The heart of the city is Piazza IV Novembre with the Duomo on one side and Palazzo dei Priori on the other. The impressive steps leading to the cathedral seem to be a favourite place for everyone to sit and admire the beautiful Fontana Magiore. This masterpiece of art was created in 1275-1278 by Nicola and Giovanni Pisano ( father and son) in white and pink stone. The scenes engraved on its sides display episodes from the Old Testament, mythological beginnings of Perugia, astrological signs and many other themes.
The main street of Perugia is Corso Vanucci, named after the painter Pietro Vannuci, known as Perugino. It's lined with numerous bars, cafes and restaurants. It's here that the musicians' parades take place during the annual Jazz Festival.
For many visitors one of the greatest attractions of Perugia is Rocca Paolina, which may sound paradoxical, as it was almost completely destroyed in the 19th century. Rocca Paolina was a fortress built by Pope Paul III in 1540. It was loathed by Perugians for a number of reasons. First, it was the symbol of oppressive rule of the Pope and the end of privilages the citizens enjoyed so far. One of them had been the freedom from paying the taxes on salt, which was then used to preserve food. Pope Paul III made Perugians pay the tax, which led to so called salt war. The inhabitants of the city protested violently, but in vain. In response, over a hundred houses were destroyed and the fortress was built literally on their place. The architect Antonio di Sangallo, who was in charge of the plan, decided to use the material from destroyed houses to build the fortress with. The gloomy construction was dominating over the city for more than 300 years until the unification of Italy in 1860 when it was demolished.
Today the only part of the fortress that survived is the fragment of city walls with the Etruscan arch, which was incorporated by Sangallo in the fortress wall. But below the surface of the present city, we can still see parts of the medieval town, with its streests, squares and buildigs which were used as the fortress foundations. Most visitors to Perugia have a chance to experience this strange atmosphere of the medieval city, as the escalators take you from the parking of Piazza Partigiani through Rocca Paolina into Piazza Italia.
Perugia lies in the very heart of Italy, perched on a hilltop overlooking the valleys of Umbria. The city is surrounded by walls coming from different periods: Etruscan, Roman and medieval. Being compact, it's easily walkable, although one has to remember that it's a hilly town, so you must be prepared to walk up and down in different places.
The town is steeped in history. Long before Roman times, it had been one of the centres of Etruscan civilisation. The traces of the Etruscan presence are a few, for example the Etruscan well, the Etruscan arch and walls. Next the Romans came and built their walls with gates leading to the city. Hardly anything is preserved from those times. Then the city was invaded by different barbarian tribes. Over the centuries, Perugia was engaged in numerous wars and conflicts, which must have had an impact on its citizens' nature. One of Perugians, favourite games used to be stone throwing - the more killed on the opposite side, the better.
The town makes a gloomy impression still today. A maze of narrow twisted lanes with high buildings casting shadows can make a visitor feel overwhelmed. At least I felt this way, although, on the other hand the town fascinated me.
The setting may be a bit depressing, but actually Perugia is a vibrant city whose energy is felt even during a short visit. Especially in July, when the famous Jazz Festival takes place. You don't need to attend the closed concerts to feel the atmosphere. Every day there are musicians' parades and concerts for free. We were lucky to visit Perugia at the time of the Festival and enjoyed it a lot.
Spello is one of the romantic and cute little hill towns of Umbria. In contrast to to others like Trevi it does not sit on a hill but stretches upwards on the south eastern slope of Monte Subasio, south of Assisi. It is a beautiful town, ideal to spend the day especially from spring to summer because literally almost every house in the centre is decorated with flower pots and other plants. From this aspect I found Spello lovely but somehow “all dressed up”. It can get too much for the eyes after a day. Many crafts shops line the roads especially with ceramic arts or galleries.
The town has ancient origins, dating back to the times of the Umbri and Etruscans and later the Romans and many buildings are said to have been built on the remains of ancient temples. The town wall is almost intact and loosened up here and there with town gates, many of them being still intact. Up on the highest point of the town is its so-called Belvedere, the “balcony” with magnificent views into Valle Umbra and Assisi.
