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Perugia, Umbria

Perugia is the capital city of Umbria, it is relatively unknown compared to neighbouring Assisi and the famous towns of Tuscany. Its absence from the tourist radar and large centro storico (historic centre) mean that it is not crowded with visitors, making a visit to Perugia all the more enjoyable.

The view from Perugia's walls

The view from Perugia’s walls

There are lots of interesting things to see in Perugia, the Underground City, the National Gallery of Umbria, Perugino’s frescoes in the Collegio del Cambio, the Piazza IV Novembre, the Etruscan Gate, the Etruscan Well, Raphael’s fresco in San Severino and the Oratorio di San Bernardino di Siena, a church with with a beautifully carved facade. You can buy a single ticket that gives you access to the National Gallery, the Collegio del Cambio, the Etruscan Well and San Severio, the other places can be seen without an entrance ticket. You see all this and more by following the Perugia City Walk in my book, Circular Walks On The Tuscany Umbria Border, available as an e-book from Amazon.

The Underground City

This is all that remains of the papal fortress, the Rocca Paolina. When Pope Paul III took over Perugia he built his fortress directly over the houses of the previous rulers, the Baglioni family. The roofs were removed and huge brick vaults were built over the top, creating storerooms and, I assume, dungeons to put the Pope’s enemies in. The architect also moved an Etruscan gate, the Porta Marzia, and incorporated it into the lower wall of the fortress.

The Underground City in Perugia, Umbria

The Underground City in Perugia, Umbria

The National Gallery Of Umbria

Located on the third floor of Palazzo dei Priori, the National Gallery of Umbria houses a fine collection of art with works by Duccio di Buoninsegna, Gentile da Fabriano, Fra’ Angelico, Piero della Francesca, Pinturicchio and Perugino. In addition, one of the rooms is frescoed with a medieval city scape of Perugia that shows fortified towers similar to those in San Gimignano in Tuscany.

The Annunciation on the Perugia altarpiece by Piero della Francesca

The Annunciation on the Perugia altarpiece

Collegio del Cambio

Also located in the Palazzo dei Priori (separate ground floor entrance), the room of the Collegio del Cambio (money changers guild) has Perugino’s finest fresco in Perugia. Covering four walls and the ceiling, the fresco juxtaposes figures from classical history with those from the bible set against unmistakably Umbrian landscapes.

Perugino's frescoes in the Collegio del Cambio, Perugia

Frescoes in the Collegio del Cambio, Perugia

Piazza IV Novembre

The unfinished side of the Duomo and the end of the Palazzo di Priori face each other across Perugia’s main square, Piazza IV Novembre, the centre is dominated by the Fontana Maggiore, a medieval fountain that was supplied by a specially built aqueduct. The panels of the fountain are carved with scenes from Aesop’s Fables, zodiacal signs and labours of the month as well as scenes from the bible.

The Palazzo deo Priori seen from Piazza IV novembre, Perugia

The Palazzo deo Priori seen from Piazza IV novembre, Perugia

Etruscan Well

A short walk past the front of the Duomo takes you to the Pozzo Etrusco, or Etruscan Well. It is unknown how deep this massive structure is as it has become partially filled with rubble. You can stand on a bridge across the well (six people at a time) and admire the Etruscan’s engineering techniques.

The Etruscan Well was the principle source of water for the city in ancient times

The Etruscan Well in Perugia, Umbria

Raphael’s Fresco In San Severo

Another short walk takes you to the church of San Severo where you will find a fresco by the young Raphael. In fact, he only completed the top half of the painting before being called away to work in Siena, Florence and Rome, never to return. After his death, his elderly teacher, Perugino, completed the fresco but if you compare it to the frescoes in the Collegio del Cambio he was clearly past his prime.

The Etruscan Gate

The north entrance to the centro storico is through a massive Etruscan gate, the giant blocks in the lower wall are typical of Etruscan walls. If you look at the top of the gate you will see that the adopted son of Julius Caesar, Octavian, or Augustus Caesar had “Avgvstvs Pervsia” carved into the arch when he captured the city after a siege.

Etruscan Gate in Perugia, Umbria, italy

The northern entrance to Perugia, the Etruscan Gate.

Medieval Aqueduct

From here, it’s a few hundred metres to the medieval aqueduct, now a pedestrian walkway that takes you back up to the city centre. The aqueduct brought water from the nearby hills to the north of Perugia and supplied the Fontana Maggiore with water. The water must have been piped in a giant siphon because it would have flowed uphill at the end of the aqueduct.

The medieval aqueduct in Perugia, now a pedestrian walkway

The medieval aqueduct in Perugia, now a pedestrian walkway

Oratorio di San Bernardino

Carved by a Florentine sculptor, Agostino di Duccio, the facade of this church depicts scenes from the life of San Bernardino di Siena. Cleverly, the carvings change from relief (flat) at eye level, to a much more pronounced three dimensional shape as your eye travels upwards. This compensates for the effect of perspective and makes it easier to pick out details higher up.

Facade of the Oratorio di San Bernardino in Perugia

Facade of the Oratorio di San Bernardino in Perugia

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Saturday Market In Cortona, Tuscany

Yesterday I took my niece Jess to Cortona, a hill town in Cortona. On Saturdays there is a small market in Piazza Signorelli. I was also keen to try out my new wide angle and telephoto lenses, fortunately for me, Cortona is a beautiful town and there was plenty of subject matter to shoot.

