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Pro Art Club visit to Umbria and Tuscany

Castiglione del Lago has evolved on what used to be the fourth island on Trasimeno lake, in its south west region. Over the centuries it developed new piazze, houses, churches and other buildings.  The old part of the city, centro storico(historical center) of Castiglione del Lago is a well preserved medieval locality. In the town walls there are three gates, and inside the town there are three piazze and three churches. The Castello del Leone(“Fortress of the Lion”) was built by Emperor Frederic II. The pentagonal-shaped castle, was completed in 1247 CE by the monk-architect Elia from Cortona. The castle features square towers in four of its corners and a triangular shaped bastion, known as the Mastio and it was designed to give its owners strategic control over all of Lake Trasimeno. The castle has withstood a number of sieges over the subsequent centuries. The Palazzo del Comune (Town Hall) was built by Ascanio della Corgna in Renaissance style, designed by the architect Vignola. It is now a civic museum and gallery. The palazzo has by a long, covered corridor connecting to the castle. Renaissance era frescoes  and other decorations are in one of the most interesting rooms in the palazzo, the so-called Room of the Exploits of the overlord Ascanio della Corgna.

We visited our partner, Laboratorio del Cittadino (Italia Nostra) in Castiglione del Lago. It is a small walled medieval town on the hills above the Trasimeno lake, with 13 000 people, beautiful landscape and a view on the lake. Simone, our coordinator and guide, took us to Montepulchiano – also medieval town, probably the best known for Chianti Vino Nobile wine and Italian films (it’s one of the most picturesque medieval towns in Tuscany, used as a scenery of many films). We visited the underground city’s cellars- from the 14th and 16th centuries-  and tasted vintage Nobile wine and Pecorino cheese, an excellent choice and quality. We also visited De Chirico exhibition at the fortress/museum and shopped for their famous hand-made aromatic soaps – souvenirs. Our programme included learning about their indigenous farms, growing flagiolino (authentic beans from Tuscany) and other crops, since Etruscan time (5c. BC). The aim of this visit  was also to understand why Tuscany’s and Umbrian valleys and landscapes are UNESCO heritage sites. They are like painted canvases in bright, almost expressionists colours, idyllic and unmodified for centuries.

We also visited Perugia, the historic city centre, Palazzo dei Priori (Town Hall) and the Fountain, museum and the Etruscan aqueduct and walls. The city was one of the main Etruscan settlements (part of confederation of 12 cities), but it was destroyed by the Romans and other conquerors and continuously was rebuilt until the 11th c. when it became an independent city. The Old University was founded in 1308. Perugia was subdued to the Pope Paul III who staged the so called Salt War in the 16th c. when he increased taxes after one of the most disastrous famine years and people rebelled. The legend said that the Umbrian bread has no salt because of it. The city was built in early medieval time with tower-houses with small windows and connected by arches, giving the city an age-old look. We also visited underground cities, below Rocca Paulina fortress, which Pope Paul III built on rased houses and Etruscan buildings.  Perugians destroyed Rocca Paulina when regained their independence and joined other cities in forming Italy in the 19th c. Now it all remained as the underground city with one outside wall from the Etruscan time and the visitors use modern escalators taking them down into a depth of the city’s cool history.

One of the most effective public transport we saw in Perugia is mini-metro, like a roller-coaster, small travelling cabins without a driver, propelled by the electromagnetic field in the intervals of two minutes. It’s environmentally friendly and the most efficient public transport – very impressive, cheap and I wish we all have something like that (maybe in the future?).

Visit to Florence was short, one and a half day, but still nice to see these wonderful city museum. This time we visited St John’s Baptistery, the Roman style basilica in front of the Duomo Cathedral, which interior is adorned with the Byzantine style mosaics depicting stories from both the Old and New Testaments. Equally interesting is to see the doors outside the Baptistery with bronze relief’s masterly crafted.  

Visit to Umbria and Tuscany would not be complete without good food and wine- which we consumed more than we needed, thanks to our partners.