Prior to this trip, I haven’t spent much time in Umbria, a small, land-locked region just southeast of Tuscany. Many years ago I spent one day in Orvieto, but that’s it. Because of this I came here hoping to make the best of my time on the ground, limited though it is. Umbria is comprised primarily of small hill towns, and even if those towns have train lines, the station isn’t necessarily close to the city. Consequently, I really could benefit from the use of a car to see them, but that’s a challenge since I’m by myself. I’ve driven alone in Italy, but that’s not always easy. Most of my in-car time in Italy has been spent with Dan. When the two of us drive together here, we (Dan, really) have still had three tickets and one towed car, so for a proper and safe visit to Umbria I probably need him to be healthy.
As a compromise I decided for this trip to stay in Perugia and take the train elsewhere. That’s how I got to Assisi yesterday. That decision, however created a different problem. Other than Assisi, I’m discovering that there aren’t a lot of other hill towns that connect quickly to Perugia by train. Bus is an option, but I’ve previously made my feelings on buses very clear.
The weather is fixing all of that. It rained today, and there’s rain all over forecast for my time here. With rain seeming inevitable, I decided it would be best to stay in Perugia so that I would be free to seek shelter in the hotel when needed.
It was a fruitful day, in any case. I started off by heading west, to the edge of town where the facade of San Francesco greeted me. I was surprised to find that I couldn’t enter, as this is apparently just a shell of the church she used to be.
Just next door, however, was the Oratorio of San Bernardino. The facade is considered the best sculpture in the city, which makes the point that this really isn’t a major center of the arts.
Turning around, I headed east again, passing Porta Trasimeno, one of the ancient Etruscan entrance points to the city. Standing next door is Madonna delle Luce.
Continuing on to the center of town, I didn’t know quite where I was going when I found the ancient Etruscan well.
The Etruscans built this well to provide water for the city, and it is honestly pretty remarkable if you consider what they accomplished. The street level opening was rebuilt in the middle ages, but by going into the well we are able to personally bear witness to their workmanship firsthand, and see the travertine stones and massive supporting keyed beams that support the top of the structure.
That said, it was seriously a bit boring. If you absolutely must see everything ancient that you can, then this is the thing for you. I, on the other hand, think that perhaps I have found the limits of what I’m interested in seeing.
The walk along the ancient aqueduct, on the other hand, was pretty spectacular.
As was seeing the ancient Etruscan Arch. That’s more travertine stone at the bottom of the arch, which dates to the 2nd century BC. The upper part was reconstructed by the Roman conquerors in 40 BC.
And here’s yet another arch – the Arch of St. Herculanus. The original Etruscan piers still stand, although the pointed arch was added in the middle ages.
This last arch was passed on my way to the National Archaeology Museum of Umbria, which houses an amazing array of Etruscan and prehistoric relics.
These cinerary urns were carved to hold the ashes of the dead, and date to 1-200 BC.
But this vessel is different. It goes back much, much further. It is neolithic in origin, dating to the 5th or 6th millennium BC, with a linear design that is apparently typical of that era.
And I guess this is what I came to this museum for, and perhaps what I always find even when I don’t actively seek it out. Ancient workmanship made by an early human. This isn’t the oldest that I have seen, but it is still remarkable to me. Seven thousand years ago somebody shaped it and fired it, and still here it is. I’ve hit on this theme before, but that continuity of humankind over time speaks to my spirit.
As I consider this, I would think that by this standard the visit well would have been more impressive, and perhaps even spiritual. But it wasn’t. It was still pretty lame.
As I stepped out of the museum, the rains were beginning again. I pulled my hood down low on my face, shielding my eyes against the weather, and I began my climb back up the hill into the historic center of town. In my solitude I was ruminative. Today I had, quite by accident, criss-crossed this town, going in and out of gates that were built by the earliest inhabitants of this city. I had climbed and descended on ancient stairs. I had walked along a Roman aqueduct.
And the day was barely half gone.