PERUGIA – A BRIEF HISTORIC AND GEOGRAPHICAL OUTLINE
Cultural centre of remarkable importance and capital of both the province of Perugia and the Umbrian region. Due to the extraordinary richness of its artistic heritage, Perugia represents a tourist destination of great interest, which is the reason why many commercial, crafts and industrial activities have flourished over the centuries.
Perugia was once an Etruscan city of great importance as many historical monuments testify; among these the Etruscan Arch, Marzia Gate, the Etruscan Well. During the 2nd century A.D. emperor Octavian Augustus besieged and conquered the city giving it the name of “Augusta Perusia”
After the fall of the Roman Empire the city underwent many invasions till it became a free “Comune”
( independent town) during the 11th century A.D. It is during this period that Perugia acquired the peculiar urban asset that still marks the city nowadays: splendid palaces were built and the city was enriched with sculptures and paintings of noteworthy value.
During those same decades the city was often divided by civil struggles caused by the ambition of renowned families such as the Michelotti, Piccinino, Fortebraccio and Baglioni. The last mentioned family prevailed and controlled Perugia until the year 1531 A.D. when the bloody Salt War broke out with the people of Perugia fighting the Papal State which wanted to impose a new tax on salt. The Papal State won the war and occupied the city. Pope Paolo III Farnese, as a symbol of the Church dominion over the city, built an imposing fortress following the plans of Antonio da Sangallo the Young. The fortress was called Rocca Paolina . The Papal power lasted unopposed until 1860 when Perugia joined the kingdom of Italy.
THE CITY OF PERUGIA TODAY
The most important Square of the city is Piazza IV Novembre where the most significant monuments are located, such as the Cathedral of Saint Lawrence, the fifteenth century Loggia of Braccio Fortebraccio, the Priori Palace and the Maggiore Fountain.
La Fontana Maggiore è una delle fontane duecentesche più famose d’Italia, opera del perugino Frà Bevignate. I rilievi delle ventiquattro facce della vasca inferiore raffigurano Adamo ed Eva, Arti liberali, Mesi dell’anno ecc. sono attribuiti a Nicola Pisano, mentre le statue agli angoli della vasca superiore e le ninfe bronzee al figlio Giovanni.
The Cathedral is a gothic construction built between 1345 and 1490; on its left hand side opens a portal designed by G. Alessi ( 1568) joined by a bronze statue of Julius III by V. Danti, the greatest Umbrian sculptor of the Sixteenth century. In the interior, the most important works of art are: the Deposition by F. Barocci ( 1569) located above the altar of the chapel of Saint Bernardino; The Virgin of the Grazie, painting of G. di Paolo ( third right pillar); the wooden choir of G. da Maiano and D. del Tasso ( apse). The Duomo Museum displays a “Pietà” ( painted by B. Caporatli – 1486) and a “Virgin on her throne and saints ” from Luca Signorelli.
The Fontana Maggiore is one of the most famous fountains built in Italy during the 13th century, designed by Fra Bevignate of Perugia. The bas-reliefs of the twenty four faces of the inferior basin (Adam and Eve, Liberal arts, Months of the year etc.) are attributed to Nicola Pisano; the sculptures at the corners and the bronze nymphs of the upper basin are attributed to his son Giovanni.
The town Hall or the Palace of the Priori is a superb medieval structure built in the gothic style between 1293 and 1297 and enlarged in the 16th century. The façade, the oldest part of the palace, opens up to a great portal surmounted by two bronze statues of the 13th century representing the Perugia Griffin and the Guelph Lion. On the first floor there is the superb “Sala dei Notari” decorated with magnificent frescoes by followers of P. Cavallini ( 13th century). On the third floor we find the National Gallery of Umbria, the most important collection of Umbrian paintings. On the ground floor we find the interesting Sala del Collegio della Mercanzia ( the Guild of Merchants) with rare wooden panels in the late gothic style ( 16th century).
Along Corso Vannucci ( main downtown street ) we find the Collegio del Cambio ( the guild of Money-changers) where one can admire the beautiful renaissance room “Udienza del Cambio” decorated with frescoes by Perugino. Also at the beginning of Corso Vannucci we find the Palace of the Collegio dei Notari erected in 1446 with a delightful gothic portal and mullioned windows (trifore). At the end of the road, on the left hand side, there is the Donini Palace, elegant construction of the 18th century.
Walking back, towards Palazzo dei Priori, begins one of the most characteristic streets of Perugia: Via dei Priori, which passes through the heart of the old medieval quarter; along this street we find the gothic church of St. Agatha that has traces of 13th century frescoes and the baroque church of St. Phillip Neri the has an “Immaculate” by Pietro da Cortona.
At the end of Via dei Priori we find the tall Torre degli Sciri ( Sciri Tower) built during the 14th century. Further on opens a small square that takes its name from the 16th century church of the Virgin of the Light ( Madonna della Luce); on the left there is the St. Lucia Arch or Trasimena Gate, old Etruscan gate revised during the Middle Ages.
On the nearby Piazza di S. Francesco ( St. Francis Square) one can see the 3rd. century church of St. Francis at Prato (San Francesco al Prato) and the St. Bernard Oratory (Oratorio di San Bernardino) the most important renaissance work of the city and a masterpiece of the Florentine Agostino di Duccio ( 1457 – 61). On the right hand side we find the old convent of the Franciscans now house of the Academy of Fine Arts. Returning to the beginning of Via dei Priori we are back to the Piazza IV Novembre from where begins the Via delle Volte ( Street of the Vaults) one of the most picturesque streets of the city; here we find the Oratory of the Maesta delle Volte, rebuilt in the 16th century that houses in its interior a Madonna col Bambino ( Virgin with child) attributed to the Master of the Vaults ( XVI century).
Other points of interest include:
- The St. Dominic and St. Peter churches
- National Archaeological Museum of Umbria