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and some of the streets were blocked by means of
huge iron chains which stretched across the road,
preventing the passage of horse or carts, from one
house to another. One can still see the hooks and
holes belonging to these somewhat barbaric defences
in some of the more solid houses of Perugia ; and
in the neighbouring town of Spello the chains
themselves have been left hanging to one of the
houses. In 1276 we read that the law of closing
the city gates was abolished, but a little later on it
was again found necessary to barricade the town at
nightfall, and during some of the fights between the
nobles in 1400 and in 15CO we hear of the difficulties
which one or the other party had to combat in the
" chains across their path."

Strange scattered relics of this nest of mediseval man
linger and come down to us even in the nineteenth
century. Amongst these are the porte del mortuccio,
or doors of the dead. All the best houses had these
doors alongside of their house-doors, but they are
bricked up now and quite disused, and might easily
be ignored in passing through the streets. The porta
del mortuccio is tall, narrow, and pointed at the top ;
it is, indeed, just wide enough to pass a coffin through.
It seems that in very early days, even so far back
as the Etruscans, there was a superstition that through
the door where Death had passed. Death must enter
in again. By building a separate door, which was
only used by the dead, the spirit of Death passed
out with the corpse, the narrow door was closely
locked behind it, and the safety of the living was
secured, as far as the living can secure, from Death.
Other charming details of the mediaeval city are the

The City of Perugia

liouse doors. They arc built of travertine or p'letra
Serena^ and have little garlands of flowers and fruit
bound with ribbons, and delicate friezes above
them. Some of them have very beautiful Latin in-
scriptions, whicli show a strong religious sentiment.
We quote a few of them here : Janua coeli (door of
heaven, over a church) ; Pulchra janua uhi honesta
domus (beautiful the door of the house which is
honest) ; yl Deo cuncla — a domino omnia (all things
from God) ; Or a ut vivas et Deo vives (pray to
live and thou shalt live to God) ; Prius mori
quam fadari (die rather than be disgraced) ; ///
parv'is qu'ies (in small things peace) ; Sol'icitudo mater
dtvitiarum (carefulness is the mother of riches) ;
Ecce spes I.H.S. mea semper (Christ always my

Over one or two of the doorways in Perugia you
will fmd almost byzantine bits of tracery with figures
of unknown animals — beasts of the Apocalypse — carved
in grey travertine all round them. One of the very
earliest bits of mediaeval building is the fragment of a
door of this sort, belonging to the first palace of the
Priori, which is now almost buried in the more modern
buildings of the sixteenth century. There is another
amusing procession of beasts over a gateway below
8. Ercolano. These odd animal friezes were probably
iirst designed for some sort of closed market where
beasts were sold, and tlie old Pescheria has medallions
of lasche on its walls.

As for the ways and manners of the people who
inhabited this mediaeval city, Ciatti and other writers
supply us with plenty of fantastic information :

"Perugia lies beneath the sign of the Lion and of
the Virgin," Ciatti says in his account, which is as
usual, unlike the account of anybody else, and highly
entertaining, " and from this cause it comes that the


T'hc Stoj-y of Perugia

city is called Leon'tna ^ and Sanguiiiia, and the habits
of the Pcrugians are neither luxurious nor effeminate.
Like those of whom Siderius writes, they came forth
strong in war, they delighted in fish, were humorous in
speech, swift in counsel, and loved the law of the
Pope. . . . The women," he continues with a certain
monastic indifference to female charm, " were not
beautiful, although Siderius calls them elegant ; - the
genius of Perugia was ever more inclined to the
exercise of arms than the cultivation of beauty, and
many famous captains have brought fame to this their
native city through their brave deeds. In Tuscany the
Sienese have the reputation of being frivolous, the
Pisans astute and malicious, the Florentines slow and
serious, and the Perugians ferocious and of a warlike

Concerning the clothes and the feasts of this com-
bative race of people who lived for warfare rather than
for delight, we hear that they were accustomed to wear
a great deal of fur, the nobles using pelisses of martin
and of sable, the poor, sheep or foxes' skins. The
fur tippets still worn by the canons of cathedrals in
Italian towns in winter are probably a remnant of these
days. For the rest an adaptation of the Roman tunic
was perhaps worn by the men, whilst the women kept
to the tradition of the Etruscan headgear. " Victuals,"

1 In old days the Perugians actually kept a caged lion in
their public palace, so Ciatti was probably quite correct as far
as this first statement is concerned.

