Città di Castello
Among the gentle green hills of the Upper Tiber Valley, in luminous landscapes and an intensely cultivated countryside, lies the art city of Città di Castello.
In ancient times known as "Tifernum Tiberinum," the town got the current name when it became a Roman municipium at the beginning of the 2nd century. In the 13th century, imposing boundary walls surrounded the town, dividing it into four quarters: St Maria, St Giacomo, St Florido and St Egidio. Between the 15th and 16th centuries, Città di Castello was dominated by the lords of the Vitelli family, that left a very important heritage in terms of urban structure and buildings. Città di Castello has not significantly changed from the beginning of Cinquecento (1500s), and this integrity and continuity has helped preserve the architectural and ambiance of extraordinary beauty... good enough reason why it is worth a visit!
Let's start at Piazza Matteotti: the Baroque styling of the buildings has been adapted from the original medieval structure. Palazzo del Podestà overlooks the piazza, keeping the 14th-century stone-buiding structure on the side facing Corso Cavour, while the façade dates back to 1686. Palazzo Vitelli "in piazza" (the umpteenth monument left by the noble family) stands just in front of it. Walking along the old town centre, you will get into Palazzo dei Priori, the current town hall, an unfinished work of art by Angelo da Orvieto. The gothic building (1322-53), shows an ashlar masonry exterior, adorned by a refined portal and beautiful twin lancet windows. The "Torre Comunale" (municipal tower) is decorated with coats of arms faces the Palazzo. (The tower is open to visits every day except of Monday, 10 am – 1 pm and 3.30 pm – 5.30 pm.)
You will be fascinated by the marvellous Duomo, built over a pre-existing Romanesque church, as the bell-tower still retains that history and style. The Duomo is dedicated to the saints Florido and Amanzio, and was totally restored during the Renaissance. The northern façade marks several stylistic changes: the gothic portal (1339-1359); the 15th-century staircase; and the unfinished front, which dates back to 1632-1646. Inside the church you will be able to admire a stunning coffered ceiling (1700s) and some amazing frescoes made by Pomarancio (1573) and Marco Benefial (1749). The left transept holds the lovely painting by Rosso Fiorentino, representing the Transfiguration, recently brought back to the ancient splendour.
Close by the Duomo is the "Capitular Museum" that collects extremely precious works of art, like Tesoro di Canoscio, and rare 5th and 6th century collections of dishes, pots and Eucharistic stuff. The ‘paliotto’ (altar panel) in golden and embossed silver, dates back to the 12th century, while the ‘pastoral’ attributed to the Sienese School, dates back to the second half of the 14th century. The picture gallery shows paintings like Madonna col Bambino e San Giovannino, by Pinturicchio. The museum is open to visits: October to March, from 10.30 am – 1 pm; April, June and September from 10.30 am – 1 pm and 3 pm – 5.30 pm; July and August, from 10 am – 1 pm and 3.30 pm – 6.30 pm.
Palazzo Vitelli alla Cannoniera is something not to be missed in Città di Castello. Built by the family over the ruins of an old cannons’ foundry, in the first half of the 1500s. Giorgio Vasari made the rich graffito decoration that adorns the façade overlooking the garden. The Palazzo houses the municipal picture gallery (pinacoteca comunale), one of the most important collection of the whole Umbria region. The most interesting will certainly be Maestà by an artist known as Maestro di Città di Castello; St Sebastiano’s Martyrdom (il martirio di San Sebastiano) (1498 circa), by Luca Signorelli; the Holy Trinity Processional Bulwark, made by Raffaello in 1501 circa; the Virgin’s coronation, by Ghirlandaio. The lovely exhibition includes some gorgeous glazed earthenware attributed to Giovanni, Andrea and Luca della Robbia, as well as a display cabinet preserving St Andrea’s relics. The Picture gallery is open to visits every day except of Monday, 10 am – 1 pm and 3 pm – 6.30 pm. Despite the heavy-hitting artists, the city is still little-known among tourists.
Have a look at the large and intriguing aisleless Church of St Domenico, built in 1424. The church has preserved notable Quattrocento (1400s) frescoes and a wood inlaid chorus. The building that housed the Dominican convent stands just next to the church and offers a lovely 17th-century cloister. The building that faces the church is the old Hospital, finished in 1785.
Corso Vittorio Emanuele, the long straight stretch that links the gate of St Maria Maggiore within the historical centere, and goes to the Renaissance church of St Maria Maggiore, a beautiful element of the urban renewal promoted by the Vitelli’s. Along the street you will see some 16th-century buildings, like Palazzo Bruni and Palazzo Lignai-Marchesani. At the street number 2, there is Palazzo Facchinetti, with elegant wrought iron balcony over a beautiful Baroque portal.
Palazzo Vitelli in Porta St Egidio (yes, another Vitelli palazzo!) is the biggest building erected in town. Giorgio Vasari designed it with a long façade interrupted by two portals and three series of windows of ashlar masonry work in local stone. Stunning Prospero Fontana frescoes are festooned inside the building.
Do not miss the Church of St Francesco, built between the 13th and the 14th century (as visible from the portal, the right side and three polygonal apses), but almost totally remade during the eighteenth century. Close by the entrance on the left side, a splendid wrought iron gate, by Pietro di Ercolano (1567), introduces the marvellous Vitelli Chapel. This impressive work of art, made by Giorgio Vasari, preserves 26 inlaid choir stalls representing the lives of the Virgin and St Francesco. A side altar exhibits a copy of Sposalizio della Vergine (1504), the famous altar-piece painted by Raffaello for the conventuals, whose original is shown in "Pinacoteca Milanese" in Brera. The theatre, located close to the church, in Via Fucci, is a little jewel erected for want of the Enlightened people, in 1660.
Besides all the admirable and beautiful artwork and architecture around town, it is just plain pleasant to stroll the classy streets, sit at a wine bar or piazza cafe, enjoy the atmosphere and boutiques, maybe a gelato (or two!) and soak it all in. This is a city to discover and enjoy!
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