Spello’s well preserved town walls remain surprisingly complete. At the highest point is the Belvedere with its extensive views over the Topino valley and its Roman archway. Leave the main streets and lose yourself in the quiet medieval alleyways crowded with interlocked stone houses with flower-filled balconies.
Spello is built on the lower slopes of Mount Subasio. The pink marble from the mountain was used to build the town, giving it a rosy hue, especially at sunrise and sunset. The striations in the stones show the ridges and grooves of movements in the rocks over millions of years.
The remains of the Arch of Augustus form part of a later wall, its original Roman inscription visible.
The walls show the changes to building facades over the centuries; here a doorway has been bricked up, still using the local marble.
Each turn, each tiny alley brings its rewards, with plants and flowers, delicate handrails and secret arches. Who knows where that street will lead? Who cares, when there is time to explore?
I place my hand on the ancient stones in sunlight and they are warm to the touch. The marble absorbs and stores the heat, releasing it when the day cools down. The walls are thick, keeping the houses cool in summer and warm in winter. The roofs are made from layers of crafted Roman tiles, normally on a wooden frame or barrel vaults. The colours of the tiles change as they weather. The result is picture perfect.
I stand with my back to the stones and wonder what tales they could tell, what changes they have seen and how many people have passed them by. I am just one visitor, just one more person passing through this town of pink stones. But this visitor will be back. Spello may have a heart of stone, but it is entwined with my own.
On a previous visit to Spoleto, we had taken the escalators from the walls of the city to its summit. This time we took the underground, moving walkways. They would not have looked out of place in a science fiction film, with their shiny tiles and endless horizon. There were breaks at certain points where it was possible to exit at various levels of the city, but we went right to the end where the fortress of La Rocca dominates the skyline. Built in the 13th century to protect the Papal territories, it was associated with, amongst others, both Cesare Borgia and Lucrezia Borgia.
From the fortress there are extensive views across the city, including a bird’s eye view of the cathedral….
….and the mountains beyond….
The piazza outside the cathedral is beautiful, and when the sun shines, the mosaics on the front of the building are golden bright.
It was a dull day, but there are always restaurants to explore. We found a local Osteria at the top of this slope.
Wending our way back down the city’s hills, the lovely, arched streets were a pleasure to visit….
….and we even found a disdainful lion….
There are many reasons to visit Italy. It is a country full of history, art and magnificent architecture. It has an endless coastline with aquamarine seas, long stretches of untrodden sand and craggy cliffs. Its people are warm, welcoming, noisy and passionate. But if you love good food and wines, then perhaps that’s enough of a reason to come here.
Find a quiet bar with a fabulous view and pause with a prosecco….
….or stop in a welcoming wine bar to smell the roses….
….and taste some local meats and cheeses….
Try somewhere new, and sample olive oils from all over Italy. Peppery, lemony, spicy….
….perfectly matched with a panzanella that’s as pretty as a picture….
….or tender steak tartare with liver pate and tomato salad….
….and melting artichokes like petal-strewn bells….
Pass the cutlery please!
With special thanks to Bar Bonci, Vinosofia and Extra Vergine OLeOteca, all proud Spello bars.
Strolling round Spello at night is a wonderful experience. The day-trippers have left, the streets are quiet and the shutters are closed on the many windows. The Propertius Towers flank the western gate into the town, their restored Roman remains surrounding a medieval entrance. Beyond, the lights of Foligno and Montefalco shine through the darkness.
The main piazza has been recently refurbished, its clean lines contrasting with the previous rather haphazard arrangement.The changes have been controversial. It seems that there was little or no consultation with the people of Spello – the Spellani – over the plans. There is lingering discontent still, and it remains to be seen whether any further changes will be made. A bronze statue of The Return of Saint Frances by Norberto is sited in the piazza. It’s a lovely thing, but it is a copy of the statue outside the basilica in nearby Assisi, and although Norberto was a native of Spello, the locals feel that it is not sufficiently original for Spello. Close to the statue is a white metal tree, ugly by day and barely improved by night when its branches are lit. The original fountain has been refurbished; previously it rarely worked, but now it is in full working order and an asset to the piazza.
At the moment, when darkness falls, the square is lit in the colours of the Italian flag. There are rumours that this is a temporary measure but, Spello Commune, if you listen to the people you will hear that they want the lights to stay. For what it’s worth, I’d like them to stay too.
On our first night we planned a quiet evening at a favourite restaurant with good food and a little local wine to wash it down with. But this is Spello and anything can happen.
No sooner had we poured the wine than a familiar face appeared at the window. Maestro Elvio Marchionni had arrived with two of his friends, fellow artists originally from Armenia and Germany, but both living in Italy for many years. Fuelled by copious amounts of wine and much artistic passion, spanning laughter, tears and a little grumpiness, the evening was a lively affair.
I have written about Elvio Marchionni before and much admire his work. He is a man who lives for his art and his hands are never still. By the end of the evening he had covered the paper tablecloth with drawings which we were fortunate to be gifted. Another magical evening in magic Spello.
The first of May is a national holiday in Italy, dedicated to the workers. The roads were busy with traffic, holidaymakers returning home. On fast roads we soon left the crowds behind and headed into Umbria, the green heart of Italy. Mountains rose all around us, their slopes rich with trees. Here and there, hill-top villages cascaded from the peaks, topped by church spires or castellated walls, reminders of past sieges. Wisps of cloud stretched just below the peaks, like casually worn scarves draped across the shoulders.
It was almost dark when we arrived in Spello. The rose-coloured stones had dulled to a light ochre and the cypress trees looked black in the fading light. My heart soared; returning to Spello was just like coming home.
The crepuscular sky held a promise of good weather ahead.
The pale moon hung like a paper lantern in the dark sky, pinprick stars piercing the velvet night.
Spello, you look wonderful tonight. Time to dream now of friends revisited and adventures to come.
Blue Nun, Spello
Italy remains a Catholic country and there are many Italians for whom religion remains part of the daily ritual, whether they live a cloistered life, such as in Spello’s ancient Vallegloria Convent, or by making their own personal spiritual journey. We stepped out of a doorway and found ourselves caught up in a procession, a microphone and loud-hailer leading the chanted prayers, the street brimming with people.
Nuns in the Sun, Spello
The nearby town of Assisi, birthplace of Saint Francis, is an important stop on the ancient pilgrim’s route from Tuscany to Rome. Spello is one of the many hill towns visited along the way. Not everybody walks the entire route, but this section with its rolling green hills and proximity to Assisi is particularly popular.
Did I hear something?
The Spellani watch the procession in the narrow streets, leaning out of high windows or peeping between the balcony railings. Everybody loves a spectacle.
Well Hidden Flower Girls, Spello
It’s time for us to bid farewell once again to Spello. Like lovers we make promises about returning soon. We greet friends for the final time and say arrivederci – until we meet again. We linger in our favourite wine bar, Vinosofia, listening to the legendary Miles Davis, one more Martini for the road, stirred not shaken. If ever heaven was a place on earth, it’s Spello. Taxi’s here. I wipe away a tear….
Lost in Contemplation
“We leave something of ourselves behind when we leave a place: we stay there, even though we go away. And there are things in us that we can find again only by going back there.”― Pascal Mercier, Night Train to Lisbon
Thanks for coming along for the ride. Did you enjoy it?