■- Ciatti was neither fair nor true to the women of the town.
The Madonnas of Bonfigli and Perugino disprove his testimony
in the sixteenth century even as our own eyes contradict it in
the nineteenth. We have only to go to mass in S. Lorenzo
to realise the simple grace of the young Umbrian peasant girls,
and in some of her palaces we may have the happiness of seeing
some of the fairest women, antl certainly the most elegant, of
modern Italy,

The City oj' Pcn/g'ui

Bonazzi tells us, " were of a coarse description, more
lard and pepper was eaten in those days, than meat
and coffee in ours. But at the feasts of the priests
and nobles an incredible quantity of exquisite viands
was consumed ; great animals stuffed with dainties were
cooked entire, and monstrous pasties served at table,
from which, when the knife touched tiiem, a living
and jovial dwarf jumped out upon the table, unex))ectcd
and to the great delight of all the company."
* * ^ * * *

But from the Age of Darkness men awoke both in
their manners and in their buildings. Perugia of
the Middle Ages shook the sleep from off her heavy
eyelids, and with that passionate impulse towards Light
which was perhaps the secret of the Renaissance, she
too strove toward the Beautiful, and in a hurried,
fevered fashion, she too decked herself with fairer
things than castle towers and hovels. The fourteenth
and the fifteenth centuries were, as we know, the Age
of Gold in later art, and Perugia, in spite of all her
tumults, in spite of her feuds, and even her passionate
religious abstinences, woke with the waking world.
Most of her churches, and most of those monuments
which mark her as a point for travellers, date from that
])eriod. " And at that time," says the chronicler
I'abretti, " there was so great a building going on in
different parts of the city that neither mortar nor stones
nor masons could have been procured even for money,
unless a number of Lombards had come in to build.
And tiiey were building the palace of the Priori
(Palazzo Pubblico), they were building S. Lorenzo,
Santa Maria dei Servi, S. Domcnico, S. Francesco,
the houses of Messer Raniero . . . the tower of the
Palazzo, and numerous other houses of private citizens
all at that same time."

But it was not merely a love of beauty which
G 97

Ihe Story of Perugia

prompted the Perugians to this sudden departure in
the way of architecture ; the spirit of the great saint
of Umbria had much to do with it. In Perugian
chronicles and histories we find a strange silence about
the influence of S. Francis on a city which was only
separated by some fourteen miles from Assisi. Yet
it is not possible that so strong a force as that of
this man's preaching could have been kept outside the
walls of the neighbour town, and Ciatti declares that at
one time nearly a third part of the inhabitants of
Perugia took the Franciscan habit. In 15CO and
1600 there were more than fifty convents in Perugia,
many of which had sixty to eighty inhabitants, but that
was during the rule of the popes. Of the great
period of building in the fourteenth century, which
included many fine churches and convents, the
buildings of the people and not of the priests remain
intact. The splendid Palazzo Pubblico and Pisano's
fountain in the square belong to this period. But
because the work of the Renaissance is so conspicuous
and charming we have described it in another place, and
in our description of the town have lingered rather over
the fragments of the Etruscan and the mediseval city.

As it would be impossible in this small book to give
anything beyond a cursory sketch of all the different
buildings of the town, we have decided to deal with
the details of some of the principal ones, leaving the
rest For the discovery of those whose leisure and intelli-
gence will always make such exploration a delight.
There is no lack of excellent guide-books to Perugia.
Of the fuller and rarer ones we would mention those
of Siepi and Orsini and the more modern one of Count
Rossi Scotti. These are in Italian. Murray's last
edition of "Central Italy" contains clear and excellent
general information, and there are several small local
guides — the best of these by Lupatelli — which can be

T'he City of Perugia

had in the hotel. No one who really desires to study
the town should fail to read the fascinating books of
its best lover, Annibalc Mariotti ; and the works of
Conestabile and Vermiglioli are invaluable for students.
All these can be had in the public library of the town
where there is a pleasant quiet room in which to study
them, and the excessive courtesy of whose head — Count
Vincenzo Ansidci — makes research an easy pleasure

