Mellowing in Italy - Siena, Wednesday 2007 May 16


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May 16th 2007
Published: June 24th 2018
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PerugiaPerugiaPerugia

Medieval city, with a touch of construction crane
Up early again to go to Perugia, in Umbria. The ride takes us through higher hills. Cannellini bean plants have escaped the field, and they grow in ditches with reddish purple flowers. As on all the trips, poppies surprise the eyes, growing unexpectedly in fields and roadsides. Paintings of poppies in fields are a popular souvenirs, done by local water-colourists.

Perugia is even more vertical than Siena. The bus park is in a newer part of town, where we met our guide. Werneris is a Belgian who has lived 25 years in Italy and is married to an Italian; they also have a farm. He led us up a series of public escalators. (The first wasn’t working.) He explained that the city government discourages car traffic in town by providing parking and four escalators up to the city square.

He also explained the origin of this precipitous elevation. Pope Paul III had raised the salt taxes (why Tuscan bread is made without salt) and was furious because the lords of Perugia wouldn’t collect the tax. So he got rid of the lords and built his palace on top of their palaces. The modern escalators come up through the former houses and streets, now subterranean, some of which have been excavated. Their restoration when the escalators were built allows us to see the structures, once our guide pointed them out to us. One subterranean street is used as an exhibition hall for town events. Ironically, even these old buried streets and houses were built on top of the former Etruscan settlement. In 40 BC Octavian destroyed the Etruscan town and remade it in accordance with Roman styles. As a result, the main streets of Perugia are still wider and straighter than in medieval Siena (which doesn’t have a straight line anywhere).

The Pope’s Palace now holds the offices of the provincial government. We strolled on the wide terrace overlooking the valley. In the distant haze was the “mountain” on which sits Assisi, 11 miles distant. On the terrace is a statue of Pietro Vannucci, known as “The Perugian” because he is their most famous painter – one of the main contributors to the Sistine Chapel. (I need to study the history of the Sistine Chapel because there are many of these claims). Werner warned us that after the Perugian, the quality of Perugian art dropped, never to recover. Later in the National Gallery,
PerugiaPerugiaPerugia

Bulging (once) bankers' buildings
this was indeed obvious.

In the city square on the other side of the Palace is the statue of Victor Emmanuel III. As in Rome, the guide betrayed an Italian whiff of respect mixed with distain for the royal family, because the reunited Italy supported Mussolini. Plus there has recently been scandal involving prostitution!

We walked slowly along the wide main street, slightly down, to the fountains. Many of the large buildings (all attached) are and have been banks, as Perugia was an economic centre. (All fortified towns on the pilgrimage paths were once centres for secure money exchange). Behind the current facades are multiple “buildings” because when owners wanted bigger places, they built out into the wide street. They couldn’t built higher (already very tall for the times) and behind are the narrow residential streets. Consequently, the street now appears to undulate like a slow wave of majestic buildings.

The fountain is a very old structure, because it was the means of the arrival of portable water into the town. Also, it is now part of the dedication to the end of WW I - the square is named Quattro Novembre. Behind the square is the grand Benedictine
Perugia fountainPerugia fountainPerugia fountain

Fountains were ornate because they meant water within easy reach.
cathedral, partially finished. Officials often never got around to spending the money on the cathedral, the church and the monastery instead of the people.

After a bit of free time to wander and shop (chocolate from the “Perugian”), we walked down an old aqueduct to our restaurant for lunch. The pitch of the aqueduct-as-path was quite steep and afforded good views of this architectural playground, every angle brought another building into view. In a small restaurant in an old building, lunch was lovely: penne in tomato sauce, thin sliced port roast with spinach (we saw the fire and spit), and fruit salad - with both white and red wine, which was unusual.

After lunch we had lots of free time, and many of us went to the National Gallery (free this week in a national Italian program). I must have a medieval heart because I really enjoyed the Byzantine icon-like paintings of the holy family – representational bodies and faces, flat perspective, dominant gold leaf. I revelled in my first encounter with the “suffering” version of the crucifixion. Now I have learned that before the Renaissance, Christ was shown as suffering, slumped to one side, head hanging. The Franciscans started turning him more directly to the viewer, and in the Renaissance he was turned as we know him, to convey inclusiveness.

One of the slumping Christ crucifixes was so beautiful - a somewhat languid pose of extreme beauty. And no postcard of it in the shop.

The museum is arranged in chronological order, with few exit points, so even after viewing the medieval work and the paintings of Vannucci, we had to keep going – a bit too much. It was time to slowly return to the City square.


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Lake TrasaminoLake Trasamino
Lake Trasamino

Most beautiful lake in a mountainous country
Perugia to AssisiPerugia to Assisi
Perugia to Assisi

That is Assisi in the distance, on the hill.


26th June 2018

Hurray for guides
It looks like an easy city to get lost in, spatially and photographically.

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