Assissi and Perugia
Trip Start May 17, 2011
5Trip End Jun 07, 2011
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Where I stayed
Pian de Boccio
The campsite we were heading for had looked wonderful in the ACSI book and on the internet. It is an Agriturismo site, which means it's a working farm which also has holiday accommodation. It's set in woodlands, with a camping area and an old farmhouse converted into holiday apartments, and the owners grow and press their own olive oil and make various sorts of vegetable and fruit preserves. For us one of the main attractions was a swimming pool complex open from the 1st of May - most campsite pools don't open until June 1st. However, we arrived hot, bothered and shaken to find it not particularly green (in either sense), the pools apparently not open and the pitching very haphazard. We found a shady spot under the trees where we unhitched and set up camp, then sat with a beer, wondering whether we should move on next day.
In the evening we drove down into the local village, Bevagna, for a wander round and a meal.
What an absolutely wonderful place.
A bit bigger than a village, smaller than a town, it is almost entirely medieval. Narrow streets, small cafes, traditional shops, nice restaurants and very few tourists.
We had an excellent meal of local pasta with wild boar sauce followed by veal steaks with truffles, washed down with the local Montefalco Rosso.
Next morning we considered our options, looking at other sites in the area. There aren't many - campsites in Italy tend to be grouped around major tourist areas on the coast or by the lakes, with far fewer in the middle of the countryside, or near cities. None had pools open before June 1 and very few had WiFi. This site was handiest for Assisi and Perugia. Enquiries at reception about the pool met with a surprising response. The pool is open! It turns out that the two pools we could see are not open until high season, but the lower pool, which we hadn't noticed, is up and running. We walked down there, and yes it was open and ready for use. That was the clincher. In fact the reality is this is a perfectly adequate site, it was just not quite as good as we had expected. No doubt if we had not researched it beforehand we would now be extolling its virtues.
So it was off to Assisi.
At one end of the town is Santa Chiara, a vast, pink and rather plain building housing the tomb of Saint Clare, founder of the "Poor Clares", and the crucifix which allegedly spoke to St Francis.
interspersed with the occasional bar selling slices of pizza and paninis, ice creams and beers.
In fact, the tiny, primitive chapel which St Frances himself used can still be seen, on the plain a couple of kilometres from Assisi. About 14ft square, it is a delicate little building which seats about 12 people. To protect, preserve and venerate this valuable and historic building, and also another small building where Francis died, in 1565 Pope Pius IV laid the foundation stone of Santa Maria degli Angeli, the seventh largest church in the world, which has been built over the top of them.
We sat in the Piazza del Commune with our morning “machiatone” watching the crowds go by. The centre of Assisi is pedestrianised, which to you and me means no vehicles other than emergencies and early morning deliveries. To Italians it means that local residents are obliged to spend their days driving around the city centre as much as possible, but without the usual difficulties of having to follow any sort of Highway Code. There was nearly as much traffic passing through the square as on the M25 on a Friday afternoon!
Contrary to what you might have concluded, I enjoyed Assisi, but not as much perhaps as Lesley, who will no doubt add her own opinions.
- Yes I will! Like John I was not impressed with the massive religious and commercial hype that has all but obliterated the original simple message of St Francis, but it was the great fresco cycles that I had come to see. The Basilica of San Francesco is huge,
Back at the campsite, hot and dusty, it was time to try out the swimming pool.
There was no-one else in it – perhaps, like us, they didn’t realise it was open. In the evening the weather felt definitely cooler and it was delicious to feel a little chilly for once – it’s been at least 30 degrees ever since Caldonazzo. After our initial disappointment, this campsite has grown on us. Admittedly, the sanitary arrangements are a little bizarre – the cubicles contain both a toilet and a shower, but very little in the way of hooks or shelves for putting clothes on. You can’t even put anything on the toilet as it has no seat or lid! However, there are plenty of other attractions, including a pleasant setting amid extensive fields and woods, an aviary full of exotic birds including peacocks, and best of all, it’s very quiet. There are only half a dozen other caravans or motorhomes here, almost all Dutch people. It would no doubt be a different story in July and August, and while there would be more and better facilities in high season, I don't think we would enjoy it as much.