The topography of Perugia is simple: "The entire
city," says Mariotti, "since the very earliest days, was
divided into five quarters or rion/, which from the centre,
that is to say, the highest point of the town, and with as
gentle an incline as the condition of the ground allows,
stretch out in five different directions like so many sun-
beams across the mountain side. These gates are :
Porta Sole to the east, Porta Susanna to the west
(formerly called Trasimene), Porta S. Angela
(formerly Porta Augusta) to the north, Porta S.
Pietro to the south, and Porta Eburnea to the south-
west. Each of these separate gates bears its own
armorial design and colour. Porta Sole is white and
bears a sun with rays ; Porta Susanna blue, with a
chain ; Porta S. Angelo red, with a branch of
arbutus ; Porta S. Pietro yellow, with a balance, and
Porta Eburnea green, with a pilgrim's staff."

Owing to the extraordinary situation of the town
there are hardly any level squares or streets. The
two considerable flat open spaces on either side of the
Prefettura, the site of the Prefettura itself and of the
hotel Brufani are artilicial spaces, the result of the
demolition of Paul III.'s fortress (see chap. vi.). We
imagine that many intelligent persons have passed through
the comfortable hotel of Perugia not realising at all the
artificial nature of the ground on which it stands. The
Corso and the Piazza di S. Lorenzo may be said to be


The Story of Perugia

the heart of the town ; its pulse beats a Httle lower
down in the Piazza Sopraniuro where fruit and vege-
tables are sold and where there is a perpetual market-
day.^ The other big open square is the Piazza
d'Armi, on a lower level of the hill and to the south
of the town. There the cattle fair is held on Tuesdays,
and there the beautiful white Umbrian oxen, with skins
that are liner than the cattle of the plain, and the grey
Umbrian pigs, and tall Umbrian men and girls can be
seen in all their glory. Here too is the convent of S.
Giuliana with its splendid cloisters and little Gothic
campanile, and here above all do the soldiers of Perugia
practice their bands, their horses, and their bugles every

There are three things lacking in Perugia, as there
are naturally in all hill-cities, and these are gardens,
carriages, and running water. But all these things
have been delightfully overcome by the inhabitants.
As a matter of fact, there are plenty of hidden gardens,
behind the houses in the town, but in almost every
house you will see that iron sockets or rings have
been fastened to the walls below the windows, and in

' This square is one of the most charming points in the city.
In old days it was a very disreputai)le and untidy suburban
square or tiioroughfare. The last witcii burned in Perugia
was burned in this place. All the refuse of the city was cast
out upon it. In this way. and upheld by the first Etruscan wall,
an artificial space of flat land was procured which the houses to
the east of tlie piazza now occupy, but these were always threat-
ened by destruction as the soil below them was constantly giving
way, and one of Fortebraccio's great works was the bolstering
up of these houses with strong arches and walls from below.
The reason of the name of the square is that its pavement
actually covers the Etruscan wall. It is a beautiful and pictur-
esque place, full of fine detail. The buildings of the old
University (1483) have almost an echo of Oxford in their
square window frames ; the palace of the Capitano del Popolu
has a grand door in pietra serena with the figure of Justice
carved above it.




The City of Perugia

these, pots of geraniums, daisies, and carnations are hung
and tended with excessive care. Some of the better
palaces or convents have stone brackets in the shape of
shells for window gardens, and even in the dusk of
grim December days the old stone walls seem green
and living. The lack of carriages is really only felt
in winter when the inhabitants seem to fall for the
while asleep, leaving the streets to assume their
mediaeval character, and to be swept by winter
hurricanes ; in spring and summer the place is gay
enough ; indeed the Corso is a very good specimen of
Umbrian Piccadilly on a fme May evening, and there
are plenty of carriages in the tourist season. But go
into any palace of Perugia and you will find the sedan
chairs of our grandfatliers ready for instant use, proving
that carriages are quite a modern innovation in the town.

