Perugia 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Um. Protecting the family jewels, as it were.
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.
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.
Back home, a last walk around Spello, and then to pack up for our drive into Rome tomorrow.