As already mentioned, in addition to the river Clitunno spring there is a little temple close by. It seems to have built in 4th to 6th century. The historians are not exactly sure about the date, as material was used from older buildings and temples (very much common practice as I found here and there in Umbria). Maybe there was even once a pagan temple devoted to Clitumno, the Umbrian river god. Plinius mentioned this temple in one of his writings.
The temple is tiny (photo 3) and quite interesting, maybe because it is so tiny and yet has so much to look at. Corinthian columns of different style have been used for the front (photo 2) and the tympanum has an inscription SCS deus angelorum qui fecit resurectionem (god of the angels who ensures resurrection – I hope my age old school Latin didn’t abandon me) which means that it was indeed a Christian temple. There is another piece of stone inside the temple with parts of an inscription (photo 4), but apart from SCS deus there is not much to decipher (maybe “Romanus”?). The apse has beautiful frescos and a marble altar (photo 5). The frescos depict blessing Christ (the bible in his hand is still visible) and below are apostles San Pietro and San Paolo.
I was the only one who visited this little temple that day and I even had the impression that the guard didn’t expect any visitor. She sat in her guardhouse and watched TV, barely noticed me. Maybe this was why I could take photos inside, which was not allowed. But I didn’t use flash. Somehow it was very strange here, but not in a negative way. Here I was standing inside an age old temple, one of the many left in Italy, but as this is so tiny and so very much off the pathes of Rome and the major Roman “centres” today.
Interesting is also the outer part of the apse, visible from the main street. It also shows that it was a Christian temple – among flowers and grapes in the cross and the Greek letter Rho (top right), which stands for Christ (main photo).
Next to the temple is the old mill at Clitunno river/creek. It has been turned into a hotel, and what I could see from above, it looked very nice. Maybe another option for accommodation in Umbria? For more information here: Veccio Molino
Entrance fee is 2 € (April 2008).
Opening hours: daily, April-Oct.: 8:45 – 19:45, Nov.-March: 8:45 – 17:45.
500 m north of Fonti di Clitunno, on the western side of the street. Turn into a little side street where it says “Vecchio Molino” (which is a hotel).
Update, June 2011:
During the meeting of UNESCO end of June, Tempietto di Clintunno was added to the World Heritage list, together with 6 other sites as “Longobards in Italy”.
Location of Tempietto di Clitunno on Google Maps.
© Ingrid D., January 2009 (So please do not copy my text or photos without my permission.). Update (UNESCO listing): June 2011
I found this wonderful church only by accident, when I drove north into Valle Umbra coming from Lago Piediluco and Terni. I left the highway (E45/SS3bis) north of Aquasparta and only 5 minutes later I saw this church at the street so I got off and looked a bit closer. I was amazed to say the least (couldn’t close my mouth to be precise). There was this most magic church sitting there without a big sign or any notification. I found a little explanation board though. But it wasn’t mentioned in any of my guidebooks. Only later I found further information on Massa Martana’s website (the village next to it to the north). But this is very much typical for Umbria, at least the way I perceived it: there are so many churches with very fascinating history and treasures inside which are hardly mentioned anywhere.
This church is very old. According to legends it was built in 5th century but more likely in 7th or 8th and subsequently expanded over the years. From the outside it looks a bit weird, as the entrance façade is very much inclined (photo 3, although part of the effect in this photo is from my wide angle lens). But it is very pretty with the big rose window (3 carved fish inside) and the fascinating poited arch above the entrance portal (main photo). Though much of the insert work is gone (maybe earthquakes, maybe course of time), the flower friezes are beautiful and somehow similar to the ones in Tempietto di Clitunno (but definitely newer). Inside, the church is also simple in constructions, albeit it has two aisles. According to the “principle of architectural recycling” (see local customs), some Roman fragments have been used as decorative elements. There are also many frescoes on the aisle walls (some are visible in photo 5). But what fascinated me most were the drawings or unfinished frescoes on the pillars (as the one in photo 4).
There is much more to admire inside and outside of this church, as I found out later on the website below. But… there is always a next time, certainly for me, as Umbria is just too beautiful and I am wondering already now how many more churches like this I will find next time.
Oh, the church’s name is Santa Maria in Pantano – pantano means swamp, and obviously Valle Umbra was wetlands in the very past (see also the previous tip about Fonti di Clitunno).
