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The Independent Republic of Cospaia

The Independent Republic of Cospaia

Cospaia, a hamlet of the municipality of San Giustino in the upper Tiber Valley, became an independent republic in the 15th century despite its modest size. With no army or prisons, it was administered by a Council of Elders and Heads of Families and governed by a single law, still written today at the entrance to the Church of the Annunziata: “Perpetua et firma libertas” (Perpetual and secure liberty).

A singular cartographic error that changed the course of history!

It all began in the year 1441 from a money loan granted by Cosimo de’ Medici to the pontiff of the time, Eugene IV; the Republic of Florence obtained the municipality of Sansepolcro as a pledge, and the boundary of the ceded territories was established in the Rio torrent. However, due to a curious coincidence, two streams named in the same way flowed a short distance from each other: Florence chose the northern Rio (now called Gorgaccia) as the border, while the papal representatives chose the southern one (today known as Riascone), effectively leaving the approximately three hundred hectares of land between the two rivers, which coincided with the territory of Cospaia, without sovereignty.

The inhabitants of Cospaia immediately seized the opportunity to declare their independence. Both Florence and the Papal States willingly accepted the creation of a neutral territory, and in 1448 both formalised their recognition.

Shortly afterwards, Cospaia became not only a symbol of freedom, but also an important reality linked to the history of a plant from America: tobacco.

The “tornabuona grass”

The Republic of Cospaia, from its foundation until 1826, maintained legislative and economic independence, which allowed its citizens to prosper rapidly, not having to submit to the imposition of taxes from neighbouring states and customs tariffs on goods.

Tobacco cultivation contributed to the fortune of the state: in 1574, the bishop of Sansepolcro, Alfonso Tornabuoni, received some seeds from Niccolò Tornabuoni. Since then, the “tornabuona grass”, as it was soon nicknamed, began to be cultivated in this area as well.

At that time, the consumption of tobacco was forbidden and in the Papal States excommunication was in force for those who used it.

Perhaps it was the allure of prohibition that caused tobacco consumption to grow enormously, handing Cospaia, where there was no obligation to comply with laws forbidding certain products, the keys to a crop that proved extremely profitable.

Its fortunes continued for another century, during which the state, by virtue of its legislative autonomy, also began to become a haven for smugglers and outlaws. The republic’s dream of freedom began to fade due to a slow decline. The coup de grace was the liberalisation in 1724 of tobacco consumption in the Papal States with the consequent taxation of tobacco grown in Cospaia.

On 26 June 1826, the Independent Republic of Cospaia came to an end; the fourteen representatives signed an act of submission, dividing the territory between the Papal States and the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. In return they obtained a silver coin for each inhabitant and permission to continue tobacco cultivation.

Almost two centuries after its dissolution, the last weekend of May still sees San Giustino holding a historical commemoration that brings to life the curious story of the Independent Republic of Cospaia, with numerous events ranging from food and wine to musical and artistic shows and performances, conferences and cultural moments.

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