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The Basilica of St Francis at early dawn.

The Province of Perugia

Perugia is one of two provinces in the region of Umbria. It actually comprises two-thirds of both the area and population of the region and its capital is the city of Perugia. The Etruscans likely founded Perugia in the 6th century B.C. The eastern part of the province is hilly region, while the rest was covered by forests. As forests were cleared, abundant grasslands and agriculture, much of Italy’s cattle industry was located here, providing much of the beef to Rome. The province has numerous tourist attractions, especially artistic and historical ones and is home to the Lake Trasimeno. With a circumference of 30 miles, it is the largest lake of Central Italy. It was here that over two thousand years ago, Hannibal’s troops and elephants defeated the Romans in battle on route to Rome. Today the lake is far quieter. Its waters, while shallow, are far less populated than Italy’s coasts in summer. Take a boat ride to the island of Isola Maggiore from either Castiglion del Lago or Passignano sul Trasimeno, to see a place lost in time.

The province is well known for its medieval palaces, castles and fortresses. When it comes to northern Umbria, the city of Perugia gets much of the attention. The Etruscan city is older than Rome and in modern times is far less crowded and in many ways is more tourist friendly than the Eternal City. Its historic center is as compelling as any in Italy, filled with fine Etruscan, Roman and medieval monuments. One of the country’s finest Gothic palaces, the Palazzo dei Priori, is home to the Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria, a superb gallery of Umbrian and other art spanning several hundred years. In the Chapel of San Severo you will find the sole remaining work ibn Perugia by Raphael. It is a fresco commissioned in 1505 by the city’s Bishop, but it was left unfinished by Raphael when Pope Julius II called him to Rome. It was completed by Pietro Vannucci, Il Perugino, in 1521.

Medieval and pink-stoned Assisi is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, tucked enticingly on the slopes of Monte Subasio. It would be a delightful place to visit, even without the considerable legacy of St Francis, who was born here in 1181. His burial place, within the immense Basilica di San Francesco, is filled with beautiful frescoes by Giotto, Cimabue, Simone Martini and others. The Basilica can be seen from miles away as you approach Assisi and as you draw nearer you can appreciate the huge supporting arcades.  The Basilica of St. Francis is considered one of the artistic highlights of medieval Europe, as well as one of the most important places of Christian pilgrimage in the world. Construction began in 1228 with the basilica, built into the side of a hill. It actually consists of two churches, referred to as the Upper Church and Lower Church. The scale and majesty must be experienced to be believed and any trip central Italy would be incomplete without a tour of the Basilica and its grounds. While in Assisi, an interesting stop is to Santa Maria Maggiore, which dates from the 11th century. The church served as the city’s cathedral until 1036 and was the location of St. Francis of Assisi’s baptism.

Also in Perugia is Basilica di San Pietro, which consists of a church and an abbey. It is one of the region’s most sumptuously decorated churches with the most important collection of art in Perugia, after the Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria. The central nave has a richly inlaid and colored coffered ceiling of wood by Benedetto di Giovanni da Montepulciano. The presbytery includes an intarsia wood-paneled choir, considered one of the most beautiful in Italy. Its most striking features are two scenes portraying the Annunciation and Moses Saved from the Water.

The ancient and historic city of Spoleto is located in east-central Umbria on a foothills of the Apennines. Under the Lombards, Spoleto became the capital of the independent Duchy of Spoleto (from 570) and its dukes ruled a considerable part of central Italy. In 774 it became part of Holy Roman Empire. One of the places to visit is the majestic Rocca Albornoziana fortress that stands on top of Sant’Elia hill, built in 1359–1370. It has six formidable towers and many notable 15th century frescoes. In 1499 it was also home to Lucrezia Borgia, who was then governor of the Duchy. The fortress suffered a steady decline during the 16th and 17th centuries. After having resisted many sieges, the Rocca was turned into a jail in 1817 and used as such until the late 20th century. After extensive renovation it was reopened as a museum in 2007. On the way to the fortress you will see the incredible Ponte delle Torri. The bridge is almost 800 feet long and 300 feet high. It is a huge ten-arcade work that connects Colle Sant’ Elia with Monteluco and can be reached from the Rocca by car or by foot.

The town of Gubbio is in the northeastern part of the province on the lowest slope of Mt. Ingino which is famous for its lighting in the shape of a Christmas tree each year – the largest such display in the world. Gubbio became very powerful neat the beginning of the Middle Ages. The town sent 1000 knights to fight in the First Crusade under the lead of Girolamo Gabrielli. It became part of the Papal States in 1631, when the family della Rovere, to whom the Duchy of Urbino had been granted, was extinguished. In 1860 Gubbio was incorporated into the Kingdom of Italy along with the rest of the Papal States. The historical center of Gubbio has a decidedly medieval appearance with buildings of dark grey stone, narrow streets and Gothic architecture. Many houses in central Gubbio date to the 14th and 15th centuries and were originally the dwellings of wealthy merchants. The panoramic Piazza Grande hosts the symbol of the town, Palazzo dei Consoli, a massive palace that is now a museum and houses the seven “Eugubine Tables.” Dating back to the 2nd and 3rd centuries BC, these are hugely important documents relating to the ancient Italic people.

A short walk away is the Palazzo Ducale built in the fifteenth century, which has a wonderful inner courtyard consisting of a series of arches supported by columns and decorated capitals. The origins of Gubbio however go much further back. The town also contains an ancient open-air Roman theater, built in the 1st century BC, it could seat up to 6,000 spectators.

The province of Perugia offers many views into Italy’s glorious and historic past. It is just one of many places in that provide magnificent, awe-inspiring sights that can only be found within the provinces of Italy.