Norcia – Umbria experience #1

09 Jul

This is the hotel we stayed in, the Grotta Azzurra (the Blue Cave) set in a 18th century building, and I have to say the atmosphere of the old times is still there….

We had breakfasts and dinners at the hotel, and the menu was so rich in choice and in taste!….I couldn’t eat this, but all the others say this dessert was the very best….

You can enter the old part of Norcia by many gates, this one is called Porta Romana (Roman Gate) and it’s the oldest one. The writing on the gate reads “Vetusta Nursia”, latin for “Old Norcia”.

Norcia, traditionally known in English by its latin name of Nursia, is a town unlike many ancient towns, located in a wide plain abutting the Monti Sibillini, a subrange of the Apennines, with some of its highest peaks, near the Sordo River, a small stream that eventually flows into the river Nera. The town is popularly associated with the Valnerina (the valley of that river).

Traces of human settlement in Norcia’s area date back to the Neolithic Age. The town’s known history begins with settlement by the Sabines in the 5th century BC. It became an ally of ancient Rome in 205 BC, during the Second Punic War when it was known in Latin as Nursia, but the earliest extant Roman ruins date from around the 1st century.

From the inside, the gate hold its charm as well, especially at night…..

St. Benedict, the founder of the Benedectine monastic system, and his twin sister St. Scholastica, were born here in 480. In the 8th century, an oratory was built so pilgrims could pray at St. Benedict’s birthplace. Monks came to Norcia in the 10th century. Contemporary monks care for the Monastery of St. Benedict, built over the Roman ruins of the house of Sts. Benedict and Scholastica. In the 6th century Norcia was conquered by the Lombards, becoming part of the Duchy of Spoleto. In the 9th century it suffered from Saracen attacks, which started a period of deep decadence. In the 11th century, it was part of the domain of St. Henry, Holy Roman Emperor.In the 12th century Norcia became an independent commune within the Papal territories, with an increasing political and economical prestige. The collaboration with the Benedictine abbey in Preci led to the creation of the Schola Chirurgica. Studies at this institution contributed to Norcia residents improving their swine breeding. The powerful Spoleto and the 1324 earthquake thwarted the city’s ambitions, and in 1354 it was returned definitively to the Papal authority.

Here are some glimpses of the town, by day and by night….

A fortress, the Castellina was built in 1555-1563 as the residence of the Papal governors, as designed by Giacomo Barozzi from Vignola. It now houses a small museum with Roman and medieval artifacts, and documents of the Middle Ages and later periods.  It was built on the site where once stood a pagan temple converted to Christian worship from San Feliciano. For its construction was demolished  the palace of the Podesta who once stood on the spot. The first stone was laid on September 10, 1554 and the outer perimeter completed eight years later, in 1562, then, in 1564, it was officially handed over to Gherardo Tazio, representative of Pius IV. When in 1569 it was established the Mountain Prefecture, Castellina became the natural headquarters, hosting the papal governors and lieutenants. Bureaucratic organization and the needs of the various offices of the Prefecture binds the slow and elaborate definition of interior spaces, whose arrangement lasted at least until 1587. Restored in the eighteenth century as a result of frequent earthquakes, from 1860 it became the seat of the offices of the City and established as a museum in 1967 with the works provided by the city, by the Curia and by the Institutes of Charity of the city.

Inside the fortress, only photos of the building were allowed, not of the objects collected in the museum….

From the second floor of the fortress, I had a perfect view of the St. Benedict Square….

but also at the ground level the square is just amazing….

The Town Hall, built in the thirteenth century, was restored at various times, because of the frequent earthquakes. The oldest part of the building, dating from the fifteenth century, is the porch with columns low and squat, where once there was the notary archive, the “Grascia and Gabella” of which remains an interesting rate drawback of the seventeenth century on a wall .The upper part of the building acquired the current face after the earthquake of 1859, the first national emergency hitting the then forming Kingdom of Italy.

The bell tower is from 1713, the main gate of the second half of the ‘500 by Antonio Franceso Marinucci, a local manufacturer that also intervened in the work of the Castellina.

The main basilica is dedicated to St. Benedict and is connected to a functioning Benedictine Monastery Though the present edifice was built in the 13th century, it stands on the remains of one or more small Roman buildings, sometimes considered to have been a Roman basilica, or alternately the house in which the twin saints were born. The façade, in Gothic style, is characterized by a central rose window and relief portraying the four Evangelists. Inside, the fresco of the Resurrection of Lazarus(1560) was painted by Michelangelo Carducci. The altar in the left-hand transept houses a St Benedict and Totila painting (1621) by Filippo Napoletano. Too bad when I visited they were celebrating Mass so I couldn’t take photos of the inside….

At night the lights make the place like a magic one…(please, note hubby face, like “another one? haven’t you had enough already?”)

The catalyst of all the eyes on the square however, is the statue of St. Benedict himself, as you can see…………

The Renaissance church of Santa Maria Argentea is the Duomo or cathedral. It holds some works by Flemish masters, a richly decorated altar by Duquesnoy, a Madonna and Saints by Pomarancio, and a St Vicent Ferrer and the Sick (1756) by Giuseppe Paladini. The church has a long history. At the time of the Roman Empire, the area currently occupied by Castellina, was a temple dedicated to the goddess Fortuna Argentea (Silver Lucky), who in the third century AD was converted to Christian worship. The memory of this building is lost but not in the name of the Cathedral, Santa Maria Argentea. The remains of the church can still be seen in the basement of the Castellina. The current church was built between 1556-1570 in Renaissance style, with large stone arches and chapels. It has a simple façade, and an elegant portal with wooden doors placed in 1576. Unfortunately damaged by several earthquakes, it was restored in neoclassical style in the eighteenth century.

One of the best places where we had lunch during our stay is this “trattoria” a very cozy and funny place, managed by a bunch of young people, located along the ancient walls surrounding Norcia.


Posted by on July 9, 2015 in Uncategorized


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3 responses to “Norcia – Umbria experience #1

  1. Gattina

    July 10, 2015 at 3:01 pm

    What a beautiful old town, and delicious food !

  2. ionuca

    July 15, 2015 at 11:15 am

    Italy is amazing! I’m still amazed by all those beautiful cities so close to each other!

  3. Pat @ Mille Fiori Favoriti

    August 11, 2015 at 4:46 am

    Gracie, I have read back through all your adventures and enjoyed them all! Umbria countryside looks a lot like where I live now. All the food made me hungry! I am dieting and can’t eat pasta– so sad! Enjoy the rest of your summer!


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