Perugia

 

Perugia: A Beautiful Hill Town

Perugia is a beautiful and romantic hill town set in the Umbrian hills overlooking the Tiber River Valley. With a population of 160,000, it is the capitol of its province and the capitol of the region of Umbria in central Italy. Not far from Lake Trasimeno, it is also a quick trip by coach to Assisi, Orvieto, Spoleto and even farther off Sienna. The Sant’Egidio Airport is located only 12km east of Perugia and has daily flights from Rome and Milan. By train one can easily connect to Florence, Arezzo and Rome. In the city, one can easily explore the historic center by foot with the help of the many stairs, escalators and elevators that bring you to the different levels of the steep hill town and link back to the train and bus stations. Perugia is a University town, with not only the Universitá degli Studí, but also the Universitá per Stranieri, the University for Foreigners. It is also known for the Perugina Chocolate Company which makes the famous Baci chocolate kisses, with chocolate, hazel nuts and messages of love that are adored throughout the world. Be sure to get out and walk around this beautiful town and enjoy the history and atmosphere.

Perugia, once called Pieresa, was part of the Etruscan Federation of 12 cities until about 310 BC when it, like most of the Italian peninsula, also fell under the control of the Roman Empire. Under the Emperor Augustus the city was renamed Augusta Perusia. Perugia really bloomed, however, in the Middle Ages when it was an independent city, free of outside influence and at liberty to carry on internal warring among its own noble families and fights with nearby towns. In 1414, the fighting was so bad that the papal army was sent under the command of Braccio Fortebraccio to impose peace and order. After a failed attempt to free itself of papal authority in 1540, Pope Paul III actively squelched local power, going so far as to level an entire district, Borgo San Giuliano, and build his fortress on top of the palace of one of the most powerful local noble families, the Baglioni, thereby literally burying them. Papal rule continued in Perugia, like the rest of Umbria, until it joined the Kingdom of Italy at unification in 1861.

Main Attractions

Piazza Italia

One can take an elevator directly to the Piazza Italia, one of Perugia’s main squares, from the Piazza dei Partigiani below. This was where, in 1540, Pope Paul III had his fortress, the Rocca Paolina, built to emphasize his control over the rebellious city. Built in what was once the Borgo San Giuliano district, hundreds of houses, churches and monasteries were destroyed to make room for the fortress and their materials used in its construction. Not much remains of the Rocca Paolina since the Perugians gleefully tore it apart at unification, although part of the foundation and walls remain. Entering the Porta Marzia, an Etruscan gate dating from the 3rd century BC that was moved here and incorporated into the fortress by architect Sangallo in the 16th century, one is led to the famous Via Baglioni Sotteranea. This is the underground part of medieval city where the rich and powerful Baglioni family once lived, and where their palace became the foundation for the pope’s fortress. The vaults that were built over their palace are clearly visible, as are the medieval houses and shops that remain buried and unchanged. You can walk through these covered streets and see the old city still relatively intact. Above, one can enjoy the sunlight again in the Giardini Carducci, the public park built directly over the Baglioni palace, which offers a lovely view of the Umbrian countryside below.

Piazza Quattro Novembre

Once referred to as the Piazza Grande, the Piazza IV Novembre is the most important square in Perugia. It was the main square even back in the Etruscan times, and during the Roman period, it was here that they built their forum. Five major roads, called the Strade Regale, lead off the square into the medieval town. It is in this square that one finds Perugia’s cathedral, San Lorenzo. Built in the gothic style, it was designed in 1345 by Fra Bevignate and built over an older church from the 10th century. Work was continued on it as late as the 16th century, although it still remains incomplete. The façade, done in pink and white stones taken from the cathedral in Arezzo in 1335, still sits unfinished. San Lorenzo is one of the places from which Saint Bernardino of Siena was known to preach from the pulpit within. The loggia in front was added in 1423 on the orders of Braccio di Fortebraccio to allow him to walk from his palace next door to the cathedral while remaining protected from the elements. Of interest is the Mannerist doorway designed by Galeazzo Alessi and sculpted by Ludovico Scalza in 1568. Be sure visit the Museo Capitolare, the cathedral museum, which has a Pietà (1486) by Bartolomeo Caporali and the Madonna in Trono (1484) by Luca Signorelli.

