More Perugia

Perugia-157465Perugia was full of things I wanted to see, but as our time was running out we had to pick and choose. We decided to go to the southern part of the city, to visit the National Archaeological Museum and the Basilica San Pietro. After asking advice, we decided the best option was to drive into the city and park at the Piazalle Europe garage. Google led us on a winding route up, down and around, finally dumping us at the garage set into a hillside. From there, we took a series of escalators uphill, having to look around a bit to locate the last one that took us up to Corso Cavour. Walking along through groups of students, through the 15th century Porta San Pietro, we finally found the entrance to the university courtyard where the Basilica is hidden away.

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The church was initially part of a convent, and the original cloister is here, opening now to University buildings and a grubby cafe as well as the Basilica. You go through a frescoed entryway into a surprisingly huge space, dark with enormous paintings and wood, with a gilded ceiling above. San Pietro was heavily decorated in the early 16th century, and there are a few Peruginos and Vasaris scattered about if you search through the gloom.

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But most interesting to us was the fabulously carved 1526 choir, encrusted with fantastic beasts and beautifully detailed inlay. Spectacular artistry and workmanship. Expressive faces, animals both real and imagined, elaborate scrollwork, detailed narrative scenes. Religious or territorial glory, or for the sake of inventive joy in creating beauty? I suspect the moneymen and the artists may have had different thoughts on that.

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We retraced our steps to go to the Archaeological Museum, housed in the former convent of San Domenico. A fine little museum, with some carefully curated collections. And like most of the museums we’ve visited in Umbria, empty of visitors. A basement-level series of darkened rooms holds a reconstruction of an Etruscan and Roman tomb with many beautifully carved urns. Many more Etruscan urns line the cloister; and in rooms are some large Roman sarcophagi, delicate Etruscan bronze fragments, the Cippo di Perugia (3rd –2nd century BC), which is the longest Etruscan inscription ever found; a series of rooms with locally-found prehistoric pottery, artifacts and descriptions of prehistoric life. And now I really do need to do some more serious reading about the Etruscans.

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Oh, one very cool thing we discovered this week–if you have Google Translate on your phone, you can click the little camera icon, and hold up your phone onto text–and it translates it! Very useful in museums.

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One exhibit I was very interested in was an early 20th century collection of amulets and charms. Collected by an archaeologist (he was the Museum’s director at one point, I believe) and ethnographer named Bellucci. Many of the items were still being used at the time of collection, as long part of folklore and daily life to protect against downturns of weather or health, the evil eye, bad luck, or human malfeasance. Many blended aspects of long-held pagan and Christian traditions. Also included were cases of items used long in the past, from Neolithic, Roman, Asian, and African cultures. Arranged by type and use, there were also some English descriptions along with the Italian. I could have spent all day in these rooms.

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Um. Protecting the family jewels, as it were.

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It was getting on to 1:30 (the Museum doesn’t close for lunch, very nice) and we were starving. We headed back to the car and went in search of a place where we could get a late light lunch, following our GPS through a neighborhood of upper-middle class suburbia. We found ourselves at one of the branches of El Testone, on a strip of road that looked like new Jersey with car dealerships, supermarkets, and businesses. This is Italy, too. We ordered some grilled meats for the boys, (the lamb was wonderful) a torta with greens and cheese for me, and a few beers. Good, cheap, local.

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We had anticipated needing to go to Deruta to pick up the ceramics we had ordered, but they weren’t ready yet. Still finding ourselves in the neighborhood, we arranged to meet Barb and Art for a coffee near their place. After some conversation, we ended up following them to their favorite ceramics house, Tassi. Family operated and small, and I was happy to find a divided antipasti tray I liked.

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Back home, a last walk around Spello, and then to pack up for our drive into Rome tomorrow.

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Some Spoleto

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I recalled really liking Spoleto way back when, finding it a lively, “real” town where the boys enjoyed a great playground, climbing steep streets, and poking into a variety of sights during our day. I had a long list of places I wanted to visit, and figured I’d be happy to get to just a few on a daytrip.

