Perugia is the capital city of the Italian region of Umbria, situated about 10 miles northeast of Rome and a little more than 50 miles southeast of Siena. With a history reaching back to Etruscan times, Perugia is a major center of medieval art. Modern Perugia, Italy, is known as a home to several universities, the Umbria Jazz Festival, and Perugian chocolate.
First mentioned as “Perusia” in historical writings in approximately 310 BC, Perugia was originally settled by the Umbri people. In 251 AD, it was resettled as Colonia Vibia Augusta Perusia. After periods of rule by Roman and Papal authorities, it finally asserted its independence in the 11th century. Over the centuries, Perugia endured power struggles between noble families, intimidation from the papacy, seizure by the France, Austria, and the Roman Empire, and multiple earthquakes. Perugia and Umbria were unified as part of Italy in September of 1860.
In 1540, Farnese Pope Paolo III captured Perugia and built his own papal fortress named Rocca Paolina. To assert his power, he used the existing houses, churches, and monasteries of the town’s medieval quarter as the foundation for his new fortress. While Rocca Paolina has since been destroyed, the vaulted brick ceilings that formed its foundation protected the medieval neighborhood underneath. Today, Underground Perugia is considered one of the best-preserved remnants of Italian history, using a series of escalators to guide people along this medieval pathway. Although the famous catacombs in Rome served a different purpose, both these sites offer unusual glimpses of ancient times beneath the foundations of the modern cities.
Porta Marzia (Marzia Gate)
One of Perugia’s best examples of Etruscan architecture is the Porta Marzia, or Marzia Gate. This Etruscan city gate was built in the third century BC and later incorporated into the city walls. Located near what remains of Rocca Paolina, Porta Marzia is adorned with carvings of horses and columns. Palazzo dei Priori (Town Hall) & Fontana Maggiore Palazzo dei Priori is Perugia’s town hall and one of the city’s most impressive structures. Dating back to the early 14th century, this building is situated prominently on Piazza IV Novembre, along Corso Vannucci, the main street through medieval Perugia. Built in Italian Gothic style, the historic building boasts tripartite fenestration and crenellations along the roof line. The building displays many historically significant emblems, including a griffin, the emblem of Perugia, Italy, a bronze casting of the Imperial Guelf Lion from the 15th century, and the keys to neighboring Siena. Inside, the Palazzo dei Priori features the Municipal Library, the National Gallery of Umbria, and Sala dei Notari, a beautifully frescoed meeting room that is popular for Italy destination weddings.
Situated in Piazza IV Novembre, between Palazzo dei Priori and Cathedral of San Lorenzo, is Fontana Maggiore. Built in the late thirteenth century, this large fountain commemorates the aqueduct that brought water from the nearby mountain to the city of Perugia, Italy. (Roman aqueducts can be found all over what was once the Roman Empire - from the Greek island of Crete in the Mediterranean to the Pont du Gard in the south of France.) The two lower basins are made of Carrara marble, each adorned with statues and carvings. Overhead, the upper goblet-shaped basin boasts three large bronze statues. These sculptures represent a myriad of subjects, including stories from the Bible, Roman history, and Zodiac signs.
Cathedral of San Lorenzo
Perugia’s most prominent church, Cathedral of San Lorenzo, is situated along Piazza IV Novembre. Many other churches have been built on this site throughout Perugia’s history, leaving evidence of their construction behind. These include the Loggia di Braccio from the early Renaissance, a section of Roman wall, and the basement of a bell tower. The current Cathedral of San Lorenzo was built between 1345 and the late 18th century. However, the main façade was never completed. The interior contains several prominent sacred works of art, including Deposition from the Cross by Federico Barocci.
Perugia hotels and other forms of accommodation offer just about everything for every taste and budget. In the luxury five-star category, you will find the Brufani Palace, set on the highest hill overlooking the city. The structure was built in the 1800s, and it features a glass-bottom swimming pool that reveals Estruscan ruins from Rocca Paolina. The rooms and suites are opulently appointed, and the restaurant served acclaimed gourmet fare. On the other end of the scale are some unique hostels, many set in old farmhouses on the outskirts of the city. Spagnoli Youth Hostel is an example, and it is located quite near train and bus lines so transportation is not an issue. There are single and double rooms as well as dorm rooms for six to eight people. There are also numerous lodging options, from budget and deluxe to intimate bed and breakfast inns, located right in the historic center of the city.