Bevagna, in the heart of Umbria, is a classic medieval Italian town where you can get away from the crowds.
You'll find many interesting sites in a small place that's easy to explore. It's only about 600 meters long, 300 meters wide, and it's relatively flat. This is not one of those Italian hill towns that you have to climb up the steps and march up and down the hills. It's easy.
With rewarding sites, ranging from a grand piazza to an ancient Roman theater, and of course always those many little pedestrian lanes with many little shops that are so much fun to explore.
After walking around for a few hours in the little alleys and the main street, something most unusual occurred to me. There were not very many tourists here – it seemed like I was the only tourist in town. There were more cats than tourists.
We're here in November, which is certainly the off-season, but a perfect time to be visiting Umbria. In the high season, April through October, there'll be quite a few more people around, but still this is a small town. You might even get a few inquisitive stares from the locals, wondering why is this person walking in my little alley? You will see how quiet the town of Bevagna is.
Corso Amendola is one of the main streets, and on a weekday morning it's very quiet and peaceful, except for the odd scooter truck buzzing through these narrow lanes, ubiquitous little moped trucks you'll see everywhere.
It's delightful to experience this authentic life found in Umbria, especially at a time when overtourism has made many places too popular. Compared to its famous neighbor of Tuscany, Umbria is much less crowded, less visited, fewer people here, and yet with just as many beautiful towns and countryside to enjoy.
Umbria is in central Italy and Bevagna is in the center of Umbria, one of the many fine towns of this region, and nearby is Montefalco, where I stayed for a few days and came over to Bevagna on a 20-minute bus ride for a day trip, passing vineyards, showing off their fall colors. I'll have three hours to explore Bevagna, another one of the great medieval walled towns of Umbria. Let's see what you can do in three hours.
There is convenient bus service dropping you right in the heart of town. It is just one block from the bus stop to the main piazza, walking along the Via Gabriele Pagliochini, leading right into Piazza Filippo Silvestri. The first thing you see is a pizzeria in a Gothic building – just a taste of what's to come in our little walk through town.
For a small town, Bevagna truly has a monumental piazza, one of the finest in Umbria. Naturally, the largest building is the church of St. Michael the Archangel, built in the late 12th century as Bevagna's first Cathedral. The piazza is the central hub tying the town together, with that main street extending out both sides of it. We will save the quieter Corso Amendola for later as we take you from one end of town to the other.
Cafés are the social gathering place of any Italian town. And here we've got two cafés on either side of the piazza anchoring the corners of those two main streets. Bar Centrale leading off towards Corso Amendola, and Bar Colonna, leading us in the direction of Corso Matteotti where we shall begin our walking tour of this wonderful little town.
It's not easy to find a lot of information about Bevagna ahead of time. There are no single books about the town that you can find on Amazon, for example. So look for a gift shop in town and see what might be available.
Do you have a map of Bevagna, or a book, a guidebook? Ah, this, in English? Oh yeah. Wow. Guide. A guide, okay, yeah, yeah. Okay? English and Italian. That's fine, yeah, okay, I'll take that.
The booklet was helpful in listing the main sites and had a little map tucked inside. So, with that guide in our pocket, we're underway, meandering along into some side alleys, and back onto the main lane to continue. There is a Tourist Information Office on the main piazza, but it has limited and irregular hours, so you really need to do as much research on your own ahead of time before you go.
This page will really help you in analyzing what to do in Bevagna. My research was greatly assisted by the websites of both the Umbria and Bevagna tourist information offices. They have some good maps and descriptions of many of the important historic sites. You're going to find that this town is definitely worth the effort to get here and to explore.