The need of running water is, of course, the most serious
point about so big and prosperous a city, and a running
stream to turn a paper mill would heal more ills than all
her pictures and her wide calm view. The great rushing
stream of the Tiber down at the foot of the hill seems
like a sort of solemn mockery to people who have only
wells and a little river from the hill to drink from and
wash their linen in. We have realized this on winter
nights when the Tiber was out in flood in the moon-
light down below our windows, and small drops freez-
ing, one by one, on Pisano's fountain behind us in the

Yet the town is prosperous. Its inhabitants and
those of the commune have increased by some six
thousand since the days of its first prosperity.
Commerce, it is true, seems somewhat at a standstill.
There is the commerce of travellers, which is by no
means inconsiderable ; and there is the commerce of
Mind. This last Perugia has always had since the
days when she grew powerful, and the University of


T'he St 07')' oj Perugia

Perugia has played a constant and important part
throughout her annals. It was founded in the end of
the fifteenth century, and its management, Hke other
things in the city, was chiefly in the hands of the
people and their representatives, the Priori. Five
Savi, one from each rione, were told off to regulate
its affairs and to elect its professors. Urban VIII.
brought it under the management of the Church, but
this did not in any way alter its first rules and laws.
We hear that " the Emperor Charles IV. bestowed
upon the University all those distinctions which were
enjoyed by the most celebrated universities of the
Empire," and Napoleon confirmed these and added
much to the magnificence of Perugia's univeisity. It
was during the Napoleonic rule that the college was
transferred from its old quarters in the Piazza Sopra-
muro to the vast new buildings at Montemorcino.
Her three main branches of study are jurisprudence,
science, and theology. Several of the popes studied
in Perugia. S. Thomas Aquinas lectured here, and
many distinguished men of science and of law passed
through their first schools in the Umbrian hill town.
The two great lawyers Baldo Baldeschi and Bartolo
Alfani were students in the University of Perugia,
and Alberico Gentile, who afterwards lectured in
Oxford, studied here at the University. The affairs
of war were never allowed to interfere with those of
the mind, and we hear that a guarantee of safe conduct
was given to any scholar who came here from a

The arts of peace, such as the manufacture of wool
and silken stuffs, were known in the middle ages in
spite of the want of water (the hand and foot looms
of Perugia are almost prehistoric in their simplicity),
and in 1297 we hear of the magistrates of Perugia
sending an embassy into Lombardy to fetch two friars

The City of Perugia

thence who should teach their townsfolk the secrets of
weaving. This art was zealously kept up for many
years, but finally it fell into decay. A branch of it
has lately been revived by a Milanese lady, and thanks
to her efforts we arc again able to buy the strange flame-
patterned carpets which we find on the altars of so many
of the older Umbrian churches.

Except in the Corso, life seems very quiet in
Perugia. Yet though there is poverty, there is none
of that feeling of decayed splendour, of arrested magni-
ficence and luxury which we feel in so many cities
of Italy. The Perugians were probably never very
luxurious. There are one or two beautiful old palaces,
but they are plain to look at, and the palaces of the
nobles had a bad time of it and were constantly pulled
to bits as their different owners were driven into the
country. The town is a town of a strong people ; it
is dignified and peaceful. When the wind is not
battering about its roofs and howling through its
narrow streets one becomes aware of an extraordinary

And in that silence the questions rise — one cannot
stiffe them : Where are the BeccJnr'ini and where are
the RaspantW Are the Baglioni really dead, and the
Oddi, where are they? And the Flagellants and the
Penitentl — have even their ghosts departed ? Will not
a pope ride in at the gates with his nephews and his
cardinals and take up peaceful quarters in the grim
Canonica ? Will not some warlike Abbot come and
batter down the church towers to build himself a
])alace ? Will no procession pass us with a banner of
Bonfigli, and women wailing that the plague should be
removed ? . . .

The snow falls silently upon the roads in winter.
No blood of nobles stains it. In May all Umbria is


The Story of Perugia

green with crops. No condottiere comes to trample
down the corn. But high upon her hill-top Perugia
stands as she stood then, and in her silence seems to
wait for something yet to come.

