You can see it from the tangle of autostradas at the base of its hills. Perugia – regional capital of Umbria – fought over by ancient Umbri and Etruscans, conquered by Romans, then in the center of the struggle between Popes and Emperors. Perugia – at the heart of Umbria’s post-war development, home to Perugina – famous maker of the blue and silver wrapped, chocolate/hazelnut Baci (kisses).
I was having my doubts about Perugia. My preference is for Italy’s smaller hill towns, not the Florences or Sienas – choked by chaotic traffic with impossible parking, but La Posta di Confine’s Marco directed us to the giant parking lot at the base of the fortified city, and the wonder of the mini-metro – a very cool system of small modern gondolas that pull you right into the center of the city’s medieval heart.
A short walk up a narrow street and we spill out into the Piazza Grande. In front of us, the Palazzo dei Priori – center of Umbrian government since the 13th century, and still housing city hall. It also houses something else – the Galleria Nazionale dell Umbria. I have vague expectations of some dusty local artifacts when I pay for my ticket and climb the broad stone stairway to the second floor.
But the glitter of gold draws me to the triptych of the Madonna and Child and Stories from the Life of Christ (1270).
Wow! This room is worth the price of admission, I’m thinking, as I inspect the other glittering altarpieces and the reliefs in Carrara marble by the famous brothers Pisano, taken from the 13th century, three tier Fontana Maggiore, that anchors the Piazza Grande.
But then I move on to room 2, and it is just as glorious. And then room 3 and 4 and 5. I hardly believe what I am seeing.
In a trance, I tear myself away from each room’s treasures and move on to the next, for there are 40 rooms to see. Regional art from the 12th to the 19th centuries. There are masters whose names I recognize – Piero della Francesca, Duccio, Perugino -but there are hundreds of other glorious works by artists of equal genius.
Not knowing who else to thank for this glorious gift, I thank the woman who took my money, so grateful that we decided to buy tickets to see some ‘dusty local artifacts.’ Do click on the photos to enlarge.
Seeing great art certainly works up an appetite. The Pizzeria Mediterranea is a short walk away. Our first pizza in Italy. The pitcher of cold, slightly fizzy white wine is just right on this warm day. We order a second pitcher to go with the pizzas – from quatro formaggi to Napolitana. Perfect.