Across from San Lorenzo is the Fontana Maggiore, considered one of the most beautiful fountains in Italy. Designed in the Gothic style by Fra Bevignate in 1280, the fountain was carved by Nicola and Giovanni Pisano, and like the cathedral, is made of pink and white stone. The 48 bas-relief panels encompass the entire medieval world, with references to the Old Testament, astrological symbols, an agricultural calendar, the personification of the seven liberal arts and the mythological figures which represent the founding of Perugia. Of note are the carved Griffon and Lion. The Griffon is the symbol for Perugia, while the Lion is the symbol for Pisa, in this case believed to be for the Pisano brothers who carved the fountain.

Leading into the piazza is the famous aqueduct which was built in 1254 and runs 3km from Monte Pucciano into the Piazza IV Novembre. It was designed by a Venetian architect named Boninsegna, and the final part runs between the Conca area and the old Etruscan town wall, ending finally at the Fontana Maggiore.

Palazzo dei Priori

This former town hall was begun in the 1270s, with additions made up through the 16th century. Within one can visit the Collegio della Mercanzia, the meeting place given to the powerful merchant’s guild in 1390. Of interest is the beautiful Sala dell’Udienze which was fully paneled in wood by German craftsmen in the 15th century. It was used as a council room and is considered the best preserved secular room in Italy dating from the 15th century. The room is decorated with celebrated frescoes painted from 1498-1500 by the local artist, Perugino, which feature the Cardinal Virtues. The archives within contain documents which date from 1323-1599. Within the Palazzo is also the Collegio del Cambio, where the Bankers guild met. The Sala dei Legisti, or lawyers’ room, is filled with inlaid furniture and wood paneling by Giampietro Zuccari from 1615-1621.

Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria

Also housed within the Palazzo dei Priori is the National Gallery of Umbria. The collection was originally amassed by the French when they occupied the area from 1797-1810, as they confiscated pieces from local monasteries, churches and convents. The collection is made up primarily of Umbrian paintings from the middle ages to the 18th century. Of interest, however, are the five sculptures by Arnolfo di Cambio dating from 1281 and the Crucifix by the Maestro di San Francesco from 1272. Within are also works by Vigoroso da Siena, Piero della Francesca and Beato Angelico. Be sure to also visit the Capella dei Priori, the Priori family’s private chapel which has a fresco cycle by Benedetto Bonfigli (1454-1480). The fresco pictures scenes from the life of Perugia’s patron Saints, Ludovicus and Herculanus, and has wonderful views of old Perugia as it was at the time.

Museo Archelogico dell’Umbria

Begun by Francesco Filippo Friggeri in 1790, the museum holds a collection with pieces from then Paleolithic and Aeneolithic periods found throughout Umbria, which include Bronze and Iron Age remains. There are also Etruscan-Villanovan and Hellenistic Period objects such as urns, bronzes, vases, and weapons. Most important in the collection is the Cippo di Perugia, dating from the 3rd-2nd century BC. This has the longest Etruscan inscription ever found and seems to be a contract between two families regarding property boundaries.

Ipogeo dei Volumni

Just outside Perugia, this 2nd century BC Etruscan tomb is part of the larger Palazzone burial ground. The Velimna family tomb is one of the best preserved Etruscan tombs and is laid out as an Etruscan home would have been with sleeping and living quarters. There are the seven urns that would have held then family members. The ceiling is carved of solid rock and at the entrance the gables are carved in what is thought to be the family crest, a shield with a gorgon and dolphins. The tomb is believed to date back to 40 BC, around the time of the Roman invasion, and as it sits empty, the family is believed to have fled, like many others, after Perugia was conquered.


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