Will Work For Wine: Luca Signorelli’s Orvieto Duomo Contract and His Intoxicating, Apocalyptic Fresco Cycle

In 1499, Tuscan artist Luca Signorelli signed a contract to paint two remaining sections of the Cappella Nuova (new chapel) of the Duomo in the Umbrian town of Orvieto. By 1502 (or 1504, depending on which documentation you read), he had completed his “End of the World” fresco cycle in what is now known as the San Brizio Chapel. Continue reading Will Work For Wine: Luca Signorelli’s Orvieto Duomo Contract and His Intoxicating, Apocalyptic Fresco Cycle

One Year in Italy: 12 Months of Memories

Time Flies!
“Time Flies! Stop lying around and write something, will ya?” (Photo of a detail from the facade of Santa Maria dell’ Orazione e delle Morte on the Via Giulia, Rome)

Living in a new place, especially for an extended period of time, fills me with a sense of duty that I have to write everything down, commit every moment to memory, take a photo every day if not every hour. But eventually, that initial motivation turns to dread and an overwhelming feeling that I should be more mindful of my surroundings rather than living behind a lens or a computer screen.

The latter reason is why I have not written as much as I should have over this past year in Italy. Plus, I’ve just done so much in these 12 months! I’ve traveled all over Rome and its region Lazio, from the beaches to the lakes to hill towns in between, and have visited six other regions (with a goal of getting to all 20 before my time here comes to and end). Over the past year, I have also taken more than 7,000 photos — so much for not living behind a lens!

Despite that photo stat, I have been paying attention with my other senses: smelling the roasting chestnuts in winter, the jasmine bushes in spring, and the cool, damp aroma of underground spaces; listening to the rumble of trams, the clinking of cups and saucers, the fleeting bits of Italian conversations overheard in the markets and shops; and tasting the foods of each season. Touch has been more elusive, as Italy is full of things you want to touch but cannot — smooth marbles and mosaics and frescoes, tufts of moss growing out of crevices high on a Roman wall.

Of course, readers visit this blog to see Italy as much as learn about it. So, I wanted to share 12 photos over this past year, one for each month, to mark my transition from year one to year two. These are simple photos — most taken with an iPhone 5 — but they are special reminders for me. Read below for details.

Continue reading One Year in Italy: 12 Months of Memories

The Hill Towns of Umbria

AssisiNo matter where you go in Italy, if you find the highest point in a particular city or region you will likely find some interesting history. Umbria, the region right in the heart of central Italy, is particularly blessed with beautiful hill towns. Etruscans, Romans, and subsequent civilizations built many of their cities on hills in Umbria so as to defend from foreign invaders. Today, the foreign invaders to these elevated areas are tourists who are rewarded with magnificent views. Here is part 1 of several posts about Umbria’s hill towns:

Assisi: Home of Saint Francis
One of Italy’s most visited towns because of its ties to St. Francis, Italy’s patron saint, Assisi (see large photo above) always appears to be bathed in a pale golden-pink light. Even when it’s cloudy, the massive church of Saint Francis, seems to have a spotlight on it – a heavenly glow, even. Assisi is located in the heights of Monte Subasio. The best place in Assisi to enjoy the views of the valley below is from the Rocca Maggiore, the commanding 12C fortress that would, were it not for the Basilica San Francesco, dominate the Assisi skyline.

gubbio-palazzo consoliGubbio: Windswept, With a Famous Festival
Gubbio sits on the lowest slope of Mount Ingino, a mountain that is the site of a famous medieval festival – the Corsa dei Ceri – which takes place each year on May 15. The Corsa dei Ceri features three teams carrying giant candles (ceri) up the hill to the Saint Ubaldo church. The rest of the year, Gubbio’s charms lie in its stern, medieval facades, such as the Palazzo dei Consoli, which houses the Eugubine Tablets, bronze tablets engraved with the earliest known example of the ancient Umbrii language.

montefalcoMontefalco: The Balcony of Umbria
The town that gets the title as the “Balcony of Umbria” is Montefalco, a small town about 20 miles from Perugia (the regional capital). Surrounded by medieval walls, Montefalco has, in addition to its 360-degree panoramas of the Umbrian countryside, several claims to fame. Approximately eight saints were born in Umbria, including Saint Clare. A different saint – Saint Francis – is depicted in a lovely fresco cycle by Benozzo Gozzoli in the town’s Chiesa San Francesca. Finally, Montefalco, which lies in the middle of Umbria’s wine-growing region, is best known for its delicious Sagrantino.

orvietocathedralOrvieto: Just Plain Gorgeous
This is one of my favorite towns in all of Italy. An easy day trip from Rome, Orvieto stands atop a high, impregnable, volcanic plateau and is perhaps more impressive from the ground looking up than for the views of the valley that it affords. Known as Velzna when it was part of the Etruscan League, Orvieto is on the religious map because it was near the site of the Miracle of Transubstantiation (or, Corpus Christi), and, as a result, has a magnificent Gothic cathedral with frescoes by Luca Signorelli.

I know that I’ve left out a ton of other lovely Umbrian hill towns, such as Spoleto, Spello, Todi, and Trevi. I will cover those in a future post. In the meantime, tell me about your favorite Umbrian hill towns in the comments below.

One of the best ways to enjoy the region’s many beautiful hill towns is to rent a villa in Umbria. The area has all types of accommodation options, including farm stay agriturismo inns to private luxury villas with pools.

Want to know about some great views in Tuscany? Stay tuned for that, too! In the meantime, Jessica at the WhyGo Italy blog recently wrote about Rooms With A View in Florence.

Photos (top to bottom): fede_gen88, alexbarrow, zyance, sirvictor59.

Italy Article Round-Up

Time again to see what Italy travel articles have come out for fall.

New York Times
Cave Crusaders in Matera (examines a new boutique hotel in Matera, Basilicata)

The Telegraph (U.K.)
Tuscany: Driving the Italian Dream
Timed to Perfection (Visiting Italy during the “shoulder season”)
Orvieto: The Perfect Break
Discreet Charm in Northern Italy (Bolzano)

Sydney Morning Herald
Position of Strength (about Italy’s highest fort, Rocca Colascio, in L’Aquila, Abruzzo)
The Vesuvius Keeper (Pompeii)

The Independent (U.K.)
Italy: Spirit of Palladio (Vicenza)

The Guardian (U.K.)
10 Things to See in Venice (about the Venice Biennale of Architecture)

The Boston Globe
Sampling the Motherland (a culinary expedition through Sicily)

Dallas Morning News
Fast Cars, Haute Food in Northern Italy