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We're taking you to the city of Perugia in Umbria, in northern Italy – not so well known as Rome or Florence, but lovely to visit. 

Perugia is located 100 miles north of Rome, about a two-hour drive. It's in Umbria, a region just east of the more famous Tuscany.

The main street of Perugia is the grand Corso Vannucci, a wide pedestrian boulevard that is one of the world's great streets. Not too long, about a kilometer from one end to the other, and just wide enough that there's plenty of room for people streaming along,  stopping, standing, talking,  walking the dog,  and families out for a stroll.

Corso Vannucci is the gathering place of town. It's the location of the passeggiata when everybody comes out at 5 PM before dinner, buy the newspaper, have a drink, out for a stroll, see their friends, see their neighbors, perhaps make a new friend and just generally be part of the fabric of the city.

The old town has a network of narrow side streets that are perfect for strolling. Some of them are for pedestrians only and some have some automobiles but the traffic is never terribly heavy, especially when you're on foot. And the whole town can be seen on foot, it's a compact zone that makes a beautiful walk.

One of the oldest of the side lanes is the via dei Priori. It was a major street back in the Middle Ages and even today it's a very popular pedestrian lane – goes down the hill with shops and bars and cafés along both sides of it. For the locals it's all part of their outdoor living room.

You'll find a variety of places to go strolling and exploring. Some of them are wide thoroughfares for shopping, others are narrow, that hearken back to the medieval days such as via Luigi Bonazzi. This was a classic little lane winding along parallel to the Corso, with hotels, with wine bars, little shops, just a couple blocks long but full of atmosphere.

The Cathedral of San Lorenzo holds a commanding position in Perugia on the major square, Piazza IV Novembre, at the top of the main lane. It dates back to 1345 but construction was halted and then  finally completed in 1490. However, the external decoration was never finished and so we have the big wall with its bare stone and brick still showing.

The interior of the Duomo is quite large. The nave is  68 meters in length and  there are two aisles of the same height. The nave is twice as wide as the aisles and you have a number of chapels all around the periphery. The apse is notable for its wooden choir and stained-glass windows. There had been some paintings  in here by Perugino and another native son, Pinturicchio, who lived in Perugia for a while,  but those have been removed to several museums. There are still some beautiful statues and other paintings on display inside the Duomo.

Whether or not you're religious the inside on such a large cathedral is always a visual treat. And here we've got history – there is the burial of three popes inside the Duomo. It's a large peaceful space. 

Along the outside you find a grand staircase which functions like a bleachers or an auditorium for the town itself and there is also a loggia that dates back to 1423, an early Renaissance structure.

There is a remarkable object in the middle of this main piazza, the famous Fontana Maggiore. This large fountain is attributed mostly to the Pisanos, Nicolo and Giovanni from Pisa, and was constructed over 700 years ago, from the year 1280.

The fountain has three basins, the lower two are made of stone and the upper is made of bronze. The lower one is quite extensive with many sides and impaneled with figures in bas-relief. There are 50 sculptured panels running around this lower-level and they were carved by Giovanni Pisano representing the months, the signs of the zodiac, prophets, apostles, emperors and kings and some of Aesop's fables. 

These statues are important as representative of early life-like Renaissance figures,  unlike the rigid Gothic sculptures that came before. These are life-like beings in natural postures with faces that are beautiful and they're actually in motion.

The uppermost small basin is made of bronze with Nereids and a statue of the Griffin,  the Dragon which is a symbol of Perugia. In the evening it  is beautifully lit up,  and it's one of the earliest products of the Renaissance. The citizens were in the habit of declaring that their fountain was unique not only in Italy but in the entire world.

One of the main buildings on the primary square facing the Duomo is the Palazzo dei Priori, built from the 14th century. It was the home of the main government of Perugia and today it's a museum, and upstairs on the second floor, open to the public, go up that stone staircase and you go into a huge hall called the Room of the Notaries, Salla dei Notari.

This room has a wooden beam ceiling supported by eight great arches with wonderful restored fresco paintings depicting ladies and beasts and men and women and Cavaliers in rows upon tourneys, and very colorful with reds and yellows in typical Tuscan decoration. You're also free to walk into the lobby and there's a paid art museum if you like.