After a special event in May 2010, a group of VTers spent a lovely day here, had lunch in a good restaurant with magic views, had our gelato after all the sightseeing and were quite satisfied with this mixture of sightseeing and sampling culinary delights. Have a look at Sarah’s page about Spello
A special event in Spello is being held in late spring: the weekend following Corpus Christi the roads of the whole town centre are being transformed into one big flower carpet. It is called Infiorata:
selection of Infiorata photos
Infiorata, photo galleries
Infiorata in 2011 will be the weekend of June 26/27.
Location of Spello on Google Maps.
nearest airport: Ancona (Falconara, code AOI, 120 km) or Roma (FCO or CIA, 200 km).
© Ingrid D., April 2012 (So please do not copy my text or photos without my permission.)
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).
Entrance fee is 2 € (April 2008).
Opening hours: daily, April-Oct.: 8:45 – 19:45, Nov.-March: 8:45 – 17:45.
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
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., September 2008 (So please do not copy my text or photos without my permission.). Update (UNESCO listing): June 2011
Situated in Valle Umbra in close proximity to famous Assisi, Bevagna is one of the charming medieval villages of Umbria. Sadly it is overlooked by most of the foreign tourists who visit Assisi and Perugia and maybe Montefalco. But Bevagna really deserves to be visited for many reasons. First there is this exceptional restaurant (I even don’t dare to call it restaurant as it is more of a culinary temple), Redibis which is located in parts of Bevagna’s old Roman amphiteatre. The amphiteatre is not the only Roman remains in the village but there is also a Roman mosaic floor which once belonged to a thermal bath. And while I was walking through the village I found a building which obviously was built on using what was left of a Roman temple (photo 2).
Bevagna is very old, it was already a settlement during the old Umbrians’ days and eventually renamed Mevania by the Romans. The western branch of the famous ancient Roman road, Via Flamina, lead through the village – today it is called Corso Giacomo. It is said that Bevagna does have the most intact and authentic of Umbrian’s medieval town centres and indeed, standing on the Piazza F. Silvestri is like a travel back in time. I always expected people in Medieval clothes coming around the corner This piazza is the centre of town, with a nice octagonal fountain resembling the famous Fontana Maggiore in Perugia, albeit it does not have the splendid carvings. Two churches and the Palazzo dei Consoli are situated around the piazza and create this very special atmosphere. San Silvestro (next to the palazzo) is the oldest one, built in 1195 with a simple but beautiful façade of Master Binellus. San Michele, opposite, has a splendid door with wonderful carvings. Most interesting are two old birds left and right of the door (photo 5).
The village is very laid back, and has of course everything one needs in daily life. Shops are mostly lined along Corso Giacomo and at Piazza Garibaldi. Bevagna’s locals live mostly of wine and olive oil, so most naturally you can buy very excellent products here. As far as I know it has 3 hotels, one of them L’Orto degli Angeli next to Redibis restaurant. Their cheapest rooms start at 200 € (double rooms), but given the old building and the most splendid atmosphere, it is well worth to stay here. I did in May 2011, after having dined several times at Redibis, including my “secret” half century birthday celebration.
The most fascinating event in Bevagna must be the Mercato delle Gaite, a Medieval festival of 10 days length where many market stalls are spread over the whole town and where Bevagna locals show old and traditional skills like candle making, dyeing, knitting, where medieval contests are held in bow and arrow shooting and others. If you are in Umbria during June, make sure you don’t miss this festival. I will definitely come back during this time!
Bevagna is also one of the Borghi più belli (Most beautiful towns).
My Bevagna page is also finished in the meantime.
nearest airport: Ancona (Falconara, code AOI, 120 km) or Roma (FCO or CIA, 190km).
Location of Bevagna on Google Maps.
© Ingrid D., June 2008, updates April 2012 (So please do not copy my text or photos without my permission.)
