I know), and realized that maybe tobacco would be worth growing. Soon, they were selling tobacco on every side and generally kicking up their heels. This independence lasted four centuries and may have lasted longer, except that (as you might expect) Cospaia turned into a haven for smugglers, pirates, hippies, and wayward princes looking for a good time. In general, I picture it as a wealthier version of Tortuga (the pirate port in Pirates of the Caribbean, not the real Tortuga). Eventually the party had to end and the man, in this case the Tuscan government on one side and the Papel government on the other, stepped in--on March 25th, 1826, exactly. After this, Cospaia was “assigned” to Citta di Castello. It probably cut down on the boozing and carousing but the tobacco dollars (or ducats) kept coming in longer, as the Cospaiesi were allowed to keep growing tobacco (a half million plants), and to keep selling tobacco at a time when tobacco was kept well in check. Now, with that story told, wouldn’t this make a good movie? Where’s George Clooney when you need him (probably at Lake Como I suppose).


  1. At first, I thought this was about your trip to the Republic of Cosplay, but surely, you didn't pack your Sailor Moon outfit.

    I like the history lesson, but I just wanted to point out that this is your second trip to a refuge for scoundrels in the past few years. (Not counting bars and taverns, of course.)

    The Liberty Of Norton Folgate which included a lot of Spitalfields Market, Brick Lane, and other bits of Shoreditch (where our mate Leroy works in the copy centre) was a zone fully inside London where dissidents, thieves, and general scallywags could go to escape Johnny Law. That's probably what made it such a good area for Saucy Jack to do his ripping

    There's a few bits of info buried inside a comprehensive history of the neighborhood here.

  2. Oh, the Sailor Moon outfit goes everywhere. If you know what I mean.

    I had no idea about the Liberty of NF--that's a great bit of history itself, and I can't wait to look up a little more about. Thanks for the link, too. As a Shoreditch Vampire, I should know more about it, it seems.