Another small art museum is next-door with paintings by Perugino. Although it's on the main street of town you could easily miss this little museum. It's the Nobile Collegio del Cambio, the old Chamber of Commerce, and there are some real masterpiece paintings by Perugino still in place here. He painted them about the year 1500 for the guild of merchants.

These decorative masterpieces are the product of the ingenious style of the early Renaissance, a beautiful series of frescoes on the walls and ceilings. With the decoration of this little hall Perugino concentrated all his powers of invention. His real name was Pietro Vannucci but he called himself Perugino based on his hometown of Perugia.

From the main Piazza 4 November in front of the Duomo, walk just a block west along the picturesque via Maesta della Volte. It goes between two 16th-century palaces, the Seminario and the Arcibolde. This is a remains of a vaulting that supported a hall of the medieval Palazzo del Podesta and a little further along there's a small red and white striped arch, all that remains of the Gothic portico. You notice there is a fountain here thatlooks like it's a typical medieval structure but is actually built in 1927.

This street leads down to a pedestrian staircase, Via dell'Acquedotto, where you get a sweeping view looking across the backside of Perugia. Pedestrian lanes branch off from here in several directions, and there is what looks like an aqueduct – that was actually an aqueduct constructed in the 13th century to bring water into the town, and now converted into a pedestrian walkway. From this viewpoint you can really see that Perugia is a city on a hill and if you had time to explore, those distant lanes would offer further rewards.

Walk along via Battisti to one of the great monuments of the city, the Etruscan Arch, also called the Arch of Augustus, the Roman Emperor. And you can look at three different periods of history in the gate: at the lower level the Etruscan foundation, the upper level is the Roman addition, and up on top we have a loggia the dates from the Renaissance. This gate still forms one of the entrances to the city, 3000 years later.

From here walk up via Bartolo, which will lead you to Piazza Ignazio Danti on the side of the Duomo, in the center of the old town. This piazza is not named for Dante, but Danti, a Renaissance scholar from Perugia who worked as a mathematician and geographer for the church in Florence and in Rome. Entering this little piazza you do see the actual front of the cathedral with a small door and yet that's not the primary entrance, which is around on the side facing the large Piazza November 4 we saw earlier.

Get away from the main Corso and head one block to the east over to Piazza Matteotti. There are several wide pedestrian lanes that connect into the piazza so it's very easy to find your way down there.

Notice the intriguing split-level street off the north end. That's via Alessi curving around to the right and a staircase street coming down at you from the left. This is a beautiful public square, a wide thoroughfare with some cars, but mostly a pedestrian zone. Of course here you'll find shops and many more lanes branching off leading you to further explorations.

It's very easy to get back up to the Corso,  the main shopping street,  through these wide pedestrian lanes. You can zigzag back  and forth, but don't hesitate to ask for directions,  get some more tips from locals.

We took another little detour slightly downhill and gained some beautiful views across the old town,  and a lovely garden,  it's a slightly hidden spot,  and there was a surprise waiting for us through the arches.

Perugia has an innovative Scale Mobili - Pincetto - Minimetrò, a rail transit system:  you go down escalators through the old medieval wall –  it's remarkable how they are able to build  a modern facility like an efficient escalator in the midst of this ancient structure, a  great example of historic preservation and reuse. Down,  down,  down several levels until you reach what's called the Mini Metro.

This is a subway rail line that goes for 3 km down to the lower town below,  a total travel time about 11 minutes and it connects people with the parking structures and with the modern city  and the bus station and the train station. It  costs one euro to  ride it; there's no drivers. It's a very popular way to shuttle back and forth from the old town on the Hill to the new city down below.

A series of escalators makes it very easy to get from the  Old Town down into the Mini Metro station. This is all part of the city's efforts to make the  Old Town a pedestrian zone,  keep the cars down below and make it easy for locals and visitors to get down to the parking garage.

Be sure to find this little Via Guglielmo Oberdan. It branches off from Piazza Matteotti, a narrow pedestrian lanes so classic with your little boutiques and shops, there is little cafés nearby, and just a very quiet and peaceful part of town.

Instead of eating during twilight, sitting indoors and missing this beautiful time of the day, you might find greater enjoyment by strolling during this magic hour out in the streets that are filled with locals and it's illuminated by this wonderful mix of lighting that combines the golden glow of evening with sunset in the background along with the city lights and the shop lights, you've got florescent lighting and colored incandescent lighting, and it's really magical glow that goes on for about 30 minutes to an hour.