After a quiet Saturday morning carrying out the usual housekeeping duties we decided to visit nearby Montefalco, another hill top medieval town.
On Sunday we visited Perugia. We had been told, and had read, that we should park the car at the foot of the town and take the escalators up to the centre. So as we drove closer and closer to the centre, climbing higher and higher up hairpin bends, we were convinced we had missed the sign for the car park. We reached the top, prepared to turn round and go back, when we saw the promised signs. We were not at the top at all! Having parked in a very welcome covered car park we took not one but four escalators, almost as deep as Bank Station on the London Underground. The top two go through the foundations and the cellars of the Rocca Paolina, a huge fortress built on the foundations of a previous Etruscan stronghold. It seemed odd to be looking at 2,000 year old ruins in the basement of a building from an escalator rising up through the middle of them. At the top of the escalator were passages leading in three directions, with, in typical Italian fashion, no signposting, and also in typical Italian fashion, crowds of people stopping for a chat completely blocking the route.
We finally broke out into sunshine in the Piazza Italia where Lesley’s eyes lit up to see a flea market, more like a car boot sale without the cars or the boots. It was only the thought of a coffee that let me drag her away. After coffee we walked up the main street, lined with old palazzos and churches, to the main square, the Piazza IV Novembre. Here are three of the important sights of Perugia.
The Duomo, which is one of those huge Italian churches with some fine decorated parts, but which mostly looks like unfinished brickwork. Because it sits sideways on to the Piazza the main entrance is at the side. The frontage is singularly unimpressive, perhaps because the front was at the east end, the altar at the west. The architect was obviously so confused he forgot to finish it. Inside there was a service underway, so we were unable to inspect it fully, but the bland outside was more than made up for by an overdone Baroque interior.
In the Piazza by the door of the Duomo is the Fontana Maggiore, a beautiful fountain decorated by Nicola Pisano and his son Giovanni.
The two tiers of carved bas-reliefs, best seen from the steps of the Duomo or of the Palazzo opposite, represent the arts, sciences, religious tales, Roman myths and historical figures.
Opposite the side of the Duomo is the Palazzo Dei Priori,
First of all I want to say what a pleasant city Perugia is. I was expecting it to be hot, crowded and noisy, like Padua. Perhaps because it was a Sunday the weekday hubbub of workers and students on bikes and scooters was absent. Instead, there were families out for a Sunday stroll, and some tourists, but nowhere near as many as in Assisi. Also, the weather was warm but not stiflingly hot. As for the art, the star turn in Perugia is local boy Perugino (his actual surname was Vannucci but he became known by the name of the city he was mainly associated with.) He isn’t one of the world’s greatest artists, but he trained someone who undoubtedly is, i.e. Raphael. Perugino’s paintings are tranquil and pretty, very pleasant to look at but with no great emotional depth. However they are very well displayed, along with earlier works from the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries, in the impressive medieval surroundings of the Palazzo dei Priori , and unlike some art galleries the exhibits weren’t overwhelming in their scope or number. After an enjoyable hour or so of culture we were ready for lunch, and enjoyed a pizza and salad in a shady little street nearby. Then we meandered through Perugia’s narrow, steep medieval streets, ending up at the Arco Etrusco, an ancient gate in the city walls, built by the Etruscans in the 4th century BC and later converted by Augustus into a Roman triumphal arch, commemorating his conquest of the city.
In search of more Etruscan remains, we returned to the carpark and drove out of the city looking for an Etruscan necropolis known as the Ipogea dei Volumni.
After a day of culture, our plan now is to spend tomorrow (Monday) resting and relaxing around the swimming pool, then on Tuesday we are off to Orvieto to admire the splendours of the Duomo.