Nov. 11th: Assisi, Perugia

We awoke in our gloriously toasty beds to the sound of pouring rain and howling wind beating against the windowpanes of our hotel rooms in a torrential deluge that would have Noah rounding up the cats and turtles that plague this land. We contemplated the optional church expedition set to leave at 8:30, but thoughts of the magnificent buildings (and the impending loss of the very real phenomena that are brownie points) were enough to get us out of bed and onto our rainboot-clad feet.


Assisi, like many an English adjective, is interesting. The sky is grey; the buildings are greyer; its elder-dominant population is greyest of all. The cobblestone streets hurt your feet, and the uneven terrain requires much draining uphill climbing. By all accounts, it should be a miserable town. And yet its churches, whatever your religious beliefs may be, are categorically uplifting. Our morning was spent in two churches: the Church of Santa Chiara, and the Baptistery of Saint Francis of Assisi. Both buildings were composed of a lavishly adorned space of worship – or two – and a crypt housing the remains of their patron saints. Stained glass windows painted the stone floors with blues and reds. The Baptistery in particular was decorated with beautiful frescoes depicting scenes of Saint Francis’ life, Jesus’ miracles, and starry nights. The storm outside was momentarily forgotten, and we were content to soak in the churches that attract thousands of pilgrims a year.


Happiness truly is fleeting. The biting rain, cold, and weariness hit us with a whopping thump as soon as we exited the confines of Santa Chiara, and would not relent for the next thirty minutes that were spent waiting for Carlo di Bus in what was most certainly a swamp disguised as a curbside. Not even group cuddling made it better. You know something is bad when it is immune to cuddles. But then we rode the minibus with the leaking air conditioning system for an hour through the U-bends of the Umbrian mountains, and it was all uphill from there.


I speak for everyone when I say that we had been excited about visiting Perugia for months. Sure, it is a site highly celebrated for its Archaic remains and its brutal demolition during the period of the Civil Wars, but Perugia stands as a monumental site in our minds for being the meeting place of Roger and Imogen Ulrich (PhD), world’s undisputed cutest couple. Perhaps, we thought, Perugia would tease another romance into bloom. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we all attended an FSP wedding some years from now, catered by Bridal-Cake McNutty & Co.? Maybe in some nice Venetian town. I hear those have the best masonry.


We rolled into Perugia chased by the rain clouds, and quickly huddled into the “minimetro,” an underground streetcar with no driver that would slowly lift us to the summit of the town. The teetering automaton astonishingly delivered us in one piece to the city center, where we were greeted by none other than our good friend Giampiero. The last we’d seen of him was in Arezzo, where he had used his knowledge as a professore of archaeologia to guide us through the local museum. GP must have detected the despondent looks on our faces, because he quickly led us into the warm and covered halls of the Umbra Institute of Archaeology. After hugging the radiators and being warmed by a scalding cup of coffee, we enjoyed a leisurely lunch of pasta, meat and cooked vegetables. We like Giampiero. We like him a whole lot.


Eventually we were reminded of why we had come to Perugia in the first place. Giampiero had used his powers to open the local museum for us, and we dutifully filed after him into the cloister that is now used to house ancient relics. Perugia, or Perusia in Latin, stands at the foot of the Apennine mountain range. Finds of imported materials such as amber have indicated that it was a major trade crossroads in ancient times, and that much of the local population migrated with the seasons. The region consequently boasts a rich collection of Villanovan, Etruscan, Umbrian, and Roman-period artifacts originating from far beyond Perugia’s boundaries. Among its trophies is a the only extant example of a procession scene on an Etruscan sarcophagus; graffiti cursing Octavian; a lapis bearing the fourth longest surviving Etruscan inscription; and a currus, or war chariot, with Greek mythological reliefs that is often cited as evidence for the triumphal procession originating in Etruria. At one point in our lecture, Teddy spotted a rainbow peeking through the parting clouds outside and, in his excitement, threw the windows open, putting us all at the mercy of icy gusts of wind. It was out of control.


After visiting a replica of a third-century tomb accommodating fifty members of the Cai Cutu clan, GP led us out of the museum and back onto the chilly streets. The sly man must have deduced that the way to our hearts was through our stomachs, because we were then led to a chocolate store and set loose for 15 minutes. Perugia, we were told, is internationally acclaimed for its chocolates, and it would be a waste not to take advantage of the opportunity. We are nothing if not obedient, and helped to bolster the crumbling Italian economy with our purchases.


With full stomachs and big grins, we made our way to our bus and drove through the night back to grey, charming Assisi. After a satisfying dinner and feeble attempts at journaling and researching, we went to bed dreaming of Saint Francis, and a rainy Venetian wedding.





Photos alla Kathleen:

Roman Temple meets Catholic Church. #spolia

Umbrellas in tow, the group makes its way to the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi.

Even the statue is sad about the weather.

Medieval alleyways are windy, dark, and steep. But they are pretty to look at!

View from outside the Albergo La Rocca. You can't really appreciate the turbulent gusts of wind the photographer had to endure to take this photo.

Huddling for warmth while we wait for the bus. Dov'è Carlo?

Cinerary urn with a Vanth and the Etruscan version of a werewolf.

Giampiero discusses the different funerary practices of the Etruscans and Umbrians.

Plan of a Roman tomb that we walked right by. GP doesn't really like the Roman stuff…


#spiffy #museums #stillraining

And the Prof. tries to get the perfect shot.

This is cool. A little bit of reconstruction, but nevertheless cool.

The fourth longest surviving Etruscan inscription.

BK: “THAT'S a bear?!?!”

GP: ” Yes, well it's not alive.”

Tomb of the Cai Cutu clan. So many cinerary urns.

The decoration of the Porta Marzia was incorporated into the facade of the Rocca Paolina.

Brett puts us all to shame with his spaghetti sandwich. In the words of Carlo, “molto Americano.”



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