top of page

Italy VIII 28-30 June, 1 July – Siena, Arezzo and Perugia (Assisi)

Once I arrived from Florence SMN, the Siena station is at the bottom of a fairly significant hill, but it seems to be part of a shopping mall, as there are moving walkways and escalators that bring you up (and down) to the shopping levels and to the street at the top. It’s probably about a 15-minute transit. And the Hotel Italia was just down the street from the entrance/exit at the top.

The room wasn’t ready at 11:30, so I left the bags after grabbing my camera and a map, set off to collect my GetYourGuide Siena Cathedral Complex Pass. Following the directions from GYG, I went to one side of the cathedral, only to be told they had moved, and then headed to the other side. Once I collect my Pass, the new phone, the Italian one, receives an alert. Since it’s in Italian, I ignored, and head into the Cattedrale Metropolitana di Santa Maria Assunta.

West and suth facades, Metropolitan Cathedral of the Assumption of Mary, Siena
Cattedrale Metropolitana di Santa Maria Assunta, Siena

Not more than 10 minutes later, the building is instructed to clear, with all visitors told to leave. It seems that a 4.2 earthquake had occurred about 7 miles away just as I managed to find the OPA space. We were advised that a team would be coming to check the physical plant out, to ensure nothing was loose and ready to fall. No time estimate was given, and, of course, all the other sites included on the pass were similarly closed.

From 12:30 until 2pm when the doors re-opened, I found a shady spot in a corner and talked with any and all. I watched as a café closed, and food from the kitchen was brought out and passed around to the frustrated wait staff and the nearby museum staff. During my brief time inside, I’d been in the nave, where the columns and walls are uniformly spaced black-and-white horizontal stripes, calling to mind prison uniforms. The floors were similar checkerboard layouts in the side aisles, but the center near the crossing were filled with elaborate scenes filling hexagons, trimmed with geometric designs. The illustrations formed in marble and classed as mosaics are vastly different from those mosaic displays I’d seen in Venice and Florence, as these are not formed with small glass tiles, but rather cut pieces of marble.

Above, a huge dome has a small lantern at its focus. Gold stars on a midnight background fill the coffered dome, which is described as octagonal, but I count 12 unequal sides. A band with full figures fills the bottom band of the dome above the stripes of the pillars and arch supports. I managed to get 30 pictures in those 10 minutes, and my interest was whet to see them again, and more of the building.

From my corner, I had a great angle on the Duomo di Siena and its main entrance which faces southwest. The southeast wall is clad in white stone with thin bands of black stone running horizontally from the southern point around to the transept and its extension into the cathedral museum. In the transept corner, a bell tower rises with uniform striping, behind which the dark dome sits over the crossing. I found the 90-minute pause a blessing, as the crowds dissipated and I was able to get great shots with fewer people than I’d anticipated. With that time, I was able to focus on the exterior façade, getting detail shots of statues, features and gargoyles.

Once allowed back inside, I took advantage of the smaller crowds and snapped pictures of floor illustrations, ceilings, manuscripts, smaller domes, paintings. The marble pulpit façade is covered in small figures and is amazing. In the quire, one set of choir stalls are of carved wood, with inlay panels of scenes from city life. Another set, in the curve of the apse, mimic intricate leatherwork. There were a small number of scaffolds, but their presence didn’t interfere significantly with my appreciation for this awesome temple. Busts are everywhere, from representations of the popes at the tops of the arches in the nave to regular people surrounding some of the stained-glass windows.

In the Piccolomini Library, the many manuscripts are displayed under glass, open to show the careful and beautiful art of the artists who transcribed from book to book. Above, illustrations set between ornate columns depict religious life of the Middle Ages. The ceiling displays a collection for smaller allegorical paintings, while the floor tiles contain crescent moons.

While much of the interior has decent natural and artificial lighting, I found that the larger oil paintings were poorly lighted, albeit the subjects depicted were dark to begin with. In the prayer chapel, which is also where the Presence is kept, there is an icon of a Black Madonna. Kept under glass, I suspect non-reflective museum-quality glass and some more careful lighting would improve visibility for both the naked eye as well as the (not permitted) invasive camera. (I took my photos from outside the doorway, so as to not disturb those praying.)

