The Fontana Maggiore – Perugia

Vista della Fontana Maggiore dando le spalle alla cattedrale. Sullo sfondo la facciata di Palazzo dei Priori.

The Fontana Maggiore, a gem of Gothic sculpture

The Fontana Maggiore (Great Fountain) is the sculptural symbol of Perugia. It was built in 1278 to celebrate the completion of a long aqueduct that, by taking cleverly advantage of the principle of communicating vessels, could even conduct water uphill on Perugia’s hills. The fountain, surely among the oldest and most beautiful in Italy, is in fact considered a masterpiece of Gothic sculpture.

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The Cathedral of Saint Lawrence – Perugia

Vista dell'interno della Cattedrale di San Lorenzo con vista della Madonna delle Grazie sulla destra. La sinistra dell'immagine è occupata dalla navata centrale della chiesa che mostra le colonne e le volte affrescate.

A Cathedral to Welcome Them All

The current Cathedral of Saint Lawrence replaced an older church, a Romanesque church, that therefore must have been built in the 12th century. In March 1300, the Communal authorities in a plenary session – after ascertaining that the size of the Romanesque cathedral did no longer fit the needs of Perugia, then in a phase of expansion – decided to start a new building from zero: a bigger one, and in the same place as the older. The architect chosen for this new, important public enterprise was Fra (Brother) Bevignate, a Benedictine monk of the Order of Saint Sylvester. He was also entrusted with some of the most meaningful monuments of Medieval Umbria, such as the Great Fountain and the aqueduct in Perugia, and the Orvieto Cathedral

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The Etruscan Arch, the Town Walls

Vista scorciata da sinistra dell'Arco Etrusco. Il bianco della sua pietra si sposa con il verde dei pochi alberi vicini ad esso.

Perugia and Its Etruscan Walls

Perugia was one of the main Etruscan towns. Its external walls, dating back to the third century BC (with some older, fourth century parts), still witness the importance the town had acquired. The whole perimeter is some three kilometers (1.5 miles) long; many sections remain visible, while others have been incorporated within later buildings. The Etruscan walls follow the ups and downs of the soil. In the lower areas they fold inwards, so that the overall shape recalls a clover

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Moro’s Tower, Palace of the Seven, People’s Palace

Vista dal basso della cima di Torre del Moro al centro, ai lati i tetti dei palazzi di Orvieto.

The Tower
A Central Role in the Town

The Medieval tower is among the buildings that stand out in Orvieto’s skyline, together with the imposing Cathedral. The tower will remain conspicuous even if you walk in the town streets – it would be impossible not to note this building, some 50 meters (150 feet) high, which dominates all others not only because of its dimensions, but also because of its central role in the city planning. The tower is the very center, starting from which the four town quarters – Corsiva, Olmo, Serancia, Stella – are distinguished. With reference to this, its sides are oriented according to the cardinal points. Its position also makes it the Civil Tower. What does it mean? What makes it different from a belfry or a tower-house? Like all true civil towers, this has bells that marked the most important occasions in town life. Only in a later epoch did it begin to house a clock too.

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The Well of Saint Patrick

Sguardo dall’alto verso il fondo del pozzo. Sulle mura si vedono alcune finestre mentre sul fondo il ponte in ferro sospeso sull’acqua.

Antonio da Sangallo, a Brilliant Engineer

On the edge of the Orvieto Cliff there is a small square in which only a cylindrical building exists, apparently quite anonymous. This structure, however, hides a “thing ingenious with fancy and wonderful with beauty” inside. This is how Giorgio Vasari (in the 1550 edition of his Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects) ends the description of this fascinating work of architecture and engineering: a well dug deep into the tuff.

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Orvieto Underground

Vista leggermente scorciata di un cunicolo della Orvieto Sotterranea. Questo ha una forma pressoché circolare e lungo i lati si trovano le aperture di altri cunicoli che lo intercettano.

