Città della Pieve

As soon as you walk into the wonderful medieval Umbrian town of Città della Pieve, you are immediately overwhelmed by the beautiful brickwork, and by the elegance of the main street as it winds upwards towards the piazza. This is an area famous for its clay soils, and for having no natural areas of stone. As a result, centuries ago this was a centre for brick making, and now you see them everywhere.

It was always seen as more noble, proper and elegant to use stone, especially around the doors and windows. So you still see houses where bricks have been plastered and painted to resemble stone, usually the beautiful pietra serena, with its green/grey colour. The magnificent Palazzo della Corgna, opposite the church in the main square, is one of the few buildings where they could afford to import stone and it makes a wonderful contrast.

Città della Pieve is a town untroubled by tourism, and so is always a joy to wander round. Those who do come are generally looking for the frescoes. Città della Pieve houses some wonderful works of art by its very own famous renaissance painter, Pietro Vannucci, known as Il Perugino (The Perugian) to the people of Florence and Rome, emphasizing for them how few painters from outside those two great cities were ever recognized. There are wonderful festivals here throughout the year and a real sense of city pride in the people.

There is something wonderfully simple about the Oratory of Santa Maria dei Banchi. It’s just one room, one fresco and a gruff but friendly man who takes a couple of euros off you, gives you a postcard and lets you stand and wonder how Perugino managed to paint this enormous masterpiece in 28 days, while his pupil, the great Raphael was in Rome painting for the Pope, having quickly outshined his master.

This whole area is a Perugino trail, but the real joy of Città della Pieve is in wandering leisurely around the tiny side streets and trying to find reputedly Italy’s narrowest, the famous Via Della Baciadonna, narrow enough to be able to kiss the woman in the opposite window by just leaning out of yours.

At the end of the afternoon, as the bricks mellow in the warm light, there is a lovely cafe near the main piazza where you can sit and join the Italians for a Campari and Soda in the shadow of another quietly stunning redbrick church.