With its location at the slope of Monte Ingino, Gubbio is a special and marvellous town. It is famous for a most special treasure: the Iguvine Tablets, a set of 7 bronze tables with ancient inscriptions (once it was nine, but the two who have been sent for translation to Venezia got lost). The inscriptions are in Umbrian language, and written in letters similar to Etruscan. Two tablets are in Latin letters, but Umbrian language, which make them something similar like the Rosetta Stone. The tables describe religious rituals of the native Umbrians during their autonomous existance in Ikuvium (= Gubbio’s name before Romans took over) from approx. 4th century BC. These rituals were often based on the flight of the birds, which was seen as will of the gods. When I was in Gubbio for the first time (April 2008) I saw a fascinating interpretation of the tables by local painter Giuseppe Gierut. These paintings are no longer exhibited but can be seen on his website. Palazzo Consoli itself is a masterpiece of architecture and definitely deserves a visit.
I love to walk around the city; it is going upand down all the time. But this gives quite a good feeling of life in such a hill town. And it lets appreciate the enormous power and energy the locals have (to have) when they celebrate their most important festival each May 15 - Festa dei Ceri. This festival is said to have its roots in pagan rituals (most probably fertility rituals) and is devoted to Gubbio’s patron saint Sant’Ubaldo and held in Gubbio since ages (it is not set up for the tourists!). Three wooden “ceri” (candles) with statues of Sant’ Ubaldo, San Giorgio and Sant’Antonio on top, each of them weighs around 320 kg. Each is carried by ten ceraioli in a defined path through the city and finally uphill to the Basilica di Sant’Ubaldo. They need a maximum of 8 minutes to race from the duomo to the basilica. The average hiker nees approx. 35-40 minutes uphill…. The ceraioli belong to three different “sections” or families, their colours are different (blue, yellow and black). To get an idea of this festival look at the photos in my review I have linked above.
But this race is not the only local festival. Palio della Balestra is being held on the last Sunday of May. This is when Gubbio’s balestriere, crossbowmen, demonstrate their skills in a contest with Toscana city of Sansepolcro. And then there is the bell, the Campanone, which is being rung “manually” or better with hand and feet of the society of bell ringers. These are very much passionate moments to watch them and to listen to the deep tone of the bell.
Gubbio was also once home to famous San Francesco (of Assisi). Legend has it that it was here where he tamed a wolf.
But that is not all. Gubbio is a fascinating town. I am here more than twice a year, not only because I like it here but also because the glorious society of balestriere has kindly accepted me as a member. In the meantime I have written a separate page about Gubbio, for those who are interested to read why exactly this town has captured my heart forever.
nearest airport: Ancona (Falconara, code AOI, 100 km) or Roma (FCO or CIA, 250 km).
Location of Gubbio on Google Maps.
© Ingrid D., June 2008, rewritten in April 2012 (So please do not copy my text or photos without my permission.)
When I think about my many trips to Umbria over the last years in almost any season, this is one of the most permanent impressions why this Italian region caught my heart and soul and makes me want to come back again and again and again. Already during my first visit to Umbria in April 2008 the weather wasn’t “the best”, but then what is best and what would be worst? It was raining very often, but then it was April and we all didn’t have splendid Aprils here in Europe’s 2008. When I look at the photos now, I am still caught by these light scenarios Umbria presented to me.
Umbria is called the green heart of Italy. And it seems that it is so lush and green not without a reason – which is the rain from time to time.
Before I started my April 2008 holidays I was a bit worn out anyhow, so the rain didn’t matter much to me. Also I had some very interesting books in my luggage. It was most fascinating to watch the weather. During the rainy days it was not grey at all, but the days started with shining sun but very soon some clouds popped up which were darkish and then became very dark. As if someone would open the zippers, water fell out in streams and only a good raincoat could protect me. Or the car, although driving in this rain wasn’t fun at all, the wipers had to work hard but I still almost could not see the road.
But at a point in time during these rain days the sun would reappear behind these clouds, mostly in the late afternoons and these brilliant light scenarios started. So often I ran out to look for the rainbow and often found it. Very often I also found two, as in one of the photos. Most magic was this very strong low light which gave special illumination to the trees or the landscape. These were the moments for me when I started to understand why San Francesco had chosen this part of the world to inaugurate his Franciscan order and why so many other saints have lived here.