They don't have a supermarket, but local food shops are selling some fresh produce, some of the grown in the area, which has rich agricultural lands all around it. Take a guess what the two main crops are – right, olives and grapes. In the spring they dig up truffles to go with your pasta. As in nearly all Italian towns, you'll find a pasta shop selling dried pasta as well as fresh homemade noodles. And it's not a restaurant. It's for takeout. Bring it home and cook it yourself
Shopping for local residents in these small towns is usually a daily activity – step out, get some fresh fruit, pay a visit to the bakery for bread and cookies. It's usually walking distance from your home in the small town, and a chance to socialize, see your neighbors. With a population of just 5000, it seems like everybody knows each other. Beyond the Old Town there are just a few scattered homes in what is mostly farmland – no shopping malls out there. The bigger city of Folingo is just a 12-minute bus ride away, with Montefalco also quite nearby.
We have now arrived at the very crossroads of downtown Bevagna where three streets come together, Matteotti, Santa Margarita and Crescimbeni. It is believed this junction was also the site of the ancient Roman forum. So yes, the Romans built a city here in a place that the Etruscans previously occupied, and probably the Umbri tribe before them. But it was the Romans who developed Bevagna into an administrative center they called Mevania, starting from the year 300 BC.
Bevagna played an important role in transportation, because the main street that we've been walking along was part of the via Flaminia, a 300 kilometer-long road from Rome to the Adriatic Sea. It was the most important Roman road to the north, bringing trade goods, including wheat, back into the city of Rome.
This major cross street is leading us in the direction towards Piazza Garibaldi, with its dramatic gate tower in the old medieval wall that we will get to shortly, after a detour into little side alleys. Some of these lanes in Bevagna are very narrow indeed.
You might feel a bit lost here, but you can't get in trouble. It's a tiny little neighborhood, so just relax and take a mindless stroll here wandering left or right. Within a few minutes, you'll probably come across another landmark to get your bearings, such as Piazza San Francesco.
The church of San Francesco was built at the end of the 13th century on what had probably been the location of a Roman temple, because it's the highest place in this relatively flat city. Inside it is an important relic, reputedly the stone on which St. Francis stood when he gave his Sermon to the Birds, just outside Bevagna.
That brings us to Piazza Garibaldi, a very pleasant place, with some restaurants and they're shops, you can buy some produce here, take a stroll – named after that great Italian hero who helped to unify the country in the late 19th century. One of the gates in the ancient medieval wall around Bevagna is Porta Cannara, and it has a fortified tower, quite a spectacular site.
Leaving the piazza, you'll pass an impressive building that had been a Roman temple, then transformed into a church, and still preserved with original stone semi-columns along the side, now part of a small hotel, Residenza d’Epoca.
We are going to wander over to another one of the gates through the medieval wall around Bevagna, strolling through a little tangle of lanes and alleys to get us over there, including a rare dead-end street.
Local drivers have a lot of experience and skill in squeezing their little cars through these narrow alleys. It's so interesting to see how these medieval-style homes have adapted to modern life by converting the ground floor room into a garage for a beautiful car. Locals can drive in the Old Town, but tourists need to leave their cars outside.
Arriving at Porta Foligno, the medieval gate leading off in the direction of that nearby city of Foligno. It's here where that ancient Roman road via Flaminia, left the city. There are still preserved sections of the original Roman wall, with the medieval wall built above it. Most of the original walls are still standing and extend for a total length of about 1700 meters.
Just on the other side of the wall, you are already in the countryside, in the vineyards, producing grapes for those excellent wines of the Bevagna and Montefalco regions, especially that unique Sagrantino grape. The street signs give you a quick idea of how close the other towns are – an easy drive or bus ride.
Outside the gate there is a war memorial in Parco Silvestri, dedicated to the fallen and missing in the first World War. The property is located inside a small Parco della Rimembranza, accessible by a small pedestrian gate, with a series of oak trees framing the monument.
Not only do we have portions of the Roman wall here, but just a few blocks over, we have some preservation of the ancient Roman theater. While most of the theater is gone now, the original semicircular shape is preserved in the buildings that were constructed on top of it. We got a short tour from the museum guide.
"We are on the steps of Roman theater. The theater is a semicircular structure. On top level of gallery, the house, under, the shop. See the rooftops, the structure is semicircular."
