Folco Quilici, “L’Italia vista dal cielo: Umbria”

(Directed by Folco Quilici, text by Cesare Brandi)

The movie begins in Gubbio with the Festa dei Ceri, an ancient celebration of spring which combines pagan and early Christian rites. The phallic like "ceri" are brought from the Palazzo dei Priori to the Cathedral. The beating of the ceri ("candles") is believed to be an ancient form of mourning for the death of Jesus.

From Gubbio we move through the Umbrian countryside following small rivers (Umbria does not have any major rivers) to the Trasimeno Lake. This volcanic lake was once a marsh-filled plain.

Practically all the towns in Umbria were built on hilltops overlooking the valleys below. Perugia is one of the oldest cities in Umbria. In the 4th century B.C. Perugia was an important center of Etruscan civilization. The Romans conquered the city around 300 B.C. After the fall of the Roman empire, Perugia was conquered by Totila the Goth in the 6th century A.D. Byzantines and Longobards fought over it in the 7th century. In the 12th century it developed into one of the leading "comuni" (city states) in Umbria.

From the helicopter we can see the medieval piazza of Perugia with its 13th century fountain sculpted by Nicola and Giovanni Pisani.

Perugia has two important gates: the Porta Marzia to the south, and the Porta Etrusca (also known as the Arch of Augustus) to the north. A small palace was built on top of the latter in the 15th century by Agostino di Guccio, a pupil of Leon Battista Alberti.

Perugia is the site of the well known Università per gli Stranieri where students from around the world come to learn Italian.

From Perugia we move through the Valdichiana plain to the medieval town of Orvieto. It was an important Etruscan city, which was first conquered by the Romans, then by the Ostrogoths, and finally by the Byzantines. In the early Middle Ages it was the site of a diocese and was given the Latin name Urbs Vetus ("Old City") from which the name Orvieto is derived.

The Duomo (Cathedral) of Orvieto is the best example of Sienese architecture outside of Siena. The facade of the Cathedral looks like a reliquary; and the actual reliquary inside the church looks like the facade. The reliquary contains the host from the miracle of Bolsena. Some eight hundred years ago a priest who had doubts about Christ's transubstantiation celebrated Mass near lake Bolsena. When he lifted the Eucharist, it began to bleed, thereby eliminating his doubts. From that day on, the feast of the Corpus Domini (the second Sunday in June) is celebrated each year to commemorate the miracle.

Luca Signorelli painted the frescoes of the Last Judgement (1499-1504) inside the Duomo of Orvieto. Outside, on the lower front walls of the cathedral, are sculpted stories from the Book of Genesis (1300).

From Orvieto we follow the Tiber river to the town of Todi with its medieval piazza and duomo. In the church of San Fortunato are the frescoes of Masolino da Panicale.

This is the town of Jacopone da Todi, a Franciscan poet of the 13th century. Just outside of town is the church of Santa Maria della Consolazione (begun in 1508 and completed only at the end of that century).

From Todi we move to another hilltop town, Montefalco. Here we find the 15th century frescoes of Gozzoli (disciple of Beato Angelico). This is the birthplace of another medieval mystic, Saint Clare of Montefalco.

From Montefalco we move to Città della Pieve where Raffael was born. One of his last paintings may be seen in this town.

The next town is Spoleto and its Roman aqueduct. The well known site of Giancarlo Menotti's Festival of Two Worlds, Spoleto is also the site of Alexander Calder's "Teoldapio" (1962) a 60 foot sculpture just outside the train station. Like Venice, a good part of Spoleto is off limits to motor vehicles; and most of the people go on foot.

Like most of the other cities in this region, Spoleto was first Etruscan, then Roman. Totila destroyed it during the Barbaric invasions. The Longobards conquered it in the 6th century A.D. and made it a dukedom. It remained a dukedom throughout the Middle Ages.

The Duomo and the church of San Pietro were built in the 12th century. The "rocca" (castle) on top of Spoleto was built for cardinal Albornoz (1355-67).

Folco Quilici then shows us the waters of Umbria. Although there are no major rivers in this region, the region is filled with beautiful lakes such as the grey lake of Piediluco at the foot of Monteluco.

On the road from Assisi to Spoleto one comes upon the springs of the Clitunno. Here the Romans worshipped the god Clitunno, known for his oracular powers.

Not far from the small lake of Piediluco are the biggest waterfalls in Italy, the Marmore.

From here we move to the town of Narni near the river Nar (Latin for "black river"). One of the most important Roman roads (the Via Flaminia) passed through here. The castle of Narni was built in the 14th century. Gattamelata, one of the Renaissance's best know "condottieri" (soldiers of fortune), was born here.

From Narni we move to Terni, the only city Umbria born in a valley. (This also explains why it is more developed than the medieval hilltop towns we have seen.)

From here we pass through the Val Nerina and reach the medieval town of Norcia. In the piazza we find the church of San Benedetto. Saint Benedict and his sister Saint Scolastica were born in this Roman town in the 6th century. From here they went south to Rome and Cassino where they established the first Benedictine orders.

From here we move to the small medieval town of Spello. It has a Roman tower at one of its gates; and in the 13th century church of Santa Maria Maggiore are frescoes by Pinturicchio (1501).

Between Spello and Assisi is Mount Subasio with its endless fields and wild horses.

Assisi, the birthplace of Saint Francis and Saint Clare, the founders of the first Franciscan orders. Like the other cities in Umbria, Assisi was a Roman city, as we can see from the Temple of Minerva in the center of town. (The same Roman temple was painted by Giotto in the fresco cycle depicting the life of Saint Francis.)

Assisi: the facade of the upper level of the church of San Francesco, where Saint Francis is buried. In the valley we see the late Renaissance church of Santa Maria degli Angeli at Portiuncola (where Saint Francis began his mission).

Assisi: the back of the multi-level church of San Francesco.

Assisi: two smaller churches facing the church of San Francesco: the Duomo on the left (1140-1228) where both Saint Francis and Saint Clare were baptized, and Santa Chiara on the right (1257-1265) where Saint Clare is buried.

Assisi: frescos in the church of San Francesco painted by Giotto, Cimabue, Simone Martini, et al.

Assisi: festivities celebrating the Kalends of May. This is yet another celebration of spring which combines pagan and Christian rites, and which was very popular in medieval Assisi.

The silence of the surrounding countryside, where the first Benedictine and Franciscan orders were born, contrasts sharply to the boisterous celebrations of the Kalends of May

Not far from Assisi are the Carceri, an isolated group of dwellings where Saint Francis used as a retreat.

Gubbio: Folco Quilici ends by bringing us back to the medieval town of Gubbio. The Palazzo dei Priori and the piazza stand high above the rest of the town. The ancient amphitheater just outside of town reminds us that this town was also an important Roman city.