The list of hermitages and abbeys is endless, as it can be seen in the video: abbazie, eremi e monasteri Umbri (abbeys, hermitages and monasteries in Umbria).
Sometimes also some rays of sunshine found their way through the clouds and illuminated the landscape. When these rays did hit one of the villages, it almost looked as if God sends blessings to this village (photo 3 and 4).
What I want to say here is that it is not necessarily bad to experience rain in Umbria. In contrast – it is one of the most powerful things one can have there, and it is even free of charge and unavoidable off season. April is highly recommended :-)
© Ingrid D., June 2008 (So please do not copy my text or photos without my permission.)
The only thing I remmbered very well from my previous visit to Spoleto in the 1990's was Ponte delle Tori. This time again it made a big impression on me. This spectacular construction which is 236 metres tall and 76 metres high, consists of a narrow passaage supported by nine tall pylons separating the arches of the bridge. It offers wonderful views over the Tessino valley. The bridge is said to have been built over Roman aqueduct, but the theory hasn't been fully proved.
The other thing Spoleto is famous for, is its cathedral. It is picturesquely located down the steps at the bottom of the Piazza del Duomo. Its facade with a beautiful golden mosaic and as many as eight rose windows attracts the attention of all passers-by. But it's worth getting in, as well. Here in the apse we can find a fresco cycle "Life of the Virgin" by Filippo Lippi. Actually, it wasn't all made by him as he suddenly died in 1469 before completing it. Although a monk, Fillippo Lippi was quite a womaniser and it's rumoured that he had been poisoned by a family of a local girl whom he put in disgrace. He was buried in the cathedral in a tomb designed by his son Filippino. Some time later, his bones mysteriously disappeared, so the tomb is empty now.
Montefalco is another Umbrian town perched on a high hill. It overlooks the Spoleto Valley and offers great views in all directions. The first thing you notice around, are green rolling hills covered with olive groves and vineyards. No wonder the region is famous for its olive oil and local wine.
We enter the town through Porta San Agostino crowned with its Ghibeline merlons. We go up a rather wide straight street to the Piazza del Comune - a lovely round piazza with Palazzo del Comune (13-14th centuries) and some fine examples of buildings coming mostly from the 16th century.
The place that attracts art lovers from around the globe is a town museum, formerly the church of St. Francis. It houses the famous frescoes by Benozzo Gozzoli depicting the life of St Francis.
If you are not into art so much, you should drop into some little shops offering local products.
The cultivation of vines in this area goes back to Roman times. Today Montefalco is renowned for the production of high quality red wines, of which Sagrantino is the most famous. Other natural products of the region are olive oil and honey. The town can also boast a long tradition of handcrafts.
Todi is a hill town with medieval character, where you can find a lot of traces of its Etruscan and Roman past. Its location on the hill of 400 metres over the Tiber valley is well explained in a legend. The construction of the town had been already started on the river bank. One day, while the workers were eating their midday meal, an eagle carried off the table cloth in its claws and dropped it atop the hill. The people believed it to be the sign of destiny and built their town in that place.
Todi has preserved the remains of three rows of defensive walls. The most inner ones come from Etruscan times, the middle ones are of Roman origin and the outer, best preserved, are medieval walls and have seven city gates.
We leave our car at Porta Orvietana and take a lift up to the town centre.
The central square of the city, called Piazza del Popolo, was once the site of Roman forum. One side of the square is closed by the building of the cathedral, which stands at the top of high stairs. Built of white and pink stone, it boasts a beautiful rose window.
Another church worth a visit is Tempio di San Fortunato on piazza Umberto. It has an impressive Gothic door and inside 13-14th century frescoes and beautiful inlaid wooden choir stalls. In the crypt there is a tomb of Jacopone da Todi - a medieval poet and mystic.
If you have time, you should also see a church located outside the city walls. It's Santa Maria della Consolazione - a fine example of renaissance architecture. It is supposed to have been designed by Donato Bramante at the beginning of the 16th century.