The Hollow below the Town

Orvieto lies on top of a huge rock of volcanic origin, made of tuff and pozzolana. Visitors cannot but be charmed by this plateau, called la Rupe (the Cliff), that rises and dominates the valley all around, with its woods and vines. Man did not only colonize this rocky habitat, and add all sorts of buildings, up to the cathedral and towers, but – in all epochs – also dig underground hollows. Tuff has been housing a town below the town for centuries. So, Orvieto can be also visited in the depths of its own ground, and can boast unique underground areas. Some 1,200 artificial underground hollows have been counted; they were dug from the Etruscan Era to the Renaissance, and still later on. Under the town streets, see tunnels and rooms of all kinds: culverts, wells, silos, columbaria (dovecotes), furnaces, Medieval dumps. So, a curious symbiosis can be sensed between the Orvieto people and the rock – human engineering talent, the needs of everyday life, and Nature here mix by making an alliance that still nowadays surprises us.

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The Necropolis at “Crocifisso del Tufo”

Veduta di un tratto di percorso della Necropoli del Crocifisso. Il percorso è in terra battuta, di fronte una breve scalinata, ai lati le tombe in pietra.

When the Etruscans Founded Orvieto: From Sky down to Earth

A tour between earth and sky: this is how Orvieto can be visited and discovered because of both its geographic position (a town rising on top of a cliff, surrounded by a valley) and its history (from ancient Etruscans to nowadays). In Orvieto, in fact, tuff and human genius live indissolubly together since the era when the Etruscans founded it. But, who were the Etruscans? Even if their origin has still to be completely explained and many conjectures are made, they for sure were a people who existed in Central Italy between the ninth and the first centuries BC. Etruscans, basically, were skilled merchants in touch with the other civilizations of the Mediterranean Sea. The top expansion and power of their city-states took place between 800 and 600 BC, before they fell under Roman domination.Orvieto was among the last towns to be conquered by the Romans, namely when it was defeated in 264 BC.

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The Albornoz Fortress in Orvieto

A sinistra è visibile il torrione della Fortezza Albornoz mentre il resto dell’immagine è occupato dalla vista dall’alto della città sottostante e delle campagne umbre.

From Freedom to Being Dominated

During the Middle Ages, Orvieto enjoyed a long period of welfare and independence as a “free Commune” – its rulers being autonomous from the Emperor, both politically and economically – in spite of the intestine clashes between the parties of Guelphs (who supported the Pope’s authority) and Ghibellines (who supported the Emperor). During the whole 13th century the town was a rich one, and organized itself through the basic communal institutions insofar as it was perfectly in a position to rule itself, control its own territory, and thrive.

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The Cathedral of Orvieto

Duomo di Orvieto: Santa Maria Assunta, vista leggermente laterale della facciata e del fianco della cattedrale di Orvieto.

The History of a Centuries-old Building Site
Origins of the Cathedral of Saint Mary’s Assumption

The Cathedral is a sign of the presence of God, as well as of an active and industrious Christian community; it shows the relationship between God and His people’s yearning. The bond with the town history and its inhabitants is so strong that still nowadays the Cathedral is Orvieto’s very symbol, the monument that most shapes its identity.

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Hiking on the Orvieto Cliff Ring

Part of the path of the Orvieto Cliff Ring that runs along the tuff of the cliff.

Hiking on the Orvieto Cliff Ring
Introducing the Tour: The Cliff Ring

The town of Orvieto can answer very many kinds of interests: art, culture, food, ancient history, and even – Nature and sport! All these issues are linked and connected by the very structure of the town as it has been shaped during the centuries, rising on top of its tuff cliff (called la Rupe).

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Saint Damian

Vista della stradina di arrivo alla chiesa di San Damiano. La strada eè fiancheggiata da siepi, sullo sfondo è visibile la struttura.

