A white town, perched high on a bleak hill, is one’s first impression of
Perugia. The position of the capital of Umbria is menacing, and without
any confirmation of history, one surmises that this was once a Roman
fortified town. After being built and held by the Etruscans, Perugia was
taken by the Roman host, and called Augusta Perusia. For centuries the
town was the terror of Umbria. Its citizens appear to have been a
superior order of bold banditti, continually making raids on the
surrounding towns and villages, and returning with spoil.
Mediæval traditions of Perugia are a romance of battle within and
without the town. At one time one faction held sway, at another a rival
faction gained the upper hand, and the natives spent much time and
energy in endeavouring to kill one another. The story is perhaps more
melodramatic than tragic. It reads almost like a novel of sensational
episodes, related by a fertile and imaginative writer in order to
thrill his readers.
Pope Paul III. was the subduer of Perugia. He dominated the town with a
citadel, now destroyed, and broke the power of its martial inhabitants
with the sword and the chain.
The surroundings of the town are bare, except for the olive groves which
give a cold green to a landscape somewhat devoid of warm colouring. You
either climb tediously up a long hill to the city, or ascend in an
incongruous electric tramcar. Entering the place, the chances are that
your sense of smell will be affronted somewhat rudely, for Perugia is
not very modern in its sanitary system.
Assisi is seen in the distance, bleached on its slope, and there are
far-off prospects of high mountains. The Prefeturra terrace is over
sixteen hundred feet above the sea, and is a fine view-point.
The setting of Perugia makes no appeal to the lover of sylvan charms. It
stands on an arid height, constantly attacked by the wind, and in dry
weather the town is very dusty. But there is hardly a narrow street nor
a corner without quaintness and beauty for the eye that can appreciate
them. Almost everywhere are glimpses of elegant spires and tall
The cathedral, dedicated to San Lorenzo, is a fourteenth-century
edifice, with an aged aspect, and not much beauty in its decorations. In
the Chapel of San Bernardino is “The Descent from the Cross,” by
Baroccio. This artist was a follower of Coreggio, fervent in his piety,
and devoted to his art. He was born in Urbino, and painted several
pictures in Rome. The example in the cathedral is one of his best-known
paintings. Signorelli designed an altarpiece for this church. Three
popes were buried here, Innocent III., Urban IV., and Martin IV.
Close to San Lorenzo is the Canonica, a palace of the popes, a huge,
heavy building. The fortress-like Palazzo Pubblico is still used as the
town hall. Its history is stirring. Many trials have been held in its
halls, and we read that culprits were sometimes hurled to death from one
of the windows.
The upper part of the Palazzo is a gallery of paintings, the works
representing the Umbrian School. Here we may study Perugino, Fiorenzo di
Lorenzo, Bonfigli, and other masters of the fifteenth century. Perugino
instituted a school of painting in the town. In the Sistine Chapel, in
Florence, we may see some of his frescoes. We shall see presently
examples of his works in other buildings in Perugia.
Fiorenzo di Lorenzo, Bonfigli, and Pinturicchio are represented in the
secular buildings and churches of the town. An altarpiece by Giannicola,
one of Perugino’s pupils, should be noticed.
But perhaps the most important of the paintings are Fra Angelico’s
“Madonna and Saints,” “Miracles of San Nicholas,” and “The
Perugino’s frescoes in the Exchange (Collegio del Cambio) are very
beautiful, depicting the virtues of illustrious Greeks and Romans.
“Perugino’s landscape backgrounds,” writes Mr Robert Clermont Witt, in
“How to look at Pictures,” “with their steep blue slopes and winding
valleys are as truly representative of the hill country about Perugia as
are Constable’s leafy lanes and homesteads of his beloved eastern
In the museum of the University, we shall find a number of antiquities
of pre-Roman and Roman times. The Church of San Severo must be visited,
for it contains a priceless early work by Raphael.
The Piazzi del Municipio was the scene of many conflicts in the
troublous days of Perugia. Here the austere Bernardino used to preach,
and here were held the pageants of the popes upon their visits to the
town. Around this piazzi is a network of narrow, ancient thoroughfares,
with many curious houses.
The Piazzi Sopramuro is one of the oldest parts of the town. In this
vicinity is the ornate, massive Church of San Domenico, with a
magnificent window, and the Decorated monument of Benedict XI.
Passing through the Porta San Pietro, we approach the Church of San
Pietro, considered to be the oldest sacred building in the town. It has
a splendidly ornamented choir, and in the sacristy are some remarkable
works of Perugino. The belfry of this church is of very graceful design.
About three miles from Perugia, towards Assisi, are some Etruscan tombs,
with buried chambers, a vestibule, and several statues. This monument is
of deep interest. It is a family cemetery of great antiquity, and the
carvings are of exquisite art.
- The Project Gutenberg EBook of Old Continental Towns, by Walter M. Gallichan