Key to Umbria

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Key to Ancient Umbria    Key to Rome


Part of  the ‘Adoration of the Magi’ (1504) by Perugino 

This fresco is still in its original site in the church of Santa Maria dei Bianchi, in Perugino’s native Città della Pieve 

In the background is an idealised view of Lake Trasimene from Città della Pieve 

From the website of the magazine ‘About 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 had its own bishop in the early Christian period, albeit that many of these original dioceses were subsequently absorbed by larger neighbours.  There are over 20 of them, an extraordinarily high number for such a relatively small area, and most of them retain their own patron saint, symbolising the survival of their originally distinct cultural identities.  This makes for a very interesting tour of the region, with most of the ‘cities’ connected by excellent transport links.

About Umbria


From the website of Equipe Notre Dame Settore Umbria 

Umbria is the most central region of Italy.  It is only one south of the river Po without a coastline and is often referred to as the ‘green heart of Italy’.  Before the Roman conquest of the 3rd century BC, most of this region was occupied by 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 came into being. 

The name subsequently fell into disuse until modern Umbria came into existence in 1861.  This modern region includes all of the cities of ancient Umbria that were west of the Apennines, as well as: ‘Etruscan’ Orvieto and Perugia; and ‘Sabine’ Norcia.  I discuss the  ancient history of all of these cities in a section that can be reached via the link in the yellow box above to my page ‘Key to Ancient Umbria’ (a group of pages that I plan to publish as a separate site at some point).  These cities had all become part of the Roman Empire by ca. 300 BC, and almost all of them became dioceses in early Christian times, albeit that the smaller ones were subsequently swallowed up by larger neighbours.  These enlarged cities and their respective ruling families retained their independence into the 15th or 16th century, when they were successively incorporated  into the Papal States.  All of them retain copious evidence of these successive phases in their development.

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 art galleries and lots of interesting monuments, including the remains of almost the entire circuit of its Etruscan walls.   

  2. 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 air 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 the following index pages.

  1. Cities

  2. The icons here take you to the home pages of the cities covered in the site.  For each of them, you can go to pages on:

  3. city walks and excursions;

  4. local saints (every city has a patron saint, often alongside a group of other saints who continue to play an important role in the local culture);

  5. local history, which generally spanned a period of independence after the fall of Rome, followed by absorption of the smaller ones by their larger neighbours and then absorption of these ‘bigger fish’ into the Papal States;

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

  7. important monuments; and

  8. museums and art galleries (again in surprising numbers, even though many objects of great cultural importance found their way, usually via Napoleonic France, to Rome).   

  9. History

  10. These pages here are embryonic.  One day, I will build a cultural history of each city’, using its surviving monuments, archeological treasures and works of art to capture to supplement the often scant documentary evidence, and then work that up into a history of Umbria as a whole.  However, that remains a long-term and somewhat daunting aspiration.  In the shorter term, I am in the process of moving much of the ancient history from this site to a new site, ‘Key to Ancient Umbria’.

  11. Art

  12. These pages describe works by the many ‘foreign’ artists who made their mark on the cities of Umbria, alongside the home-grown artists who are described in the individual city pages. 

  13. Hagiography

  14. I plan at some point move these pages and the pages on the saints of individual cities to a separate site on 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 (ISBN: RO60114530), which was in print (for very good reason) from 1922 until 2008 (7th edition) and still often appears on the second-hand market.  One of the best English guides to the region is the latest edition of Ian Campbell Ross’ “Umbria: A Cultural History”, which 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.  The best internet resource on Umbria is to be found in the relevant section of Bill Thayer’s site ‘LacusCurtius’, 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, it describes every Umbrian byroad known to man.   I have included useful guides to the individual Umbrian cities in the relevant city home pages.

About me 

I often get emails asking me (almost always politely) who I am.  I have been retired for 20 years, and have spent much of that time building this site as my retirement hobby.  I am not a qualified historian: 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 heavily on other people’s  published work for the information that I present, but the mistakes that I make are entirely mine.  If you want to cite the information in an academic context, please read and then cite the relevant  original 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 paragraph and the yellow box below.




I am extremely grateful to Bill Thayer for coding the ‘search this site’ function below.