Citta della Pieve sits in a lovely situation overlooking the Chiana Valley on the Tuscan border. Since there was little local stone in this area, buildings were constructed in red brick.
The bricks were made from clay dug from the nearby hills. The excavations can still be clearly seen just beyond the town walls.
Citta della Pieve is best known as the birthplace of the great Renaissance painter Pietro Vanucci, known as Perugino, who was not only well respected in his own right but also for his young apprentice, Raphael.
Perugino was inspired by the landscape and his paintings often include idealised backdrops of Lake Trasimeno and the surrounding countryside. He left several works of art in his native city, the best of which is the Adoration of the Magi.
In 1504, an assembly of lay brothers known as the Brotherhood of the Disciplined or the Whites (because of the robes they wore), asked Perugino to decorate the altar of their private chapel, the Oratory of Santa Maria dei Bianchi.
Perugino was happy to accept the commission, but there was the small matter of payment to settle. In 1835, during drainage work, 2 letters from Perugino to the Brotherhood regarding his fee were found inside a tin tube buried at the bottom of the frescoed wall. Both letters have been reproduced in marble and hang on the Oratory walls. In the one shown below, Perugino asks for 200 ducats, but says that being a villager he would accept half of that sum, one quarter of which was to be paid immediately and the rest in instalments over the following three years.
The Brothers agreed to his terms less a further 25 ducats discount in exchange for a mule to carry him and his materials from Perugia to Citta della Pieve. Even then, the Brothers failed to pay the final 25 ducats, and Perugino was forced to accept ownership of a house in lieu of that instalment.
Haggling, credit and default are clearly not confined to current times!
It took Perugino just one month to complete this exquisite fresco – one of his largest works. Note the backdrop, with Lake Trasimeno and the mountains as seen from Citta della Pieve, and the line of elegant Renaissance figures waiting to pay their respects to the infant. The detail of Mary and Jesus below illustrates the quality of the work and the glorious colours.
Perugino was one of the last great masters of this elegant style, where harmony and beauty are key. Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo were, at this point, painting visions of a contemporary and troubled world. Raphael, enchanted by the new style, left the workshop of Perugino in 1504, the year the Adoration of the Magi was painted.
In the main square – the Piazza del Plebiscito – is the house that belonged to Perugino’s family.
The Cathedral of Saints Gervasio and Protasio is also in the main square. It was built on the site of the old pieve, or parish church, for which the town is named. It is constructed with both sandstone and brick and there are some decorative elements going back to the 9th and 10th centuries. The church underwent many transformations and became a cathedral only in 1600.
I am sadly unable to describe either the interior or its (reputedly) wonderful paintings as it was closed for renovation.
An ancient tower stands at one end of the cathedral, possibly part of a former civic building.
Opposite the cathedral is the Palazzo della Corgna, the most important mansion in Citta della Pieve. It was built in the 16th century by Pope Julius III for his nephew, Ascanio della Corgna, who ruled as governor on behalf of the Pope. Its plain facade belies its interior with its monumental staircases, frescoed walls and rooms on a grand scale.
Citta della Pieve is known for its narrow streets and alleyways. The wider, curved streets were said to advantage knights on horseback and the alleyways the peasants armed with bows and arrows. So, in times of conflict, the horsemen could dodge the arrows shot by the peasants and the peasants could defend themselves in the maze of alleys, many of which are too narrow for horses. A tall tale perhaps, but you can really picture it when you are walking through the town.
Vicolo Baciadonne is reputed to be the narrowest street in Italy; it is just 80cm (31 inches) wide.
Here mio marito demonstrates that it is better to visit before a large lunch!
One of the unusual things about Citta della Pieve is that the shops, restaurants and bars do not have signs outside. So you look for chairs and tables to indicate a cafe, or just peek into windows to see what is inside. It does have the benefit of uncluttered streets. – a rare thing indeed.
This is a great town to stroll around. Its elegant buildings, picturesque streets and beautiful views – not to mention its many bars and restaurants – ensure an interesting and thoroughly enjoyable visit.