Then Philip took us inside to show a portion of the Roman theater that is still quite well-preserved. Like stepping back in time, you expect somebody to show up wearing a toga. It's a curved passageway with barrel-vaulted ceiling that would've been one of the entryways into the theater itself. It's quite rare for an ancient structure to have its roof still intact, which would've supported the theater above it.
At the end of this ambulatory there is a historical exhibit, with the reconstruction of what's called the Vitruvian Wheel, invented 2000 years ago by Vitruvius, the Roman engineer. The wooden wheel was placed in a stream that turned it, creating power that was used for a variety of functions, such as grinding grain, or lifting things.
Windmills had already been developed, but Vitruvius was the first who used moving water to turn a machine – in some ways the beginning of the Industrial Age, but 2000 years ago. This industrial-scale capacity to grind grain for bread was partly responsible for the success of the Roman Empire, because it enabled the government to feed millions of people and keep them loyal with free bread.
Just next to the theater there is another attraction, the shop, which was part of the theater. They have glass, ceramics, and reproductions of Roman paintings. There's also a restaurant inside. You can still see the curvature of that old building from the little street behind the theater, with the homes up above.
That completes our walk through the main part of Bevagna, but there is still the other half of town yet to explore, which is also quite interesting.
We're now back at the Piazza Silvestri, that dramatic town square at the center. Here you'll see the Palazzo dei Consoli, from the late 12th century, the former judiciary of the city, with a Gothic loggia, and now it's a theater. Once again it looks like there are more cats than tourists in town. We'll be exiting the piazza on the west side just next to the Bar Centrale, leading to the other extension of the main street of town, Corso Amendola.
The church of San Fillipo is around here, so let's follow along through another one of these charming side alleys, called vicolo San Filippo, on the right track. This church was built for San Filippo Neri's Oratorio, in 1725.
Walking few blocks further south, we reach another church, Sant’Agostino, whose congregation was founded in the year 1316 with the original Augustinians.
From here, stroll along one of the prettiest side alleys, lined with plants and old stone buildings, and it will bring you just outside the wall of town where you can see some of the gardens, and just beyond are the vineyards and olive groves.
We're now strolling in the southwest section of town, which is about the quietest part of the city that you will experience. It's a residential zone with no signs of shops or cafés in these little side alleys. They do have few street signs, but it's a little hard to figure out where you are. It's something like walking through a maze. If you're here on a day when the town was crowded with tourists, this would be a good place to come to get away from it all.
As you wander along, you'll get some candid glimpses into the ordinary lives of the residents. Many do not have gardens or yards in the back, so the street is an extension of their daily living space.
While surrounded by all these old buildings, we can reflect on some of the history. Bevagna was destroyed and rebuilt many times in the past. Caught in the middle between larger warring factions such as the Pope, and the Lombards, the Guelphs and the Ghibellines, sometimes controlled by Spoleto other times by Perugia, and Foligno. Ultimately it came under the firm rule of the popes where it remained until the unification of Italy and 1861.
Since then it has been a quiet agricultural community, and in recent years has become increasingly popular for visitors, with Umbrian tourism continuing to grow. Don't wait too long to get here, while it is still a peaceful, authentic and beautiful destination.
Getting ready to leave now, heading back to the bus stop. We saw local school kids heading off for an excursion from the bus stop area, the same place where we arrived at the beginning of the visit, now waiting for our bus to go back to Montefalco. The ticket is just a few euro and you can buy it on the bus.
Only takes about 20 minutes, and you're rolling through some of the prettiest Umbrian countryside you'll ever find. Of course, you could drive it if you rent a car. It's a very easy drive, especially in the off-season, the roads are pretty empty and you could stop where you wish and get out, take a picture.
But let the bus driver do the work for you. The bus schedules are not very frequent, but that's okay, all you have to do is check the schedule and plan your itinerary accordingly. The bus is very important and useful for getting around in Umbria, because many of the towns, such as Bevagna, are not connected by train. But the distances are short and the scenery is lovely, so take the bus when you must.