As you approach Spoleto, you can see the dramatic Rocca at the top of the hill, with the old city spilling down the slope to the newer city at the foot. There are several interesting churches that were built around the old city walls. We first tried to find San Salvatore, where the first church was built in the late 4th century, then rebuilt in the 7th or 8th using much older Roman elements. The church abuts a cemetery, and driving up the pitted road I was sad to see the church is closed for reconstruction.

Just beyond is another old church, the 12th century San Ponziano. There is a small community of nuns in the attached house, and we lucked into a caretaker who was only to happy to take us inside and show us around. The original but crumbling facade has carvings with symbols of the Evangelists, and finely detailed Cosmatesque inlay.

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The church was heavily remodeled in third-rate late Baroque, but the real treat is downstairs in the 10th century Crypt. You go down a steep flight of stairs, past a Lombard sarcophagus. Here are some early frescoes, some untouched, others rather clumsily restored. A few had a definite Byzantine style to them. Roman pillars support the structure, including two strange triangular ones. I’ve read that these are likely turning posts from a Roman racetrack. We tipped the friendly caretaker, and continued on, parking at the Spoletosfera lot.

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By the way, the Spoleto tourist map you can get from the tourist office is very useful. It pretty accurately  details the major sites and streets, as well as the awesome system of three routes of sloping walkways or escalators you can use to save your knees.

The walkways dropped us at Piazza Liberta, where we picked up some maps and brochures from the tourist office. Just in back is the 1st century Roman Theater and the Archaeological museum. Since the drizzle was stopping, we decided to spend the morning walking, and perhaps later go to one of the museums in town.

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We navigated through the streets, passing through the Arco di Druso, built in 23. Nearby is Sant’Ansamo which has a crypt with Roman fragments and 6th century frescoes, sadly closed up tight. We walked through the market square, then circled until coming to the stairs leading down to the lovely Duomo. Very few tourists; in most places we were the only obvious visitors.

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I find the exterior mashup of Romaesque and Gothic more beautiful than the Baroque  interior, but the intricate floors and the Lippi frescoes of the Virgin are wonderful.

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We visited the 12th century Basilica di San Eufemia, which has a wonderful carved Lombard column and a soaring two-tiered gallery. The spare interior just has a few fresco fragments but is beautiful in its stone simplicity.

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Casa Romana is worth visiting, the remains of a wealthy home decorated with mosaic floors.

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We walked and took the walkways up to the 15th century Rocca and walked around it to view the Ponte delle Torri, a medieval bridge and aqueduct based upon an earlier Roman one. Sadly, it has been closed since last year’s earthquake.

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By now it was past lunchtime, so we took the walkway down and crossed town. A few of the moving walkways were stopped due to some flooding, with the tiling dangerously slick.  Someone didn’t think things out very well, wonder if this is a usual occurrence?

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We found our way to a restaurant someone had recommended, 9Cento. Cute place with modern takes on traditional food. We shared a great antipasto salad of fresh beans with nuts and pecorino, and then all had different pastas. Evan had the winner, a meat-filled ravioli in a light sauce.

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We were all drooping by the time we finished, so decided to leave off a museum and just hunt out one more of the lower town churches on my list, San Pietro. As we approached, the hearse and cars in the lot showed a funeral was in progress, luckily the major reason to visit are the magnificent Romanesque carvings on the facade.

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Readers of this blog know how much I adore Romanesque symbolic and narrative carvings, and this 12th century church is a fantastic example. Death to sinners, Death of a Just Man, a wolf disguised as a monk, work and heaven, many allegories. We spent some time looking, until the cigarette smoke from those taking a break from the funeral drove us off.

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We stopped back at Madonna delle Lacrime  outside Trevi to see if it was open. Third time’s the charm–one of the nuns from the medical office next door unlocked the door for us so I could finally see the Perugino fresco inside.

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Back home, hung out and read, cooked a simple dinner, then we had a gorgeous sunset from our little porch. I could definitely see spending some more time in Spoleto as a base for a future trip to focus on Southern Umbria.

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