Coordinates on GoogleEarth:
I didn’t visit Assisi during my trip through Umbria this time. Somehow I was in a kind of spiritual mode, “light and easy” and slow and hadn’t seen many tourists in Valnerina, at Lago Piediluco, in Bevagna and the parts of Valle Umbra I visited. I planned to visit Assisi though but when I approached it and saw the masses of busses unloading more masses of travellers I decided that it is not my time to see the city and churches. So I passed it and went further down (= down the hill) to Santa Maria Angeli, which is located at a place with high significance for San Francesco and his followers. Not that it was all empty and quiet, but at least not that crowded. I had some difficulties to imagine that this was once the place where San Francesco was praying in the forest, as nowadays the whole region is quite settled. And somehow I had a bit of a strange feeling that the tiny little wooden church, which was the first one, the Franciscans built (Porziuncola, something like nucleus), is now surrounded by this huge baroque chiesa Santa Maria degli Angeli. The little church looks forlorn. And as soon as the busses come and unload their masses into the church, it gets loud inside. So I was even more happy not to have been in Assisi, I think I would have gone mad and not found what I looked for. Next time, but then in winter maybe.
I liked the surroundings though. The long and wide pathway which leads to the church has interesting mosaics picturing Porziuncola (photo 2) and the church’s sideway is paved with thousands of little cobbles with the names of pilgrims who went from here to Assisi by foot (photo 5).
(There is no entrance fee to the church, BTW, and it is forbidden to take photos – erm, well, I saw the sign only when I left the church..)
The Cloister of San Domenico e del Beato Giacomo lies to the left of the church’s entrance as you look at it from the main street. It is now a hotel, Il Chiostro di Bevagna, but there is nothing to stop you entering for a look at this peaceful retreat and the rather damaged 14th century frescos it contains. I haven’t been able to track down any more information than this but I wanted to share the secret of this slightly hidden corner!
I couldn’t find out much about this watermill, located just outside the town walls near the Porta Todi, but it was clear from watching the activity here that the wheel is used to drive two massive bellows which in turn create the heat needed for the blacksmith who was working here when we passed. Near the mill are the remains of the old wash houses. Unlike the mill, no one was using these when we were there, but I have read that local women do sometimes do so, perhaps for the company and gossip, perhaps because they like to keep the old traditions alive or perhaps because it makes sense to them to use the freely available river water almost on their doorsteps.
For me, Montefalco didn’t live up the hype, which seems to have been created around the soo famous “balcony of Umbria” phrase. The balcony thingy is a clever marketing idea and certainly attracts many tourists, but I didn’t see the balcony, even if I walked around the northern part of the village. Yes, it is nice, a nice view, but the view I had from my room in Poggio dei Pettirossi above Bevagna is thousand times better than what I saw in Montefalco. When I was there, in the middle of April, on a sunny day, it was almost deserted and I found that it had a kind of artificial flair, it definitely lacked the quirky daily life I saw in Bevagna and Norcia and later in Orvieto. The city has several churches, some quite easy to find, some tucked away in side streets, and it is surrounded by the typical Medieval city wall with many entrance gates. Unfortunately, the famous Chiesa San Francesco was closed and I could not see the famous frescoe cycle of San Francesco by Benozzo Gozzoli (the church and museum were preparing exchange of exhibits with Bevagna, that’s why it was closed for visitors). So I really cannot judge properly. But I was happy to see that I am not the only one who thought that Montefalco is a bit overrated. See @Karenincalifornia’s quote “not as much to see here as in other towns”.
Montefalco is, however, famous for its red wine, Sagrantino. There is a nice website about La Strada del Sagrantino, the red grape (photo 5) being its icon. Many villages have a board near their entrance gates with the exact location of wine cellars, agriturismos, oil mills or the like. The website is linked to Google Maps and also shows these locations. It also describes the history of Montefalco wines in detail, which is (as I learned right now) not only a red one but also a white one. But as it is obvious from the website, one does not need to go to Montefalco (and maybe pay higher prices) but can also sample wine anywhere else in the region.
Coordinates on GoogleEarth:
During my almost one week stay in Bevagna (resp. in the hills above the town) it was raining quite often so I often stayed at home and relaxed. But when the weather cleared up I started to do some exploring of the surrounding hills. Once in Umbria, I could not help but adapt to the very slow atmosphere and life, it just grabs you and is part of the enchantment of visiting Umbria. So I didn’t race through the hills but drove very slowly around and stopped many times for photos or just for exploring some village or backstreet. Almost every hour I found another gem like a church or a cute little village with fountains, an old temple of 5th century or an old spring with a lovely park and landscape around. I will mention some in my off-path section. Others I drove through or stopped briefly at are:
In the valley:
At the eastern slopes:
Campello sul Clitunno.