* * * * *

Before closing this chapter we would once again
repeat that no one with a few hours' leisure should
forbear to wander round the outer walls of the town
before leaving Perugia. With only one break : that
which is formed by the deep ravine (or bnlagnjo in the
local dialect) between Porta Sant Antonio and Porta
S. Angelo, one can walk on quite good paths and roads
under the outer walls of the entire city. The Via della
Cuparella is a pleasant lane reached by passing out
through Porta Eburnea. It skirts under the mediasval
and Etruscan walls to the west of the town and re-
enters the city again a little below Porta Susanna.
This lane is one of the most sheltered corners in
Perugia, and .we have wandered up and down it in the
early days of January, and found the sleepy lizards basking
on its banks and yellow aconites in all the furrows. The
trees bud early there ; their young green shimmers like
a vision of immortal youth against the grim walls of
the mediaeval and Etruscan city up beyond.

Another charming walk is that along the eastern
side of the town, passing out through Porta S. Ercolano
and through the Corso away along the broad high-road
to the convent of Monte Luce, which is quite one of
the most fascinating buildings of Perugia, with its front
of white and rosy marble, its court-yard and rose
window, and the splendid block of its nunnery walls
covering the crest of the hill behind the church.
The convent was built early in the thirteenth century
on the site, some say, of an Etruscan temple dedicated
to the Goddess Feronia, but more probably in the
sacred wood or lucus from which it derived its name.
1 06

The City of Perugia

It was one of the most prosperous convents of the
country, and Mariotti gives a delightful account of a
visit paid by the great Farnese Pope, Paul III., to
its Abbess. The Pope, it seems, gave himself the
permission to visit the nuns, who received him,
*' marvelling," as the most learned nun of her day
relates, "that the Vicar of God on earth should so
far humiliate himself as to visit such vile servants, as
we were." The Pope came into the church and took


^ . ».r ^'m '''-^ i-lifi^^:^





the seat prepared for him in the choir, "all of his own
accord, without being helped by anybody, and like a
meek and gentle lamb . . . and being seated, he said to
the sisters, 'Come everyone of you and kiss my foot.' "
Then the Abbess and the sisters kissed the feet of the
Pope. A long conversation and exchange of compli-
ments followed, and finally at sundown the Pope
departed, " very greatly edified."

From Monte Luce one road winds down to the


The Story of Perugia

Tiber, passing under the charming villa of Count Rossi
Scotti, and another back into the city, first through a
strange row of wooden booths which are opened on the
feast day of Monte Luce (August 15th), and then on
through the walls of Monimaggiore's fortress and back
into the town through Porta S. Antonio.

But it is not possible to describe all the details of a
place which, like all fair things, should be explored
to be enjoyed. The discovery of its hidden lanes,
its little wayside villas, and its churches must be
left as it was left to the present writers, who
never will forget the tramps they took in the brown
winter twilight, the drives on warm spring afternoons
when honeysuckle scented all the hedges, and the
strange excited feelings which possessed them when
they found the hidden wayside house or chapel,
which had no written record to tell them who had
built it, and nothing but its own Perugian charm to
endear it to them, and to give it history.


chaptl;r V

Piilivzzo Pnbblico^ The Fountain^ und
the Diiomo

IN Professor Freeman's small sketch of Perugia he
says very truly that the most striking points of the
city — Mtruscan, Mcdia-val and Renaissance included —
are those which are gathered together in the Pia%%a
di San Loren-z,o.

The whole atmosphere of the square is unique and
impressive : individual as are the piazzas of the largest
and the smallest towns in Italy which have battled for
tlieir independence throughout the course of centuries.
The buildings have been changed about, burnt, battered
and rebuilt, but the spirit of the middle ages has never
really left them. Sitting on the steps of the Duomo we
seem to feel it creep up round our feet telling us stories
of a past which is immortal. It was here that the
people of Perugia fought and judged, preached and re-
pented, loved maybe, and most certainly hated. It was
in this little pulpit above our heads that S. Bernardino
])reached, and saw the books of necromancy and the
false hair of the ladies burned; here that the Podesta
and the people received ambassadors with deeds of sub-
mission from terrified neighbour towns. On the spikes
of the railing round the fountain one set of nobles stuck
tlie heads of others whom they hated, whom they
slaughtered ; and down those steps of the palazzo op-


The Story of Perugia

|)Osite, the great procesbion of tlie Priori came on days
of solemn ceremony, and uj) through the dark gateway
of the Canonica the Pope and all his cardinals passed in
when they arrived from Rome. Truly the spirit of the

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Online LibraryMargaret SymondsThe story of Perugia → online text (page 8 of 23)