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Gubbio (North East Umbria)

Ancient Centre of Umbria before the Roman Empire

and note that Tuesday morning is market (impossible parking) day


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The small Roman Theatre (built and rebuilt at various times during the period from 100BC to 100AD) sits at the base of the steep slope of Mt Ingino, where the Renaissance buildings have replaced those of Rome and (earlier) Umbria.  Known then as Iguvium, the town was the centre of the ancient Umbrian civilization before coming under the "influence" of Rome in the third century BC - partly because of its strategic position on the Via Flaminia.  The Via Flaminia, built around 220 BC by  Gaius Flaminius, followed the Tiber valley from Rome up to the Apennines, crossed the mountains at the Scheggia Pass and descended to the coast before heading up to Rimini.  It was the only trans Apennine link between Rome and the North Adriatic Sea (the link with the South Adriatic was the even more famous Appian Way from Rome to Brindisi).

The Piazza della Signoria half way up town (photographers' hint: the sun goes off the Pal dei Consoli wall in late morning).  On the left is the Palazzo dei Consoli, and on the right the Palazzo Pretorio.  At the top right and in shadow is the Palazzo Ducale built by Duke Federico of Urbino.  The Piazza itself is a mighty medieval engineering feat - supported by huge arches front to back as well as side to side, it also serves to tie the adjoining buildings together and stop everything falling down the steep hill.  On May 15 each year the populous all turn out to race the "Ceris" around the city - the three Ceris can just be seen in the middle of the piazza (below left) - they are made of wood, about three people high and a rotund person round - it's too long a story to explain further - just mark May 15 in your diary and go along!

Strangely, the postcard shops all have extensive offerings of medieval weaponry - in metal and built to work.  Inside this shop you can also buy chastity belts - 174 for his (fitted) and 152 for hers.

This is probably the first and last time you will see Etruscan adapted Umbrian script.  This is Tablet number IV of seven such bronze tablets on the so called first floor (it's up a 45 open stairway to the top window level in the museum in the Palazzo dei Consoli).  Found by a tenant grazier in 1444 and swapped for two years' grazing rights, the tablets date from the 3rd to 1st Centuries BC.  The biggest is 57x87x0.45cm, the smallest 28x40x0.4 cm, and weights range from 7,600kg down to 2,600kg.  Most have writing chiselled on both sides.  Tablets I to IV (this one) are written in an Etruscan adapted alphabet - the only example of this ever found - the rest in Latin.  Don't hold your breath for the display quality, but standing next to an extinct language chiselled well over 2,000 years ago is a rare and interesting feeling.


For anyone who has been to Urbino, there is a ring of familiarity about the Palazzo Ducale above (before we were into rotating skewed images!) and above left, at the top left of the photo - at the top right is the forgettable Duomo.  The elegant courtyard, perfectly proportioned rooms, wide staircases ..... and (you guessed)  patron - Duke Federico of Urbino (1422 - 1482 (60)) - Renaissance Man, Gun for Hire and protector of Gubbio (whose citizens invited the Montefeltros in as preferable to the tyranny of the local bishop).  The ristorante lower down the hill was probably not where the Duke actually dined.


One thing that you will not find here is the the Duke's beautiful renaissance intarsia panelled studiolo (sister to the one in Urbino) because this is now disgracefully in the Metropolitan Museum in New York.  If you want good intarsia in Tuscany, Monte Oliveto Maggiore has some of the best that there is, and further north there are the panels in Santa Maria Maggiore in Bergamo (if you can organize a showing!).







The Duke of Urbino's memorial to himself (Federigo da Montefeltro 1422 - 1482 (60)) and to his wife (Battista Sforza 1446  - 1472 (26)) was painted by Piero della Francesca c1474 and now famously exhibited in Room 7 of the Uffizi in Florence.  Battista Sforza married the 35 year old Duke when she was 13, bore him seven daughters then a son, and died in 1472, aged just 28,  at the birth of the latter.


Steep pedestrian streetways (there are lifts if you can find the tunnels that lead to them) and outlooks over old rooftops are part of the town's special attractiveness.


Out of the way on the way out of town, tracked down in the fading winter light, is the tiny and beautiful church of the Vittorino.  Originally erected in the eight hundreds at the site of a battle between the Gubbians (winners, hence the name) and Saracens.  The Saracens (Arabs) may have lost, but it's interesting that they were so far over the mountains inland and north in the eight hundreds.  In fact they were all over the place - another large group had taken control of what is now called the Gran San Bernardo Pass from Italy to Switzerland, and yet others were flattening monasteries in Burgundy in 725


Back in Gubbio, it's at this spot that over three hundred years later San Francesco met with a wolf who had been eating people, and persuaded the beast to reform its behaviour (see the Book of the Little Flowers).  Also called the Porziuncula of Gubbio - in reference to that other beautiful little Franciscan jewel on the plain below Assisi.






Restaurant Tip:  Restaurant cost seems to be directly related to altitude, so think about having lunch at one of the places near the Franciscan church car parks at the bottom, before discovering this fact after a strenuous climb to the top (unless you want to pay double for the view!). 


Choice for both our visits (2003 and 2004) has been La Lanterna in Via Gioia (Specialita Funghi e Tartufi), one street up from the car park, and they produced an excellent little pranzo on both occasions. 


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