When you open the links you will soon see that they all lead to the same website, the one of Bill Thayer, who has travelled several times to Umbria (and other parts of Italy) and has visited all 92 commune. I love his website, which is so full of information and certainly a love for this part of Italy. And unknowingly he helped me much in preparing my trip to Umbria. Careful though, you can easily spend days on his site.
For looking up specific villages, I did not mention above, please see his list of Umbrian towns.
I can only highly recommend to spend at least one or two days to explore this fascinating part of Umbria, and you surely will discover even more gems than I did :-)
Fonti di Clitunno was one of these unexpected finds which are close to a main road but not easy to find and once one gets off the car, bike or bus – provokes this special wow factor and one feels as if on another planet. When I was driving along the street next to SS3 (the one that links Assisi to Spoleto) I suddenly saw a little temple, but it was too late to turn off the street. So I continued down south to look for a place to turn around. I found one, but then I saw this sign “Fonti di Clitunno” and decided I stop here and look what this is all about. Oh my…. Such an enchanting place!! At the entrance I got a little leaflet (Italian only) with the history of this spring and garden and was let onto the grounds. Ducks were greeting me and they seemed to be happily living here and happy to share their home with the visitors.
This place got its name from the spring of river Clitunno, which was named after the Umbrian river god Clitumno. Alread the Romans have discovered this place and were so enchanted that they have built villas and a spa here. In ancient Roman literature Plinius and Vergil wrote enchanting poems about this place. These days the river was still navigable. But over the years, the landscape did change due to several earthquakes, so today there is only the tiny river spring which forms a biotope lake with many willows, poplars and cypresses and then continues its way along the little temple (next tip) as a small creek.
It is very lovely inside. Not much to see, but the atmosphere is very quiet and very much relaxing. There are benches at the lake to sit and watch the world go by. Outside of the park, but overlooking the lake are benches and tables invite to have picnic
Opening hours: vary much (i.e. 30 min earlier or later – see website below), depending on the month.
Entrance fee: adults : 2 €, kids up to 10 years enter free and groups with 15 or more people pay 1,50 € p.p. (as of April 2008)
Outside of the park is a restaurant and gelateria. I didn’t eat here but had a very much delicious icecream.
North of Campello sul Clitunno, on the left (west) side of the street, exactly where the street makes a bend to the west.
Coordinates on GoogleEarth:
This church is an example of a very much unexpected find in the middle of Valle Umbra, away from any village. When I drove from Montefalco to Campello sul Clitunno I suddenly saw this huge church in the distance and wanted to know what it is. I wouldn’t have seen it if it would not stand that much isolated – nothing around but plain meadowns and fields. And when I arrived on the premises, I was amazed of the huge parking facilities and a little shop around the church. Only later (when doing my “post research”) I found out the background of this all. It was a bit difficult as all I found was in Italian only, but “babelfish” helped me to understand what I was reading.
Madonna della Stella (Madonna of the star) was built in Medieval times and dedicated to Sant’ Bartolomeo. Mid of 19th century, so the story tells, voices of the madonna were heard here and that she wanted this church to be restored. In 1861, a little boy, Frederico “Righetto” Cionchi, son of a poor family, said that the painting of the madonna inside the church had spoken to him but as he was the only one, no one didn’t believe him. However, he insisted that there was a beautiful woman in red dress who spoke to him and walked to the little church daily. One year later, a very ill woman was brought to the church and immediately recovered, as soon as she has entered the church. This was the moment when the locals started to believe the boy and the stories about the madonna and started to restore the church. Righetto became a friar and died 1923. Later, his remains were brought to the church, where many people go on pilgrimage to visit his tomb.
Next to the church is a little statue (photo 5) in memory of him. It was built at the occiasion of his 100th year of birth in 1957.
As I didn’t know anything of this all when I saw the church, I must have missed a lot. So in case you are interested to visit this church, be prepared and read the long articles in the websites below.
apparition of the Madonna,
story of sanctuary Madonna della Stella
(it is useless to write down the directions of how I found it as I took the most tiniest roads from Montefalco). On SP451 between Bastardo and Spoleto, near Castel Ritardo, or just before Mercatello to be precise, turn north direction (most probably) Il Piano, Borghetto, San Lucca. You will see the church from the road and there should be a sign as well. It is located on Google Maps, but zoom in as much as possible.
Coordinates on GoogleEarth: