Key to Umbria

This site is a detailed travel guide to the cultural history of the cities of Umbria, based on what you can still actually see and experience there.  My definition of “city” is a bit odd - I generally mean a place that once had its own bishop, albeit that many of these early dioceses were subsequently absorbed by larger neighbours.  There are over 20 of them, an extraordinarily high number for such a relatively small area, and they are well-connected by public transport links. The site is in construction: only about two thirds of the cities I intend to cover are complete, but I am continually adding more pages.   Click on the first link ‘Cities’ above to see if the places that interest you are there yet.

When I want to use the site during a visit, I “suck” it into my iPad using Sitesucker.  This makes it into an off-line guide that is easily carried around busy and often boiling city streets.  If you prefer to print some of it onto paper, you might have a problem if you are using Windows, because the site is built on a Mac.  However, the browser ‘Safari for Windows’ will probably work.

I hope that you enjoy using ‘Key to Umbria’, and would be grateful for feedback, particularly if you find errors or problems, or if  you have issues relating to your proprietary rights - see the contact link above and (for my approach to proprietary rights) the last paragraph and the yellow box below.

About Umbria

Umbria is the most central region of Italy and the only one south of the river Po without a coastline.  (Sorry, but I could not bear to roll out the cliché about the Green Heart of Italy, although I did paint it deep green in the map above).  Before the Roman conquest of the 3rd century BC, this region was occupied by a group of people who shared a common Indo-European language that we now called Umbrian.  However, it was not until 7 BC, when the Emperor Augustus reorganised the administration of peninsular Italy, that a region known as Umbria formally came into being: according to Pliny the Elder, Augustus’ Sixth Region covered ‘Umbria and the Gallic territory in the vicinity of Ariminum [modern Rimini]’, although, by this time, the people of the region were thoroughly ‘Romanised’.  Modern Umbria, which came into existence in 1861, includes all of the cities of ancient Umbria, as well as:

  1. ‘Etruscan’ Orvieto and Perugia; and

  2. ‘Sabine’ Norcia.

I discuss their ancient history in a section that can be reached via my page Key to Ancient Umbria (which I plan to publish as a separate site at some point).

Almost all of these ancient settlements became dioceses in early Christian times, albeit that the smaller ones were subsequently swallowed up by larger neighbours.  The character and culture of each of them is rooted in this ancient history, and all are rewarding places to visit.  Many of them remained their independence into the 15th of 16th century and still contain examples of their own distinctive cultures in the Medieval and Renaissance periods, as well as cultural relics of their incorporation into the Papal States.

The modern region is divided into two provinces:

  1. Perugia, the regional capital in the north, is a bustling university city in an imposing hill-top location, with great museums and lots of interesting monuments, including the remains of almost the entire circuit of its Etruscan walls.  

  1. Terni, the provincial capital in the south, is a modern city with excellent transport links, a new museum complex and (if you look hard enough) a number of really interesting monuments that miraculously survived the ravages of industrialisation in the 19th century and the bombardment of World War II.

Navigating the Site

Your first port of call will probably be the links in the yellow box at the top of this page, which will take you to:

  1. ‘Cities’: with links to each of the cities covered in the site and, for each of them, to:

  2. city walks and excursions;

  3. local saints (every city has a patron saint and a group of other who often continue to play an important role in the culture of their cities;

  4. local history, which generally includes a period of independence followed by absorption by local neighbours before eventual submission to papal Rome;

  5. local artists, of whom there are a surprising number, even in the smaller cities;

  6. important monuments; and

  7. museums.   

  8. ‘History’: my pages here are embryonic.  One day, I will build a cultural history of each city from the “stones up”, using their surviving monuments, archeological treasures and works of art and draw on this material here to capture the history of Umbria as a whole.  However, that remains a long-term and somewhat daunting aspiration.

  9. ‘Art’: my pages on the ‘foreign’ artists who made their ark on the cities of Umbria alongside the home-grown artists who are described in the individual city pages.

  10. ‘Hagiography’: I plan at some point move these pages and the pages on the saints of individual cities into a separate  ‘Key to the Saints of Umbria’., although this will not happen for some time.

Finally, you cannot visit Italy without thinking about food.  After each visit, I update my home pages on the cities that I have visited with my new favourite hotels, restaurants and bars.  The latter are particularly important at breakfast: it is generally advisable to avoid the breakfast offered by hotels in favour of a cappuccino and corneto (croissant) in the bar round the corner.  When it comes to restaurants, I make no claim to comprehensive coverage.  Remember also that your tastes may well be different from mine and, in any case, things change, often at an alarming rate (which can be heart-breaking).

Other Guides to Umbria

If you read Italian, the most comprehensive guide to Umbria is the eponymous volume in the Touring Club Italiano's series on the regions of Italy.  It has been in print (for very good reason) since 1922 - I am using the 7th edition, which was published in 2008.

One of the best English guides to the region is:

Ian Campbell Ross, “Umbria: A Cultural History”. 

There is a lovely new edition (2012) that is now available on Amazon.  It does exactly what it says on the tin: it begins with a cultural history of the entire region, followed by a gazetteer for visitors to the individual towns and cities. 

However, while the printed word is great, particularly for bedtime reading, I find that the web has some important advantages:

  1. content can be quickly edited and republished, which makes it easily corrected and updated;

  2. it is easily searched via the internet, which removes the need for an index; and

  3. pages can be linked (even off-line if you use an application like Sitesucker, as mentioned above), so you can easily move from (say) a page on a church to one on a particular painting in it and then to another on the artist who painted it.

The best internet resource on Umbria is to be found in the relevant section of Bill Thayer’s personal site, which is hosted by the University of Chicago.  It is of particular value if you want to understand how to appreciate Latin inscriptions.  In addition (like Heineken lager), it reaches the parts that others do not reach: I think that Bill must have travelled and described every Umbrian byroad known to man.   (Bill kindly gave me the HTML snippet for the “search this site” function below, for which I am extremely grateful).

Guides to individual cities are suggested on the relevant city home pages in this site.

About me

I often get emails asking me (almost always politely) who I am.  For the record: I was once a scientist and have a PhD in solid state physics (although these days I can barely remember how to change an electric socket).  I worked on energy policy for a political party in the UK, before moving to the more lucrative world of investment banking, where I specialised on privatisation.  That allowed me to retire at the ripe old age of 50 and to award myself the ‘job’ of my dreams (albeit that it is unpaid in any way).  The result is this website, on which I have been working for the last 20 years (and counting).

Citation Policy and Proprietary Rights

It will be abundantly clear to any user of the site that I am completely unqualified in history (particularly ancient history and art history), hagiography etc, and that my web design skills are not great.  I do my best to be accurate, comprehensive and up-to-date, but please do not rely on my success in these respects.  

Nothing in this site constitutes original research: I rely exclusively on other people’s  published work for the information that I present, but the mistakes I make are entirely mine.  If you want to cite the information in an academic context (e.g. in Wikipedia entries, school or college essays etc), please read and then cite the relevant  original work.

Travel guides like mine generally avoid in-text citations, probably because they distract rather than inform the audience for which guides are designed.  I use them where they add to the interest of the narrative for non-expert readers.  For example, in my page on Pier Matteo d’ Amelia, I use in-text citation to describe the fascinating scholarly process that led to the “discovery” of this important artist.  In addition, I am always happy to use them when a particular scholar asks me to do so.

Search This Site

Something has gone wrong: if you want to search this site, you have to scroll to the very bottom of the page.  The anonymous white box there still works - put in the word you are searching for and press return.  However, it has developed a mind of its own and refuses to let me move it to a more convenient location.