In the Assisi plain and among the olive trees of the countryside, there is a place much beloved with reference to the Franciscan origins: the Shrine of Saint Damian. Here silence and peace reign, wonderfully framing the view on Nature all around. We actually know little about the origin of this structure, possibly built among the seventh and ninth centuries; and little, too, about the reasons why the church was dedicated to Saint Damian, a medical doctor and martyr whose relics had been taken to Rome in the mid-fifth century. We can anyway say for sure that the history of this very small church, then kept by an old priest, started to be in the limelight in 1205, when one day a 24-year-older called Francis stopped here to pray

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The Porziuncola and Saint Mary of the Angels

Vista panoramica di Santa Maria degli Angeli. La struttura della chiesa, con il suo cupolone, si erge dalle campagne umbre e spicca dalla nebbia della piana in cui si trova.

Saint Francis of Assisi and the Porziuncola

The expanses below Assisi are among the most fascinating in Italy thanks to their colors and the view they afford on the town, which follows the contours of Mount Subasio in its white and rose stones. Precisely in this plain did blossom the life flowers of Saint Francis and Saint Clare. The young man, after restoring the Church of  Saint Damian, “moved to the place called Porziuncola, where an old church existed, dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, Mother of God, now abandoned and forgotten. Seeing it in such a poor state, and also because he had great devotion toward the Mother of all goodness, the Saint made it his own home, and would finish to repair it in the third year after his conversion.” This is how  Thomas of Celano, Francis’ first biographer, reports the Saint’s coming to this “small portion of land” (that is the meaning of Porziuncola) in the plain.
Right around that abandoned little church, possibly built in the fourth century and now given the Saint by the Benedictine monks, the first Franciscan company was founded, a bunch of enthusiastic friends. According to G. K. Chesterton, this became “the home of many homeless men.”

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Town Hall Square

Vista ravvicinata della fontana dei 3 leoni di assisi. In primo piano un leone dalla cui bocca esce uno zampillo d'acqua. Dietro il leone le vasche della fontana e parte della piazza sul fondo.

The Main Square in Assisi

Piazza del Comune (the town hall square) has always been the hub of social and cultural life in Assisi. Not by chance do all the main streets from the town gates meet here.
Built upon a Roman forum, in the Middle Ages it became the place for the people’s gatherings. Therefore, here rise the most important buildings of town life: the Temple of Minerva, also used as the oldest Town Hall in Assisi (later transferred to Palazzo dei Priori, the palace of Medieval “priors”); the palace of the Capitano del popolo (the “common people’s” – actually, the middle class’ – political spokesman), and the People’s Tower.

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The Basilica of Saint Francis

Vista panoramica della Basilica di San Francesco. La vista, frontale leggermente scorciata verso destra, della facciata della basilica superiore e del complesso circostante emerge dal verde degli alberi circostanti. Sullo sfondo le campagne umbre.

Saint Francis’ Legacy

When in 1226 Saint Francis of Assisi died at the age of 44, he was already very famous, and his movement – a true religious Order since 1223 – was followed by thousands of people. They immediately felt they had to build a basilica that may keep his remains, show his importance for all the faithful of that era, and preserve his memory. So, on July 15, 1228, Papa Gregorio IX – who had personally been a friend of Francis – declared him a Saint, and at the same time laid the first stone of the basilica on the hill just off the city of  Assisi, northward. No more than seven years later, in 1235, the building made of two superimposed churches and a big belfry had already been completed, basically as we still see them nowadays. The Basilica of Saint Francis is undoubtedly one of the most famous and most frequently visited churches all over the world. It unites, in fact, a deep religious significance in connection with Saint Francis, and an exceptional value in itself, both historical and artistic.

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The Basilica of Saint Clare

Vista panoramica della Basilica di Santa Chiara ad Assisi. Dall'abitato spuntano l'imponente facciata della chiesa e il suo campanile. Sullo sfondo le campagne umbre.

Clare, and the Birth of the Second Franciscan Order

When Francis made his spogliazione (the act of stripping of his garments as well as, symbolically, all possessions) in the main square, Clare was little more than a baby. She belonged to a noble Assisi family, the Offreduccis, and was surrounded by the love of her sisters, besides the comforts of her social condition. Yet, she was conquered by Francis’ act: within her, now grew the seed of interest toward such men who, after leaving everything, lived by begging but also took care of the lepers in the area of the Porziuncola.

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