Ever since I’ve read Simone’s page about Piano Grande I wanted to go there even if I didn’t have a clue of where it is exactly located or what a fantastic sight it must be in late spring. But when I prepared my trip I realised that it is just north of Norcia (which I wanted to visit). Furthermore I read about and saw photos of fioritura which gave me another desperate reason to go there. And finally, when I was browsing more websites (in fact I spent a whole weekend looking up websites about Piano Grande, mostly photo sites) I found the ultimate matter to make sure that I must go there, no matter if sky falls on my head before or not (to quote Majestix/Vitalstatistics/Abrarac(o)urcix…). And this was “Italy in Italy”. Now this might sound weird, but look at my main photo and enlarge it. What do you see? Italy, right? Yes, it is indeed a forest or a wooded slope where trees have been cut so that the remaining ones form the shape of Italy. Everything is there, including Sicilia and Sardegna! Amazing!
But to make a long story short and also to prevent you dear readers from making the same mistake as I did: fioritura or the most magnificent plain in bloom is NOT appearing in April (I have called myself an idiot for having believed this already on another page) but in late June or early July. This year it was more early July and Silvio (TrekEarth photo sharing website) has arranged a TrekEarth member meeting which resulted in the most magnificent photos of Piano Grande in bloom, July 6, 2008 or watch the big album of fioritura . Ahh, next time I will come during this time of year.
Some flowers, by the way, are the visual expression of Piano Grande’s “gold”: tiny delicious lentils for which Castelluccio is famous throughout Italy and also worldwide. To learn about the different flowers in Piano Grande’s four different vegetation zones, please read Laura Tenconi’s description which I’ve linked in the website section below.
Now April wasn’t still a “bad” time to visit Piano Grande, as the weather with its fog and low clouds made it an almost surreal sight, like being on another planet! I was the only tourist and partly the only person in this 7 km long and 3 km wide high plain and the village of Castelluccio in the far distance on top of the hill looked like a castle out of a fairy tale or mystery story. Only horses were grazing here and somehow it reminded me a bit of what I saw of Kyrgyzistan two years ago.
For more photos of this amazing high plain please see:
Piano Grande by Franz Bauer
Transport: there is no regular transport to Piano Grande and Castelluccio except Thursday morning from Norcia. The only possibility to get there apart from that would be hiking (long and strenous without appropriate gear) or hitchhiking.
Coordinates on GoogleEarth:
Update August 2009:
Joan's (@scottishvisitor's) comment about Loch Garry having the shape of Scotland made me want to add this here :-)
Norcia’s heart is the big and spacious Piazza San Benedetto with Palazzo Comunale, Chiesa San Benedetto and the small Castelline grouped around a statue of Norcia’s famous inhabitant, San benedetto. Already when I saw photos of the piazza before my trip, I loved the place. It looked so peaceful, so cosy, so innocent.
Palazzo Comunale is an extraordinary beautiful building, maybe because it is so small compared to the municipality houses in other cities or maybe because of its architectonical harmony. Funny enough, none of its parts (loggia, clocktower, stairs) have been built during the same period: the porticus is dated 14th century, clocktower of 1713 and loggia of 1876. I especially loved the lion at the bottom of the staircase – it looks so cute, so curled up as if he likes it there, haha.
The palazzo houses the municipality today.
And imagine how it looks in summer, flowers all over in the pots and more sunshine.
The flag of Europe (seen in the main photo) has a special meaning: San Benedetto was declared patron saint of Europe by Pope Paolo VI in 1964.
Next to Palazzo Comunale is the holiest church of Norcia: Chiesa San benedetto. Legend says that the church was erected above the house where San Benedetto and his twi sister Santa Scolastica were born mid 5th century. Part of the fundament can be seen in the crypt. The church itself is of 14th century and has this wonderful almost archaic and simple façade. Left and right of the entrance portal are niches with statues of San Benedetto and Santa Scolastica. The huge rose window is flanked by the four evangelists’ symbols (human, lion, ox and eagle). And the portal arch has a madonna and child relief with a magnificent base of different coloured marble.
I wasn’t inside, however. Time was tight for me and I needed to find a bed a bit further south. But I saw enough to know that I will return for more, but in later spring or early summer.
I love Medieval measuring devices. And I was happy that a very special one survived in Norcia as well. On the right hand side of Chiesa San Benedetto there is a porticus, used as a kind of covered market and inside is an old kind of tub or vat where grain was measured. This was installed around 1570 (ok, so not exactly Medieval anymore) and some of the old anchors are also still there. The little graffiti seems to be rather new though (there is a whistle painted at the bottom).
Other old measurement standards are in Dornoch (Scotland), cloth size (by Joan, @scotishvisitor), Heidelberg, pretzel size (by Christine), Venezia, fish scale and in Speyer, general measuring device.
Opposite of Palazzo Comunale is a small and cute building, which looks more like a fort that should sit on a peninsula to defend the country. And yes, a fort is it, called Castellina. It was built according to the plans of Vignola, one of Italy’s 16th century master builders, who also had Il Gesù in Roma built. Inside is a nice little courtyard and also the Museo Civio Diocesano, which houses many religious treasures of the surroundings. It is open daily in the morning (10-13) and afternoon (16-17 or 19:30 in summer). Entrance fee is 3 €.
I only peeked inside and left the museum visit for the famous next time.
Quite a bit off from the town centre, in the north of the city, I came across this little strange looking building. It looked like a mixture of ancient Roman temple and votiv shrine. But it is of “newer” date (and not Roman), as it has inscriptions of 1354. Later I’ve read that it was built by Vanni Tulie, a Norcia local, who redeemed a vow with building it (although I didn’t find out for what exactly). It is beautiful, lovely stonework carvings and a madonna fresco inside.
From Piazza San Benedetto walk along Corso Sertorio until the city walls (or Porta Romana, the gat there), then turn right until Chiesa San Giovanni at Porta San Giovanni. Walk to the right again into Via Umberto I, and it is at the next crossing (see Google Map, "photo" 3).
Wild boars on the streets of Norcia (actually these two are stuffed).
Wild boars are common in Umbria and are a main ingredient in certain salamis, sausages and many other culinary delights. They are reputedly dangerous when corner and can cause severe injury and even death beacause boar wounds become easily infected.