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Umbria Region

Umbria is known throughout the world: the natural allure of its pine, oak, elm and olive trees, all making for incomparable landscapes; its small, charming medieval towns; the marked religious spirit noticeable in each mountain village, each hidden trail, culminating in the spiritual focal point of Assisi.
In fact, Assisi represents both the geographic and spiritual heart of Umbria. It is the city of St. Francis, whose story has enthralled not only men of the thirteenth century, but those of the year two thousand as well: born into a rich family, he abandons all his worldly possessions to serve God in absolute poverty. Dressed in rags, he preaches the Gospel in the streets and piazzas, until his simple words have reached the hearts of the common folk, who, for the first time, are being told of God in a language tat they all understand: not Latin, the cultivated language of the Church, but the earliest form of Italian, that of Dante and Boccaccio, which, in only a few years time, was to become the language of all of Italy. Through these words, the life of Jesus was expressed in all its humanity, bringing it closer to the reality of the common folk.
The poor man of Assisi was admired by Giotto, the painter who transformed the life of the Saint into a magnificent work of art. The cycle of frescoes presenting the Stories of St. Francis, painted in the Upper Basilica of Assisi, is one of his great masterpieces, a fully mature example of his genius. Breaking with the rigid precepts of Byzantine art and the gloomy religious outlook of the Middle Ages, the artist inaugurates what is truly a period of thoroughgoing renewal in the society and culture of the age. For the very first time, the life of a saint who renewed the popularly accepted image of Christ is painted by a young artist who was also capable of taking a new approach to the art of his time, leading the way for the great masters of the Renaissance.
Umbria is a piece of Italy that talks to the rest of the world on the strength of its culture, as well as the noteworthy history of its towns. These include four magical villages in the area around Foligno: Spello, with its stone buildings; Trevi, perched in splendid isolation, amidst its olive groves; Bevagna, whose perfect medieval layout also contains eloquent artefacts of the Roman era; and Montefalco, another medieval town, where Benozzo Bozzoli, in the year 1452, frescoed episodes form the life of St. Francis in as poetic a way, and in as beautiful a setting, as has ever been done.
Contrasting with the 13th-century calm of these towns is one of the most dynamic, liveliest cities of Umbria: Foligno; in Terni as well, the slow-paced, pleasurable rhythms of historic burghs intertwine with the industrial development represented by the steel sculptures found in the city’s various piazzas, including the Lance of Light by Arnaldo Pomodoro.
Orvieto, on the other hand, is renowned for its Cathedral, whose immense façade, shining in the sun and teeming with the figures used to decorate it, appears all the more impressive on contrast to the small-size buildings in the surrounding area, leaving any viewer with feelings of astonishment and emotion.
Two other splendid Umbrian sites are the Hermitage of the Prisons on Mount Subasio and the Abbey of Sassovino, just above Foligno: “try to behold them, framed as two jewels in the midst of the thick green of the lines, and your breath will be taken away”.
Close to the border with Tuscany, its bell towers and lookout towers silhouetted on a hilltop, is Città della Pieve, hometown of the artist Perugino, whose paintings reflect the colours, the calm and the harmony of these enchanted sites.
The regional seat is Perugia, a hospitable, refined city full of young people, especially on the occasion of the Umbria Jazz Festival. From its splendid Palazzo of the Priors and the incredible Paolina Castle, the city branches out among noble residences, having been revitalised by a route of escalators that shows of its wonders; Spoleto is also a hotspot of culture, thanks to the Festival of the Two Worlds.
The region’s other marvels include Todi, the town of Jacopone, with its splendid Piazza del Popolo: a perfect work of art from the communal period; and Gubbio, whose array of medieval streets is set off, in the Piazza Grande, by magnificent monuments, such as the Palazzo dei Consoli and the Palazzo Pretorio: each year, on May 15th, the Candle Race renews one of the oldest and most authentic historic feasts in Umbria.
The green heart of Umbria takes on countless flavours and colours in its cuisine, from the black of the Norcia Truffle to the yellow of Monteleone wheat, not to mention the purple of the ginger of Valnerina.

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