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Umbria (11/1)

November 1st, 2006 · No Comments

On our way to Rome, we decided to detour through Umbria, visiting St. Francis’ Assisi and spending the night in romantic Spoleto.

Kimberly

For photos, click here.

Umbria

Neither of us had ever been to Umbria, and after having spent over a week in Tuscany, we were eager to see how the neighboring region compared to the famous hilltowns to the East. Perhaps it was the weather, but we didn’t fall in love with Umbria. (The temperature dropped about 15 degrees on November 1st, and it rained…whereas before it had been absolutely beautiful, perfect weather.) To be fair, we visited only two towns over one day, but still, we aren’t sold on Umbria.

Assisi was rather interesting, not just for the famous basilica, but also because it is so well preserved. Walking from the east to the west, you somewhat trace the history of the city. From the remains of the Roman arena, now well absorbed into the medieval architecture that followed–to the Temple of Minerva that was later converted into a church in the ninth century–to the courtyards, archways, and balconies of the 13th & 14th centuries, Assisi has quite a lot of charm.

And then there is the Basilica of St. Francis. St. Francis is the influential man who decided to live his life as Jesus did, giving all his possessions to the poor and spreading a message of tolerance and peace. He is the founder of the Order of Friars Minor, more commonly known as the Franciscans, and the patron saint of animals.

The Basilica, where he is buried, is frescoed from top to bottom by leading artists of the time, including Cimabue and Giotto. What is especially important about this art is its realism, revolutionary in its day. In the 1300s, it was radical to show real people in nature in realistic three dimensional situations. Giotto’s painting of the crucifixion is likely the first one since antiquity where people are expressing emotion. Unfortunately, a large part of the upper basilica was badly damaged during a 5.5-magnitude earthquake in 1997. Some of Giotto’s frescoes were shattered into over 300,000 fragments that had to be meticulously picked up and pieced back together. Somehow, they did it, and only a few patches remain unrestored.

We decided to spend the night in Spoleto because we had heard it was the “most romantic city” in Italy. It wasn’t. Parts of it were nice enough, but others felt quite run down. Perhaps if you visited during the annual festival, then it might have more character. The highlight of our stay was our beautiful hotel room with an amazing view of the illuminated Ponte delle Torri, a 13th century aqueduct. Getting to the Hotel Gattapone was another situation altogether though…it took us three drives around the one way streets of the city before we found the correct route there. (Google driving directions apparently thinks you can drive on the Ponte delle Torri…) Once we did find out way, navigating the tiny and perilously steep streets was terrifying! When we arrived at the hotel and saw our room, it was completely worth it though.

Tags: Italy

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