When I (finally) exited the cathedral, I returned to the ticket booth to determine what else was included. They advised me to enter into the museum, and to join a group which had access to a balcony with a view of the “south” side of the building. Up a few more flights of stairs, the view looked out over the red tiled roofs of Siena, the cathedral square, and the front of the Duomo from the façade to the dome, with the (much too tall) striped tower. [I probably should have tried to use the phone’s camera to see if I could capture a view with the façade, the tower and the dome.] Returning to the exhibits, statues of both wood and stone, icons, croziers, and gargoyles are shown.

Entry gate to old city, Siena
Gate into old city, Siena

Piazza del Campo, Siena
Piazza del Campo, Siena

The witching hour of 5pm was approaching, and those other buildings on the pass were either closing, or had remained closed due to the earthquake. I missed the Baptistry, as well as two notable basilicas. I headed out to town, peering into the Piazza del Campo, which hosts the Palio horse race and is big open arena-like space. Climbing the hill towards the walled gate I’d passed through on my way from the hotel, I gathered a few nibbles from a small market before getting checked in. I’d passed the bus station, which I would use the following day.

People walking and mingling over evening cocktails on street of Siena
Evening cocktails on street of Siena

Room 108 is on the ground floor, but requires two steps up and 8 down to reach the door. The single twin bed is set against the wall, but there is padding on the wall – no repeat of that accident. The desk was small, but filled with flyers and a kettle and breakfast beverage fixings, taking up the space I’d use for backing up and writing. After settling in, I headed out, walking back through the gate, passing several bars with folks milling about, chatting and celebrating the end of the day.

At Il Vinaio de Bobbe e Davide, I started with a glass of the house red, a Chianti from Azienda Agricola La Croce in Castellina. I went with two pasta dishes, vegetarian as it turns out. The ubiquitous Pici cacio e pepe, cheese and pepper pasta, iconic dish of Rome; and Casarecce with homemade pesto. Both were good, the latter being improved with the addition of ground black pepper. I approved of the pesto, comparing it to that which I make at home. For dessert, a local dolci: panforte di Siena, with a glass of Vinaio’s vin santo. Great dinner.

View of the gate to the old city of Siena at dusk
Siena gate at dusk

From Siena my next objective was Arezzo, which I couldn’t reach via train without backtracking to Florence. My alternative was the bus, and its schedule was thin – there was a bus which left at 8:25 which was too early, and then at 12:30. The transit was 90 minutes, whereas the train would have been double. So after I checked out about 9, I visited the church across the street. Heading to the city gate, I kept outside the walls and enjoyed the views over the tree-covered lower town and walked the outside of the walls for a bit. I walked into the old city looking for the bus stand and for my souvenir, a hat pin. Finding the bus depot, I purchased a ticket for 7,30€ and confirmed the departure time. No pins that appealed, so I stuck my head into the Post Office to see if they had any official boxes for shipping goods – no.

Multiple churches were along my wander, but not the basilicas I’d hoped to visit. Checking out OVS, a lower-end department store, I bought a pair of lightweight khaki slacks. Youth groups were arriving, setting up table inside the walls at the gate – good time to get out of town. Returning to the hotel, I sat and used their WiFi for a bit, and then called a taxi to bring my gear and me to the depot. A much more circuitous route than I’d taken on foot, I still was there very early. A half-bus rolled up, and, because there was no luggage storage, I had to load my rollers in through the back door and fit into the handicap area.

Old Siena city walls as road descends to lower city
Old Siena city walls

View with church tower across valley from Siena walls
View across valley from Siena walls

Taking a seat where I had a view of the road, I observed the whole way. As Old Siena is at the top of a butte, the bus took the winding roads out the gate, around the old fortification walls and across the face of cliffs as we gradually descended to the lower city. Once in the flats and cleared suburbia, trees were prolific, fields were browned over and tiny villages sporadic. Traversing the golden hills, we encountered an occasional factory plant or industrial center. Infrequently, a vineyard, with the vines bush cut and well-spaced – it reminded me of my trips to the Sierra Foothills and Yosemite in California.

Gradually the hills got higher, the roads seeming to follow a stream meandering down between the climbs. Great vistas that cried for a stop for a photo break, but the windows were filthy and the stops infrequent (and never where I wanted them to be. We passed a property where the buildings were in semi-disrepair. I fantasized a bit about fixing it up and opening a B&B there in the Tuscan hills, with pools, saunas, solar, cisterns. Gradually civilization began appearing, and we rolled into the bus depot, right in front of the Arezzo train station. The hotel was 200m and one turn.

