Most visitors, us included, arrive in Gubbio at the Piazza Quaranta Martiri – the square of the 40 martyrs. In 1944, 40 local people were executed here by the Germans in an act of reprisal following a partisan attack. A simple monument marks the spot; the bullet holes are still visible.
The 13th century church of San Francesco dominates the square, and opposite the church is the 14th century hospital of Santa Maria della Misericordia. The wool merchants guild added a loggia in the 17th century to create a long gallery for stretching and drying their products.
Gubbio was built of local limestone on the lower slopes of Mount Ingino, one of the smaller Apennine peaks. Today it is a well-preserved medieval town, but it was founded much earlier by the Umbri. Seven bronze slabs, known as the Eugubine Tablets, survive from the 2nd century BC. They are engraved with text in the (then) local language describing sacred rites and sites – a remarkable heirloom of pre-Roman Italy.
Today Gubbio is a busy little town, known for its ceramics, wrought iron and woodwork. The roads wind – as ever – uphill, but the centre is quite compact even though it is steep.
In Piazza Bruno is the church of San Domenico, with an interior decorated with rich, fading frescoes.
A fragment of a fresco such as this can be very attractive. It always makes me wonder what it would have looked like when complete. This fragment looks like an Annunciation scene, with a rather beautiful angel.
In front of a lovely ancient palazzo in the tiny square, Largo del Bargello, is the Fontana dei Matti, the madmens’ fountain. According to tradition, in order to be considered mad, you had to run around the fountain 3 times, preferably trailing your elbow in the water as you ran. During our visit we did not see this put to the test! Hard to believe that this small fountain was once the town’s main source of water.
Continuing upwards, we reached the Piazza Grande, centre of Gubbio and engineering feat extraordinaire. The large square is suspended above a space supported by huge arches: a veritable hanging piazza! Here it is seen from the top….
…and from underneath…
The most distinctive building in the main square is the Palazzo dei Consoli. Building commenced in the 14th century and its battlements, decorative windows and sweeping staircase make this a remarkable sight. It now houses an art gallery and a museum where the Eugubine Tablets are kept.
The detail is wonderful….a narrow passageway next to the Palazzo with inspiring views…
An iron ring in animal form – perhaps medieval nobles tied their horses up here?
And a rusty bolt might secure hidden treasures….
Across the square is another lovely facade, shades of pink in the bright sunlight.
But still we rose….
The cathedral and Ducal Palace are above the main square and face each other across a tiny street. The cathedral is dark and unwelcoming, with an altar made from a Roman sarcophagus, some unremarkable frescoes and an unusual rose window.
The Ducal Palace houses temporary exhibitions, but its best feature was its garden bar overlooking the town.
Descending, we passed the white marble facade of San Giovanni Battista which is on the probable site of the old cathedral. It also (apparently) featured as the parish church in the TV programme Don Matteo.
There’s a “cable car” that links the town with the mountain top, where the Basilica of Sant”Ubaldo (complete with the saint’s remains) crowns the peak. We gave this a miss this time around, but riding in a small basket to the top of a mountain sounds like something to do on a repeat visit.
Just outside the town walls are the remains of a Roman amphitheatre, dating from the 1st century and in its day able to accommodate 6,000 spectators.
The smell of the grease paint….
The roar of the crowd….
With wonderful views of Gubbio, this amphitheatre is still used for performances today.
Looking up, we saw the unexpected sight of a low-flying hang glider. What a view he must have had over this lovely town on a hot and sunny afternoon!
And finally – did you know that Gubbio has had the largest Christmas tree in the world each year since 1981? Made up of 3000 lights installed on the hillside, connected by 5 miles of wiring, it is 2132 feet high and 1148 feet wide. Well – I suppose it attracts the Christmas visitors…!