Saturday morning before the forecasted rains set in, we drove out to find the Abbey of Sansovito. High on a hill overlooking Foligno, the Abbey is a 11th century Benedictine monastery that in its time had significant holdings. It is now partly owned by a religious community, and partly by the state. There is a large archeological work underway, but you can still see the magnificent cloister and some of the other parts of the buildings.
The graceful cloister was built in 1229, with pieces brought from Rome. And amazingly, the stonemasons name is known–Pietro de Maria, whose name is on a plaque on the cloister. There are 158 double rows of columns, many twisted, with pretty lily decorations. Above, there are remnants of gorgeously detailed geometric mosaics, which shine in the sun. One side has Romanesque terra cotta carvings, and an inscription. The floor has an odd shape, and we realized that there is a cistern underneath the elaborate well. One wall has a charming 14th century fresco of the Madonna.
Walking underneath, there is a loggia with fresco fragments (rather clumsily enhanced) from the 15th century. Further on, you can go into the crypt and some recently restored rooms,used for meetings and functions. There’s an overgrown garden, and views up to the olives and pines, or down to the busy valley. Absolutely silent, it’s a wonderful spot.
We drove through Foligno, then Santa Maria de Angeli, then drove up the mountain behind Assisi to Letizia’s house. Letizia is a cooking teacher who with her husband owns a B&B named Madonna del Piatto, after a ceramic plate painted with a Madonna was found on their property. Letizia and Ruud are entomologists who left academia for a rural lifestyle. I’ve known Letizia online for years, and hosted a cooking class by her when she was on a book tour in the spring. (Her cookbook is marvelous, and her B&B charming, by the way)
We had a wonderful afternoon, with of course fantastic lunch and conversation with the family and some repeat guests, also New Englanders with passion for Europe. A dramatic rain and hailstorm came through hopefully replenishing some of the water supply after this years drought.
We left, and along the way stopped at the fruit and vegetable shop Letizia told us about, and then found a very nice fresh pasta shop in back of her butcher. Tomorrow nights dinner sorted. We headed into Foligno for the Cortea , the medieval parade held the night before the Giostra di Quintana , a traditional horseback and jousting contest. Foligno is a rather ugly-around-the-edges town which does not get much tourist attention, which is a shame, as the old centro is interesting. It has an attractively “real” atmosphere., with teens flirting and business people striding home or shopping in the shops along the main street.
In Foligno, we were lucky to find parking in one of the lots that ring the old center of town. Many people were filling the town. Each neighborhood competes in the Giostra, and also has a parade of horses and people in renaissance costumes. That night, the order of the competitors are announced, and each neighborhood hosts a taverna of food and drink. In walking around, we found that most of the taverna tables were already reserved, and at 8 weren’t nearly ready to open. We figured we’d just grab a light dinner, and took a chance on a little place. It was fine, but nothing special. Meanwhile, periodic showers would start and stop. By 9:30, masses of people we’re heading to the Piazza near the Duomo. We followed, stopping for a gelato from Crispini (pistachio and chocolate) along the way.
There was a huge screen showing the horses, floats and costumed marchers entering the square, lots of mysterious announcements, and everyone milled around waiting for them to start circling through the streets. Finally, the drumming sounded like it was moving, and the procession of neighborhood groups started moving out. Colorful, elaborate costumes, decorated horses, drummers and musicians–it was quite a show, though rather difficult to photograph with a cellphone.
All of a sudden, the light drizzle turned into a torrential downpour. The marchers continued for a few minutes, but with buckets of rain, and most Italian’s dislike of wet weather–people started scrambling for whatever semi-dry spot they could find. Here’s a short video of a part of the parade.
One handsome drummer sheltered with us against a building, muttering “Disastro!” It quickly became obvious that people were going to give up in order to save their costumes (many of which would be worn for the Giostra tomorrow), and so marchers and bystanders started dispersing. It was a wet walk back to the car.
But, yes, it was a slice of Foligno