Thursday, March 29, 2012

Paciano: The Most Beautiful Village in Umbria

Dating back to the 13th-century, the beautifully preserved walled hilltown of Paciano has been recognized by the European Community as one of the ten most liveable villages in Italy and has also been designated 'I Borghi più Belli d'Italia' — one of the most beautiful villages in Italy. Tucked away in the hills of Mount Petrarvella and surrounded by silver olive groves and cool wooded areas, Paciano is an absolute gem. The smallest village in Umbria, Paciano, with its historic Medieval castle gates, charming walkways and narrow cobblestone streets, was first inhabited by the Etruscans in the 7th-century BC, from which the remains of the temple dedicated to Janus can still be seen.

Paciano's 13th-century Porta Fiorentina

Small narrow streets wind through Paciano

We started our morning in the sleepy hilltown of Paciano, with a hot cappuccino and warm pastry from Il Baretta in Piazza Repubblica, the town's main square. Paciano, enclosed within its 14th-century walls, includes eight towers and three gates: Porta Fiorentina, Porta Perugina and Porta Rastrella. Throughout the Middle Ages the village was an important Castello guarding the Perugian domain over the Chiugi territory. Walking through the maze of streets in the town's historic centre, it's impossible not to become immersed in an atmosphere of centuries long past. 

Il Barretto on Paciano's main square

The perfect Italian breakfast — a hot cappuccino and warm pastry

Palazzo del Municipio bell tower

Wandering past the town's original Etruscan well, we came across the tiny Church of San Giuseppe, dating back from the 1300s. Paciano's oldest church, Chiesa San Giuseppe, has a painting of the town's Patron, the Madonna of Mercy from 1450 by the workshop of Benedetto Bonfigli. Amazingly, as recently as 2000, frescoes dating back to the 15th century were discovered behind a protective air cavity within the walls of the church! 

Paciano's original Etruscan well

14th century Chiesa di San Giuseppe, Pacano's oldest Church

15th century frescoes recently discovered behind an air cavity in the church

Just outside the historic centre and the gates of Porta Fiorentina, is the Chiesa di San Salvatore built before the 10th century, and according to the legend, stands on the site of an ancient pagan temple dedicated to Ceres. Above the central altar is the fabulous fresco by a pupil of Perugino, Giovanni Battista Caporali.  

Chiesa di San Salvatore (L) and the Gothic Palazzo del Podestà (R)

Fresco at the central altar is by a pupil of Perugino, Giovanni Battista Caporali

Ceiling detail of Chiesa di San Salvatore

To the southern edge of Paciano, nestled beside the Medieval Porto Rastrella, is the Rocca Buitoni, part of the town's original defensive walls. The Rocco has three floors, the first of which is sumptuously decorated with frescoes from the 16th century; and the remaining two floors housing historic chapels. Adjacent to the Rocco is an ancient oil mill that's been recently restored. Renowned for its fabulous olive groves, Paciano, which lies along the Strada del Vino e dell’Olio, also holds an annual Festa dell'Olio during the first ten days of December, to coincide with the harvest and pressing of the town's olives. 

Rocca Buitoni at Porto Rastrella

One of the most beautiful and well preserved medieval villages in Italy, Paciano, with its firm commitment to preserving its architectural, cultural and natural heritage, was elected in 1993 by the European Community, as an 'Ideal Village'. Immersed in the greenery of its surrounding valleys, and blessed with a simplicity of a life that continues to be tied to old traditions, Paciano's economy is still entirely based on agriculture and in particular on the cultivation of olives. An oasis of peace and tranquility, Paciano's position is truly unique — like a rare pearl one finds once in a lifetime.