Piazza della Repubblica, Cortona, Tuscany

Piazza della Repubblica, Cortona, Tuscany

After taking a few shots in the Piazza della Repubblica we moved on to Piazza Signorelli and the market.

Vegetables at the Cortona Saturday market

Vegetables at the Cortona Saturday market

Afterwards it was time for a coffee and a hot chocolate in La Saletta, a bar on via Nazionale, Cortona’s main shopping street.

Cappuccino at Bar La saletta in Cortona

Cappuccino at Bar La saletta in Cortona

We decided it was time for a visit to the Museo Diocesano to see Fra’ Angelico’s magnificent altarpiece and paintings by Luca Signorelli and futurist artist Gino Severini.

Fra Angelico's Annunciation in Cortona

Fra Angelico’s Annunciation in Cortona

It was now time for the steep walk up Cortona’s streets towards the church of Santa Margherita and the Medici fortress at the top of the town.

The view from above Santa Margherita, Cortona

The view from above Santa Margherita, Cortona

Catching our breath at the top, we wandered into Santa Margherita where the body of Cortona’s patron saint lies in a glass coffin.

The body of Santa Margherita, Cortona

The body of Santa Margherita, Cortona

Then it was one final climb to the Medici Fortress for some incredible views across the Val di Chiana and of Lake Trasimeno. From here we wandered down a different path back to the via Nazionale, our visit to Cortona was at an end.

A Fiat 500 in the streets of Cortona

A Fiat 500 in the streets of Cortona

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Orvieto, Umbria, Italy

The town of Orvieto in southern Umbria is perched high on top of the plug of an ancient volcano. The volcano has long since disappeared but the plug, comprising a soft porous rock known as tufa remains. The Etruscans recognised the site as a highly defensible position and built a city there.

The town of Orvieto in Umbria seen from a distance

The town of Orvieto in Umbria

The most impressive building in Orvieto is the Duomo, a cathedral to rival those of many larger cities. The facade is carved with scenes from the bible and topped with relatively modern gold mosaics that catch the sunlight in a most impressive manner.

The Duomo in Orvieto, Umbria

The Duomo in Orvieto

Inside, Luca Signorelli’s greatest fresco cycle is painted on the wall of the right chapel of the transept, the Cappella di San Brizio. The frescoes were painted around the turn of the 1500’s when predictions of impending apocalypse were rife, they show scenes from the Book of Revelations and demonstrate Luca Signorelli’s mastery of the the nude human body. These frescoes were what really sparked my interest in Renaissance art and I recommend anyone to go and see them.

A detail from Luca Signorelli's frescoes in the San Brizio chapel inside Orvieto Duomo

A detail from Luca Signorelli’s frescoes in the San Brizio chapel

After the sack of Rome by German troops in the 1520’s, the pope decided to create a bolthole in Orvieto and ordered the construction of a huge well, the Pozzo di San Patrizio. The design is such that two wide spiral staircases sit on top of each other with a connecting bridge at the bottom, the idea being that pack animals could go down and back up in a one way system, ensuring a steady supply of water. The well was never used, but the exorbitant entrance fee ensures that modern day Orvieto gets a steady supply of revenue, if not water, from this papal white elephant.

The Pozzo di San Patrizio in Orvieto, Umbria

The Pozzo di San Patrizio in Orvieto, Umbria

There are great views from the walls of Orvieto (in reality, the walls are a few blocks of tufa placed on top of an already sheer tufa cliff). Another great viewpoint is from the Torre del Moro, as with the well, there are a lot of steps.

Tufa buildings and the cliff face in Orvieto, Umbria

Tufa buildings and the cliff face in Orvieto, Umbria

Orvieto can be easily reached from our villas on the Tuscany Umbria border, The average time is about an hour and a half by car or an hour by train from Terontola di Cortona station. If you get the train, use the funicular railway from the station up to the town, from there the same ticket allows you to catch a bus to the Duomo.

The Funicular Railway, Orvieto, Umbria

The Funicular, Orvieto, Umbria

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Luca Signorelli’s Frescoes In San Crescentino, Morra, Umbria

I’ve been to visit the frescoes in Morra by Cortonese (from Cortona) Renaissance artist Luca Signorelli a couple of times. Morra is  tucked away in the remoter parts of the Tuscany Umbria border. its 15 minutes’ drive to the nearest small town (Trestina) and the first time I went there it was the custodian’s day off.

The crucifixion painted by Luca Signorelli, in the church of San Crescentino, Morra

The crucifixion by Luca Signorelli, San Crescentino, Morra

Of course, the second time I went I had forgotten the opening times and tried to find out in advance, this proved impossible from Città di Castello’s tourist website and I resorted to the phone, no one knew the opening times.


I was relieved to find that the church was open, but disappointed not to be allowed to take photos. Luckily for readers of this blog I returned to the church once more for a Christmas carol service when I took these shots (without flash photography, you will be pleased to know).

Opening Times For Luca Signorelli's Morra Frescoes.

Opening Times For Luca Signorelli’s Morra Frescoes.


Despite what is says on the poster about going to Città di Castello to get a ticket, you can go straight to the custodian’s house (down the track from the church) and she will sell you a ticket and open the church. It doesn’t say anything about closing days but maybe to avoid disappointment,  it’s best to go on weekends between 9.30-12.30 and 15.30-18.30.

If you have been to see the frescoes in Arezzo by Luca Signorelli’s teacher, Piero della Francesca, you might be struck by the similarity between Piero’s battle scenes and Signorelli’s crucifixion. The strongly foreshortened horses and crowded soldiers are features of both paintings.