Perugia is a beautiful city in Umbria, chock-full of historic monuments, galleries, good restaurants and lively cafes. With its well-preserved old centre, summer jazz festival and hugely popular chocolate festival it is certainly one of the top tourist attractions in Italy.
Perugia’s origins go back to the Etruscan times when it was a large thriving city. It was conquered, burned, ransacked, re-built, passed from one ruler to another, and grew over centuries. Its turbulent history never vanquished the city’s unique character and its thirst for independency: it never sought imperial or papal support and a few popular uprisings made it clear.
The old center of Perugia is a pedestrian area and an absolute pleasure to walk around. Check out the medieval Cathedral of San Lorenzo, the 13th century fountain Fontana Maggiore and Palazzo dei Priori flanking the central square. The National Gallery of Umbrian art and Collegio del Cambio are worth a visit to see some fine masterpieces from Middle Ages and Renaissance, with Piero della Francesca, Pinturicchio and Perugino, Raphael’s teacher among them. The opulent church of San Pietro has an incredible collection of art by some of the greatest Renaissance masters and stunning cloisters.
Some fragments of the large Etruscan wall that once encircled the city have survived and can be seen today. The Etruscan Arch is one of the best preserved and is standing proudly near the Piazza Grimana. Another impressive testament to the millennial history of Perugia is the Etruscan well that was constructed 300 years before Christ. This wonder of hydraulic engineering is 37 meters deep served as a water reservoir for the ancient city dwellers.
Perugia is famous not only for its fine architecture and art but also for its delicious chocolate. The chocolate factory “Perugina” churns out millions of chocolates called “Bacini” (“kisses” in Italian) much loved by Italians. You can visit the factory, see the Willy Wonka’s colleagues at work and enjoy the all-you-can-eat chocolate tasting.
No amount of hours spent on art an history and visiting churches can convey the real atmosphere of Perugia better than the obligatory evening walk (“passegiata” in Italian) on Corso Vannucci. Only here you can see the ancient city come alive with the buzz of the cafes, shops, live music, chatty groups of students and friendly locals.
Photos by: Tommy Clark, Caterina Chimenti, Gian Luigi Perrella.