A dollop of Etruscans and a taste of Assisi

We were in two ancient Etruscan towns today. For a period of time, they were in great conflict, but today, all seems to be forgiven.

We lingered in Perugia this morning, and visited the National Archeological Museum of Umbria, housed in the mid-15th century convent of San Domenico. It has objects ranging from the Paleolithic era to the 3rd century AD.

Once again, we are in awe of those Etruscans and the lives they led. There is an amazing set of bronzes that are thought to have decorated a chariot – 5th c. BC. Works for me.

There is an immense collection of funerary urns crafted during the Hellenistic era in Perugia. A reconstruction of the Etruscan tomb (3rd-1st century BC) in which many of them were found shows the urns in their original position.

The other really special item is the “Cippus of Perugia,” one of the most important (stone) documents of the Etruscan language. We were told it sat on the boundary between two properties, and was a contract that allowed the family of one to have burial rights in the other’s backyard, but to not imagine for a minute that gave them any claim to ownership. Some things never change.

And then there was just so many lovely artifacts and baubles. Wanted them all.

The other joy of this museum is its setting and the wonderful views from the windows. Despite the video surveillance, they didn’t arrest us for opening them and taking in the current sights.

Actually, we know what the staff was busy doing besides watching us or curating their collection. A visitor to the museum – clearly an important guy – parked his vintage Jag inside the cloister, and all the employees were hanging over the balconies drooling. Guess it was a museum piece, in a way.

Then we were off to the storybook town of Assisi. What a glorious medieval vista! (However, its hills make Gubbio look like a pancake.) Perugia ruled Assisi for a time, and that was evidently not a happy experience for Assisians. But now Assisi will be forever known as the birthplace and home of St. Francis, as well as St. Clare.

We are staying on the Piazza San Rufino, next to the Cathedral of Assisi’s patron saint, Bishop Rufino, who predates St. Francis. However, St. Francis was baptized in this cathedral, in the baptismal font still used today, and was known to pray at Rufino’s sarcophagus, in the undercroft of the church. We will see more of his trail tomorrow.

St. Clare, who founded the religious order of the Poor Clares, was a disciple of St. Francis and she is equally honored here. Her basilica contains her tomb and some stunning relics of both her and St. Francis. I never thought I would see St. Francis’s tunic or his sandal.

These Umbrian streets and vistas are just too gorgeous.

And we got very lucky in our timing. Tomorrow starts the festival of Calendimaggio, a “Welcome Spring” festival with medieval roots. They are busy preparing for the mock battle between the upper and lower town, and we were able to get grandstand tickets on the main piazza. There are lots of preparations going on today and it should be quite exciting.


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