Five minutes by train from Spello is the sprawling town of Foligno. We had visited before but left disappointed, firstly because it was cold and drizzly and few places look good in the rain and secondly because it was still undergoing repairs after the 1997 earthquake. On a warm, sunny day with a cloudless blue sky, we decided Foligno was worth another look.
The cathedral of San Feliciano was begun in 1133. The highlight is the pink marble facade in Piazza della Repubblica but it is stunning from all angles. The square, badly damaged in the earthquake, was once again buzzing with life. Unusually flat in contrast to the surrounding hill towns, Foligno’s streets are full of bicycles.
The main cathedral entrance is guarded by the sweetest looking lions imaginable. Note the shiny ear, presumably from years of gentle stroking!
The sweeping stone staircase displays the arms of a bishop, complete with mitre and crozier….
The interior is a neo-classical in style, dating from the 18th and 19th centuries. These alterations were carried out by Guiseppe Piermarini – of whom more later – who removed earlier modifications. Unfortunately this work obscures the wonderful rose window which is barely visible from inside. Statues peek out from behind tall white columns….
There was one work of art we particularly wanted to see: Elvio Marchionni’s paintings in the Chapel of the Sacrament. I had the pleasure of interviewing the artist last year and the works in this cathedral did not disappoint.
Outside of the old town centre, many of Foligno’s buildings are modern, but there are some wonderful large houses that caught my eye. Here a young girl stands motionless framed by a magnificent window….
Pastel coloured walls and fine details are everywhere….
….and a contrast between old and new is reflected in this modern glass building….
I mentioned Giuseppe Piermarini earlier and promised to return to him. Born in Foligno in 1734 and later apprenticed in Rome, Piermarini was the greatest neo-classical architect of his day. He is best remembered for designing the La Scala theatre which opened in 1778 in Milan. Here in Foligno the theatre bears his name; it is not as well known but is an architectural gem in its own right.
Turning down a quiet street in search of coffee, we stepped into the Piazza Piermarini with its bronze statue of Hercules supporting a tall obelisk.
This monument is dedicated to Piermarini and its fine details show plans and pictures of some of his works, including La Scala. It also details many tiny turtles as the successful contemporary sculptor, Ivan Thiemer, often uses turtles in his works. Turtles have a symbolism in many cultures associated with longevity, happiness, silence and even magic.
In revisiting Foligno we found the old centre revitalised after its repairs and discovered an architectural genius, a son of Foligno who was entirely unknown to us previously but whose name lives on in his splendid works.