Newest Review: ... city, but the one to look out for is the Etruscan Arch, which as its name suggests was first build by the Etruscans (who pre-dated the Roma... more
Perugia, a beautiful city in Umbria, Italy
Member Name: julwhite
Advantages: Friendly, historic and beautiful!
Disadvantages: None really, although the hill can be challenging to climb up and down!
At first sight, the centre of city looks hardly touched from the medieval period, cars are limited, streets are narrow, most buildings are pre 1900, there are literally tens of churches and historic buildings. The city is enclosed by a wall which was started in pre-Roman times, with numerous gateways in. But beware, the city is on top of a hill, so lots of steep walking can be involved, but there are alternatives (see transport below) which also include a large series of escalators which are open most of the day to help get to the top and back down again.
Just as a quick introduction to the history, it started as an Etruscan city, which was taken over by the Romans. After the Romans left, the city became an important city state, which spent much time fighting with other city states in the area. The bloodshed continued when in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries important families starting fighting with each other to take control of the city. The losers were frequently despatched to live in the neighbouring valleys.
The city has always had a bloody history, and Perugia was even known for a large-scale fight between the city's own people, who split into two teams and then threw rocks and missiles at each other. Hundreds of people were killed and injured each year, in what was meant to be a sport, until the religious and civic leaders of the city managed to get the population to stop this dangerous game.
After the sixteenth century, and for occasional times before then, the city came under the control of the Roman Catholic Church as part of their Papal States. This was broken only by Napoleon, who took control of the city for a period at the end of the eighteenth century. They ran the city with some force, using Swiss Guards to put down trouble in the early nineteenth century. The church became unpopular amongst many in the nineteenth century, and their palace was torn down by the people of the city in the 1860s. In the 1870s, Perugia willingly became part of the new united Italy.
Trouble again started in the 1920s when Mussolini started his March to Rome from the city, but since the end of the Second World War the city has finally managed to be peaceful and be at ease with itself.
There are many gates into the city, but the one to look out for is the Etruscan Arch, which as its name suggests was first build by the Etruscans (who pre-dated the Romans). They are one of the first civilisations to use the arch, making this entrance gate one of the oldest original arches in the world.
There is an aqueduct, which ends at the Fontana Maggiore (the major fountain in English), which was converted into a footpath around 100 years ago. This walk allows you to walk to the north of the city looking over the houses and businesses below.
There are many other museums and churches to visit, the Palace at the centre of the city, next to the fountain, contains the region's art gallery, as well as some merchant halls, which are beautifully decorated rooms once used by the city guilds.
The Duomo, or Cathedral, is opposite this, which is beautifully decorated inside, but the outside was never finished, and retains its rough stonework on the exterior. There is also an external pulpit, so that preachers could speak to the whole city square when everyone couldn't fit into the Duomo.
There are many other historic sites to visit, including Roman mosaics, but one of the best is the underground streets. These were streets full of houses and shops which when the Catholic Church built the Rocco Paulino (their major palace) they just placed it on top of the streets and evicted those that lived and worked there. This remained there until it was demolished in the 1860s and the city streets were still there.
Today you can walk through a number of city streets which are entirely underground, look around the foundations and walls of the old houses, all of which is full of atmosphere. Some of the city's escalators go through this area, which is a well measured combination of modern use and evocative medieval history. This is situated near the Piazza Italia, and is definitely worth visiting.
Transport into the city by car is easy, the city is linked into the national motorway network, which comes right by the city. There are also good coach links with other cities such as Rome and Florence. If you are coming in by train, and be careful to get off at the city centre stop and not one of the suburbs, this leads to the base of the mini metro system (more on which below) and there are daily trains from Rome.
Ryanair fly to the city, which has made visiting much cheaper, and there are several flights each week from London Stansted. The airport terminal at Perugia is quite small, but transport links with the city centre are a little undeveloped, getting a taxi is easiest, there are meant to be connecting buses, but these can be a little erratic and unreliable. Many hotels in the city have their own transfer system, check with them in advance to see if there is a free shuttle bus for you to use.
Within the city, you can walk everywhere in the city centre, and there is little transport given the narrow streets. But remember that Perugia is on the top of a hill, which you will notice when trying to walk to it from the suburbs, and so unless you fancy getting lots of exercise, you can take one of the many buses to the centre, which stop at Piazza Italia.
The other option is the superb mini-metro system, which is cheap and very impressive. It costs Euro1.50 for a single journey (there is no return fare, but you can buy a ticket which lets you have 10 journeys for a reduced price) which you pay at a ticket machine when entering. This driver-less cabs shuttle passengers up and down in cabs which take around 15 and arrive every 30 seconds or so. They connect with the train station, near the bus station and also to the base of the city where the largest car park is. They also connect in with many of the escalators in the city, making the whole service accessible and fun to use!
One word of warning however, the mini-metro stops at about 9 in the evening (due to problems with noise as it goes past a lot of houses), so be prepared for a long walk or taxi ride if you are planning a late night.
WHERE TO STAY:
If you don't want to walk far or have to use public transport to get into the centre, then get a hotel in the centre of the city. There are numerous from a five star hotel (the Brufani palace) down to small bed and breakfasts type establishments. If you want a cheaper option, look at hotels nearer to the base of the city, which is also where the city's youth hostel is if you want a really cheap option.
WHERE TO EAT:
Food in the city is tremendous, and generally not too expensive. Traditional food from Umbria is worth trying, wild boar and the local hams are highly recommended, and there is good provision for vegetarians. Pizza, as you would expect, is good value, often just three or four Euros for a large pizza. Pizzeria Mediterranea was my favourite, visited by both locals and not just tourists, always a good sign.
Usually in a city the central areas are the most touristy and less authentic, but in my experience of the city, there is a good quality in all areas. The Ristorante Pizzeria Ferrari is on the main Corso Vannucci, and served decent pizza and coffee. Remember that in most restaurants you will charged a coperto, which is a charge for the seat, this is normal, and you are not being unfairly surcharged.
Perugia is the site of one of Europe's major jazz festivals, which are held every year in early August, with some big names playing including Eric Clapton, Elton John, Alicia Keys and so on. Many of the events are free of charge and many are outdoor, given the city a really friendly party atmosphere.
The views from the edges of the city over the neighbouring valleys are spectacular, and you can see Assisi in the distance.
Many of the city's locations shut in the afternoon, but open a lot later. Restaurants are open much later, and the city has a really friendly feel. The city received a lot of negative attention following the murder of Meredith Kercher in 2007, but this was really out of character for the city.
The knowledge of English is very good in the city, but as with most places, any attempts to speak Italian are much appreciated. You are unlikely to come across too many problems however, and there are often tourist menus and translations into English on the city's information signs, which ensure that you don't have too many communication problems.
Cars in the centre of the city are not allowed in many areas, or require a pass in others. If you have a hotel in the city, ask them in advance about how near you can go, as in some areas, you can't even get the car to the hotel itself even to drop luggage off, so if this might be a problem, plan this in advance.
If you want to visit other nearby areas, Assisi is around 15 miles away, and Lake Trasimeno is around the same distance in the other direction. The former is best known for St Francis of Assisi and is a Catholic pilgrimage site (if you go, go early, before it gets really busy), and the latter is one of the largest lakes in the country and has numerous water sports.
In summary, this is a fascinating city to visit, whether your interest is in history, Italian food or the views over the Umbrian countryside. It's accessible to visit, and makes for a good value break, and is beautifully warm in the summer months. Recommended!!
Summary: Well worth visiting for a few days
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