Situated at 604 meters above sea level between the Sordo and Torbidone rivers, the town of Norcia, in ancient times known as “Nursia”,is the region’s largest town.
The city’s origins go back to ancient times: already during the Punic wars between the Romans and the Phenicians, Norcia was of great importance as has been recorded by Roman historians. Later, during Roman times, the town gained political importance: first, as prefecture and then as a township. Upset by the Longobards and then by the Goths, it later recovered and became an active town during the Middle Ages. Its storical treasures have been damaged for the major part by the very frequent earthquakes with have devasted the town during the centuries. The first recorded earthquake in fact dates back to the first part of the 6th century. However, due to a very meticulous restoration, the city is now able to show its original structure, with its splendid medieval and lordly architecture.As with the town of Cascia, Norcia was the birth-place of a great religious personage: St.Benedict who was the first monk of Christian faith and the founder of the Benedictine order. He lived at the end of the 6th century between prayer and the humility of work, as he himself synthetized in his famous words: “Prayer and Work”.
The city is worth an excursion for the restaurants which offer the typical regional cuisine, and for a more attentive and profound visit, for its important works of art, which are all to be found in its old city walls. In this sense, the Gothic church of St. Benedict, is impressive, built in the shape of a Latin cross with a poligonal apsis and with a beautiful ogival portal. Its interior is built on two levels: above, you’ll find the main church while the crypt is to be found below. Inside, you’ll find precious frescoes and paintings dating back to the 16th and 17th centuries. The outside of the church preserves its original structure in only one part of the facade. A portico gives movement to the right-hand lateral side of the church until the bell-tower. The Cathedral, on the other hand, dates back to the Renaissance period; unfortunately, not much of the original building has remained, as restoration during the baroque era has changed its architectural style. Another impressive example of Renaissance architecture, this time civil, is the “Castellina”, a four-sided strong-hold built by Vignola and nowadays seat of the Municipal Diocesan Museum. The church of St.Augustine, worth a visit because of its ogival portal which in its lunette contains a well-preserved fresco of the Madonna and Child with St. Augustine, and that of St. John, which, not like the former, has lost its original structure because of modifications during the baroque era, both date back to the 14th century. The church of St. Francis with its rose-window which opens upon its facade, is also noteworthy. Near Norcia, the small town of Serravalle offers the magical atmosphere of a village lost among the green Umbrian hillside. For trekking lovers and walkers, the plain of Castelluccio offers a truly unique spectacle, in particular during Spring-time when the meadows, because of the flowers in bloom, assume a thousand different tonalities mixed together in a multitude of colours.
The town of Cascia is situated at 563 meters above sea level near the Corno river. Cascia was founded during Roman times, even if nothing remains which remembers those times, due to devastation by barbaric tribes and the earthquakes which have always disturbed the town and the neighbouring cities.
As with the major part of the Umbria’s towns, Cascia experienced its period of major splendour during the Middle Ages. Formerly under the dominion of Foligno, it later passed under the rule of Frederick II of Swabia. Later, the neighbouring cities of Norcia, Leonessa and Spoleto unsuccessfully fought over the town. Finally, only at the beginning of the 16th century, Cascia surrendered to the Papal State under whose rule it remained for less than 30 years.
After that, it has always maintained its independence. When speaking of Cascia’s history, it is necessary to mention its most illustrious personage, who illuminated the city and rendered it famous all over the world, even today: Saint Rita of Cascia. This nun, who was beatified in 1900, lived from 1381 until 1457. Respecting her father’s wishes which led her to marry and not to enter an Augustine convent, as she would liked, St. Rita lived in continual terror of her husband for 18 years. Her exemplary life induced even her husband to convert. Her life had a tragical end; she died in mysterious circumstances. Her children also died soon after. Nowadays this Saint, who is known to grant wishes, is venerated all over the world and many pilgrims undertake the journey to the Sanctuary of Saint Rita which has been dedicated to her memory. The city’s medieval architectural jewels are worth a visit: the Gothic church of St. Francis, which will astound you because of the beauty of its rose-window and of its ogival portal and the church of St. Anthony Abate, dating back to the 15th century but reconstructed and modified during the baroque era. In the latter’s interior, you’ll admire a cycle of paintings depicting the life of the Saint.
The Collegiate church of St. Mary is one of the city’s oldest buildings: its origins go back to longobard times, even if it has been notably modified because of damage caused by subsequent earthquakes. You’ll find impressive works of art in the inside, such as a wooden Cross of the 15th century. The church of St. Augustine also dated back to the Gothic era; inside, it contains stupendous examples of frescoes of the Umbrian and Perugian schools. The basilica and monastery of St. Rita are of great storical and religious importance, and have become world-famous religious centers. Finally, Carli Palace, with its interior, is perhaps the building which best represents the city’s civil architecture.
Valnerina: Norcia and Cascia
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