Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Città della Pieve & Castiglione del Lago

The quiet walled hilltown of Città della Pieve is famous primarily because it was the birthplace of the great Renaissance painter Pietro Vannuci, known as Perugino, who taught the very young Raphael, and also because it's the home of Colin Firth and his Italian wife Livia Giuggioli. Although we were able to get sightings of some beautiful Perugino's, Colin and Livia proved more elusive. Known for its very narrow streets, Città della Pieve claims to have the narrowest in Italy — Vicolo Baciadonne — which is just 31-inches wide, and so named because it's possible to lean out a window on one side and kiss the woman, or the guy, leaning out on the opposite side!

The narrowest street in Italy at just 31-inches wide!

Citta della Pieve's late Medieval Duomo e Torre Civica

The main square - Piazza Plebiscito

One of the tiny streets along the Medieval wall

Belonging to the city-state of Chiusi during the Etruscan and Roman periods, Città della Pieve frequently suffered from barbarian invasions. It finally developed as a fortified town around 1000 AD, centred around the Cathedral of Santi Gervasio e Protasio, which is home to two Perugino frescoes. Among the works of art preserved inside the church is the Baptism of Christ, a typical example of Perugino’s later style, with characters who appear quite contemplative with a sweet airy landscapes behind them fading into the horizon. His perspective is much freer than his first master, Piero della Francesca, who was very adept at manipulating the principals of perspective like in his fresco cycle, Legend of the True Cross in Arezzo.

Il Perugino's Baptism of Christ painted in 1540 in the Cathedral of Santi Gervasio e Protasio

Closeup of the painting

Above the high altar of the 7th-century Cathedral of Santi Gervasio e Protasio in Citta della Pieve

Also in the Cathedral is Perugino's 'Madonna in Glory among the Saints Gervasius, Protasius, Peter, and Paul', painted in 1514, which seems more icon-like than narrative. Designed using pure neoclassical symmetry, the pious duo stand between two red banners which depict the emblem of the town held by its two patron Saints. 

Il Perugino's 'Madonna in Gloria fra Santi' painted in 1514

The sumptuous 16th and 17th-century interior of Saint Gervasio e Protasio

Ornate organ above the entrance to the Cathedral

A plump little putti in one of the chapels

The highly ornate ceiling of the same chapel

Clock tower of the Medieval Church of St. Agostino 

Door to Palazza dell Corgno that now houses the Biblioteca Communale

We kept our eyes open all day for a glimpse of Colin Firth, but no luck today. Firth's wife, Italian producer Livia Giuggioli, was born and raised in Rome but loves Città della Pieve, as that's where her parents now live. She and Firth have also built their own house in Città, where they take refuge when their work commitments permit. Frequent diners at Il Pozzetta in our tiny village of Moiano, we didn't get any Colin-sightings there either, but there's always tomorrow. We now know where he eats!

Citta della Pieve monument to those fallen in the Great war: 1915-1918

Having spent most of the day in Citta della Pieve, we went home to change at Casa del Lauro, then headed out for dinner to the lovely nearby lakeside town of Castiglione del Lago. Set out on a long promontory on the western shore of the Lake Trasimeno, the town was fortified by both the Etruscans and the Romans because of its strategic position. Fought over by Perugia and the Tuscans, the city was often destroyed then rebuilt, but took it's current shape in the 13th-century when Frederick II Hohenstaufen completely rebuilt the town, including the defensive fortress of Rocco del Leone. Considered to be one of the finest examples of Medieval military architecture in Italy, Castiglione del Lago is also i Borghi più belli d'Italia, one of the most beautiful villages of Italy.

Castiglione del Lago 

Rocco del Leone

One of the few restaurants open in Castiglione del Lago during the off-season was a charming restaurants beside Hotel Miralago called Monna Lisa. With a freshwater menu that featured local fish and seafood from their doorstep of Lago Trasimeno, the meal was as local to say the least. Starting with a light Umbrian white wine from Trebbiano, a wine growing region between Perugia and Spoleto, the choice was perfect with the dishes we ordered. We began with two pasta dishes, both featuring local shellfish such as Spaghetti alle Vongole Veraci and Pici Tiratia a Mano al Pesto Leggero e Frutti di Mare, which was a handmade twisted pasta in a light pesto with local mussels an clams. To follow we had to order a local favourite, Tegamaccio, which a fragrant fish stew made from all types of fish from Lake Trasimeno, as well as Spigola incrosta di sale, local sea bream baked in a salt crust and served with Patata al Rosmarino.

We ordered a local Umbrian wine with dinner, from the wine growing region of Trebbiano

Spaghetti alle Vongole Veraci
Pici Tiratia a Mano al Pesto Leggero e Frutti di Mare

Tagamaccio - Zuppa di pesce di Lago Trasimeno

Spigola incrosta di sale

Patata arrosto al rosmarino

As we left the restaurant, the sun had set and the stars were beginning to shine in all of their brilliance, with Jupiter and Venus stealing the show in the night sky next to the crescent moon. Reflected on the inky waters of Lake Trasimeno, with the twinkling lights of the lakeside town of Magione on the opposite shore, we stood in wonderment at how beautiful the whole scene was, and what a special place Umbria has become in our hearts — i provincia più belli d'Italia.

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