The facade of the Orvieto cathedral is beyond compare. The first thing you notice is the kaleidoscope of colours. The mosaics decorating the facade have a gold background which seems to shine with its own light. The mosaics were designed by Lorenzo Maitani. The facade was started about 1310 but was not completed until the beginning of the 17th century. After Maitani's death, the works were continued by his sons, followed then by the Pisano family. The mosaics as we see them today are mostly reproductions coming from the 17-19th centuries. The original stone was partly preserved only in one of the mosaics.
The magnificent rose window is the masterpiece of Andrea Orcagna - an artist from Florence, who apart from being employed in Orvieto regularly visited his hometown to help build their cathedral, as well. In the centre of the rose window we can see the head of the Redeemer and in the corners the mosaics depicting four doctors of the church. Above there are twelve apostles and on either side in the niches pairs of Old Testament prophets.
Although it's the mosaics and the rose window that attract your attention in the first place, don't miss the history of man shown in bas-reliefs. We can admire here the Book of Genesis, the Tree of Jesse, episodes from the lives of Jesus and Mary as well as the Last Judgement. The marbles are supposed to be the result of united efforts of three or four masters and a lot more craftsmen, so they can be called a collective masterpiece. If one looks at the bas-reliefs attentively, it's possible to notice that some of the figures are not finished. It might be guessed that the demand for artists was so high (Florence and Siena were building their cathedrals at the same time) that they were in a hurry and didn't manage to brush up the details of faces or hands. Yet, the details of hair, beards and clothes are not missing because they were the domain of less-skilled artists who were not in such a demand.
Orvieto's claim to fame is without doubt its cathedral - considered by many one of the finest examples of Gothic architecture in Italy, or even in Europe. You may wonder why such a magnificent building was erected in a modest little place like Orvieto. There are at least two reasons. First, the town was the refuge of five popes in the 13th century. The other reason is the miracle of Bolsena - a place a couple of kms from Orvieto. In 1260s a priest called Peter of Prague stopped there on his way to Rome. The priest wasn't fully convinced that the bread used in communion was really the body of Christ. It is said that during the mass, drops of blood started to fall from the consecrated Host onto the altar and the corporal. The priest rushed to Orvieto, where Pope Urban iV was residing and told him about the miracle. Soon the plans to build the cathedral were made, funds raised and in 1290 the construction was started. A year later, to comemmorate the event, the feast of Corpus Christi was established.
The cathedral took 300 years to complete; about 30 architects, 150 sculptors, 70 painters and almost 100 mosaic specialists were employed over those long years. The result is breathtaking.
We came to Orvieto before noon, when the cathedral front was still in shade, so we didn't see it all bathed in the sun, glittering and sparkling like a jewel. But still the impression was enormous . We sat in one of street cafes and drinking Italian coffee were feasting our eyes on that magnificent building.
The historical centre of Orvieto is perched on a volcanic rock of tufa. The yellowish rocks and defensive walls surrounding the city enhance the impression of the place being inaccessible like a fortress. Actually, nowadays it is easy to reach the centre by funicular (leaving from Orvieto Scalo) which will take you atop.
We chose to walk up from the parking place near the Etruscan necropolis and enter the city through the northern gate. On the way we had a closer look at the tufa rock of which many houses in Orvieto have been built. We know that undearneath there are a lot of caves and tunnels dug in the tufa stone. They can be visited, but only on guided tours. In the past many noble houses had underground tunnels which enabled their owners to escape the city in case of siege. Another highlight of the underground world is St. Patrick's Well ( Pozzo di San Patrizio). This engineering masterpiece was designed in the 16th century. It has two spiral stairways that enabled one way traffic. We don't get inside, after all it's the Duomo that we came here for.
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).
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..)
Nice quiet hotel. The dinner in the hotel was very nice and so was the breakfast. Very nice, homey...more
This hotel was really neat and very fun to stay in. The staff was very accomodating and the rooms...more
What a wonderful view from the top of a beautiful hill overlooking Umbria. The rooms were spacious...more