Perugia, the city that smells like chocolate
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The green heart of Italy smells of cocoa, truffles, and art. Of Luisa Spagnoli's entrepreneurial femininity, of Raphael's master, Perugino, whose 500th anniversary of his death occurs this year. Here's a taste of it
The National Gallery of Umbria is hosting them under the curatorship of Marco Pierini and Veruska Picchiarelli. There it houses not only the Town Hall but also - the only case of an Italian museum in a public palace - the National Gallery of Umbria, a precious custodian of a most sacred art collection ranging from the 13th to the 19th century. Reopened after a year's work in July 2022, the gallery holds the world's most extensive collection of works by Perugino, including the Adoration of the Magi, in which the 25-year-old artist's self-portrait can be glimpsed in the upper left corner.
For the 500th anniversary, however, outstanding loans will arrive: the three panels formerly in San Giusto alle Mura, now at the Uffizi in Florence; the "Marriage of the Virgin" painted for the Duomo's Santo Anello chapel in Perugia, confiscated during the Napoleonic spoliations and now at Musée des Beaux-Arts in Caen, France; the Galitzin Triptych, now at the National Gallery in Washington; and the Polyptych of the Certosa di Pavia, mainly at the National Gallery in London and exceptionally reassembled for the occasion. But the National Gallery of Umbria also offers masterpieces by Beato Angelico, Benozzo Gozzoli, Gentile da Fabriano, Piero della Francesca (remember the Polyptych of St. Anthony), Benedetto Bonfigli's frescoes in the Priori Chapel and Duccio di Buoninsegna's Madonnas. More: this is where the prestigious Umbria Jazz festival is held (July 7-16). Leaving the museum, among Etruscan streets and medieval vaults, you reach the steps of the medieval aqueduct, a four-kilometer-long walkway winding among stone houses. In the second half of the 13th century, water could flow uphill through it thanks to a pressure pipe that gave it a reverse motion.
The Rocca Paolina, a fortress dating from the time of the papacy, holds the remains of a medieval quarter beneath it. It is traversed by escalators that start from Piazza Partigiani, gaining visitors to the summit of the hill town. And it is in the basement of the Rocca Paolina that Alberto Burri's kinetic sculpture Grande nero (1980) lives, a monumental black parallelepiped whose top is formed by a semicircular element that slowly rotates on itself. The sixteenth-century vaults of the fortress frame the work prospectively, accentuating its upward projection. Near this district stand the neoclassical Palazzo Cesaroni (seat of the Regional Council), the luxury hotel Brufani, the Palazzo della Provincia with its arcade, then, the building of the regional branch of the Bank of Italy.
From Piazza Italia, Corso Vannucci leads to the ancient heart of the city, dotted with elegant boutiques, contemporary hotels and local taverns offering delicacies such as torta al testo (flat unleavened bread typical of Umbrian cuisine, baked on a cast-iron griddle known as a "testo" or parmigiana di gobbi (fried cardoons then topped with sauce and parmesan cheese). But Perugia is the city of chocolate. Here, a young Luisa Spagnoli (a classic name in Italian fashion, whose boutiques are a constant in the Peninsula's city centers) founded Perugina with her husband in 1909. Luisa also came up with the celebrated chocolate "Kiss." The praline initially had the unfriendly name "cazzotto," given its hazelnut top that looked like the knuckle of a fist. Giovanni Buitoni - lover of Luisa Spagnoli - who romantically christened it "Bacio." Perugia has held Eurochocolate, a gluttonous international event, annually since 1994. A typical city sweet is also the torciglione, made with almonds.
In Piazza IV Novembre is the 13th-century Fontana Maggiore, a symbolic monument of Perugia. In the background is the Duomo, the austere Cathedral of San Lorenzo. Inside is Federico Barocci's Deposition of the Cross and a hard stone ring that, according to tradition, was used in the wedding of Mary and Joseph. On the outside steps, students from the university often station themselves. Perugia is also a bustling university town: the university's historic home is Palazzo Murena, originally a monastery of the Olivetan order. Today it also houses inside it an ancient library full of rare volumes. To be discovered little by little as the most important city in the green heart of Italy.