You might consider staying at the two star Hotel Umbria.  Or perhaps go little more upscale to the three-star Hotel Fortuna, a very charming spot with ivy-covered walls on this very quiet pedestrian lane – convenient wine shop right across lane from and restaurants always nearby.

Probably the most famous and perhaps the grandest of all is the Hotel Brufani on Piazza Italia. For over a century this has been the number-one hotel in Perugia, four-star deluxe, beautifully located right at the foot of the main street of town, easy walking into the pedestrian zone of the old town. It's right by the escalators that take you down to the parking structure and the train station, so it really is an ideal spot with a beautiful view looking out across the countryside as well.

The restaurant in the Brufani Hotel is so good that you'll be tempted to have lunch or dinner here. Now, generally when you're traveling you will have breakfast in your hotel and you probably want to venture out into town and enjoy the restaurants explore the cities of where you're staying, that's all well and good, but this restaurant is really worth considering. It was incredible, we loved our stay here, and the price is not outrageous.

The Brufani is located right at Piazza Italiana at the foot of the main Corso and there is a beautiful park here, a merry-go-round, there's a lovely fountain in the middle, statue of Victor Emmanuelle II.

Going down the escalator from the piazza will bring you back 500 years in the history of Perugia, back to the time of Pope Paul the third and his conquest of the city. The ruins of his castle had been renovated and are now open to the public as a living museum. In recent decades an amazing transformation has happened to the foundation ruins of the fortress.

They rediscovered the old buildings and walkways and streets that were still preserved underneath the ground and they cleared it out 20 – 30 years ago and did a lot of excavations and renovations and improvements, and it has now reopened as an underground city that takes you right back to the days of the Renaissance and Pope Paul.

This fortified structure was built nearly 500 years ago for the Pope who used it as a control mechanism over Perugia. This fortress is called the Rocca Paolina (Paul's Fortress) and gradually expanded by demolishing 100 other houses to build the complete fortification. It was constructed on the south end of the hilltop town andcontinued as the power center of various popes for the next 300 years. It was finally ripped down in the 1860s with the unification of Italy.

In recent decades this underground complex has been transformed into a cultural center, with a series of galleries, shops, rooms, public spaces and walkways. This underground world is all integrated into a large escalator system that brings you from the upper hill town to the lower parking structures and railroad station of modern Perugia. It's an amazing transformation which has created a very popular place. It's clean and well lit and has all sorts of interesting sites to see in the midst of this original architecture.

The escalators, P.Italia Scala Mob._1, get you down to the streets of the modern city. When you're heading back up into the old town be sure to look for the sign to the escalator. It's not all that obvious but the passageway leads you in and to the escalators, and up you go. It's all free. No charge for using these extensive moving staircases, which save you a big climb.

Perugia is very much a university town, with college students making up 20% of the population. You see lots of young people out and about. The University of Perugia is a public college and it was founded as far back as 1308. It's got 28,000 students today and 1200 full-time staff with a dozen different faculty departments including agriculture and economics, engineering, medicine and so on. It's quite a great university and one of the oldest in Europe. The most famous recent student is Amanda Knox, an American wrongfully convicted of murder, then released after four years in prison.

There's a second university in Perugia the University for Foreigners founded in the 1920s and it was primarily a language school so that foreigners could come here and learn Italian, but it became a university in its own right and offers undergraduate degrees and Masters degrees in a variety of courses – makes a wonderful place to learn Italian while enjoying the ambience of the delightful city of Perugia.

Brief History

The first civilization here where the Etruscans, about 3000 years ago, and they were conquered by the Romans about 300 BC. The locals tried to rebel against the Romans and Caesar Augustus came in and leveled the city at about 40 BC, and the Romans continued for another 400 years until the barbarians came in. They pretty much left Perugia alone. 

During the Middle Ages Perugia became a regional power and the most important city in Umbria. There were frequent battles with other city states like Assisi, Florence and Siena. The 14th and 15th centuries were good, great developments in the arts and trade and commerce. Then the Popes took over for the next 300 years. With the unification of Italy in 1860 Perugia threw off the power of the Pope and became one of the most important cities of the country.

Today, as the center of Umbria, Perugia makes a great place to visit: beautiful in its own right and an excellent home base for traveling out to those many other beautiful towns in the rolling countryside of Umbria in the north of Italy.

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