Reception checked me into room 1, which had a single bed but plenty of floor space. No AC, but there was air flow, and the desk was close to clear. Plus breakfast was included. My itinerary had two basilicas and the cathedral as points to visit, and, armed with a map circled with their locations, I prepared to set off. The clerk added three more sites: Vasari’s house, the fortress/citadel and the Piazza Grande.

First, I encountered the Basilica di San Francesco, a simple church. After paying the 10€ admission, I was assigned a 30-minute slot for visiting the chapel with Piero Della Francesca's frescoes of the Legend of True Cross. Airy and bright, I was able to view and photograph not only the chapel, but the rest of the nave. The church itself is long and relatively narrow, with a very high vault of dark wooden beams. The chapel is a smaller, contained space behind the altar, between small rooms in the corners reached through arches. Entering to the left, the War Memorial Chapel has a twentieth century mural of soldier-angels lifting a dead soldier up to place at the foot of Christ. The vault is flag blue filled with stars and edged with daisies. Fragments of older murals are also on the walls.

Progressing into the chancel, I was overwhelmed with the Della Francesca fresco cycle covering the side and east walls. From the mid fifteenth century, eleven panels depict scenes from the Old and New Testaments, and the era of Constantine. In the vault, four saints are shown with angels. I exited into the Guasconi Chapel: the walls are filled with fragments of frescoes depicting the stories of St Egidio (left wall) and the Archangel Michael

Timing, and capacity control are in place, and I was fortunate to be able to just walk up and enter. Typically, the tickets are sold out. Over the altar in front of the chancel hangs a rood cross, done by a contemporary of Cimabue. On the walls are more fragments of frescoes, most in good condition.

Cattedrale di Ss. Donato e Pietro / Cathedral of St. Donatus and St. Peter, Arezzo
Cattedrale di Ss. Donato e Pietro / Cathedral of St. Donatus and St. Peter, Arezzo

Out and up the street to the Cattedrale di Ss. Donato e Pietro / Cathedral of St. Donatus and St. Peter. Set on a rise above and open square, I mounted twenty steps to reach the entrance. Three aisles with the central nave are covered in elaborate illustrations. There are three carved marble pulpits, two out in the nave being classical, the one in the current main altar space quite modern. An open ambulatory allows passage around the old high altar, a block of solid gray stone topped with a brilliantly carved white marble reredos. To the north near the entrance, an opening into a domed 3-aisle chapel, where the Presence and prayer space are reserved, and the Stations are mounted.

[Research note: when writing this up, I came across a reference to a first millennium site, a ruin of a predecessor Cattedrale San Stefano about 1.2km southwest of the present Arrezo cathedral. This happens sometimes, where I uncover additional places I could have visited had I been more diligent. Now it goes on the (rather long) “missed cathedrals” list for Italy.

Leaving the cathedral at 4, after a few more exterior shots I headed north to walk a narrow street with a tree at its end and the second basilica’s bells rising above. I’d passed a toga’d statue with a lion at his feet; a view down the hill behind; and a door with a great lion knocker.

Another church with a simple façade, the Basilica di San Domenico, the building is narrow and dark inside, a wooden beam vault above the nave. Interestingly, the black-and-white striping of Siena is found in the arches of the windows and the eastern end’s apse and side chapels. Inside the entrance are a Crucifixion fresco and a Church history fresco, probably the best preserved of those remaining on the nave walls. Hanging over the main altar is a Cimabue crucifix (from 1265) which gave me flashbacks to the crosses in Florence and the local San Francesco Basilica. Best preserved of the three, it amazed me that it hung unattended in a small parish church.

For the 6€ admission, I entered the house of the sixteenth century painter and architect Giorgio Vasari. The walls have painting from his oeuvre mounted, with the walls and ceilings embellished with murals.

Out the back is a formal garden, trimmed boxwood delineating the paths around a lily pad fountain. The route through this museum then led to the Abrahms Room, which Vasari had decorated for his wedding. He had designed the house and lived in it when his travels to the Medici court in Florence permitted. It contains his art and works from others of his times; the collection is selective and intense. While not all to my taste, I loved the ceilings and the garden.

From Vasari’s I headed towards the fortress bypassing the cathedral. For 4€ I was admitted to the tunnel gate leading into the Hill of San Donato and the Medici Fortress of Arezzo. Enjoying walking around the walls and grounds, I noted the fortress construction. The vistas surrounding the fort were stunning.

Exiting through the park with its lines of trees providing near complete shade, Maps gave me shaky directions to the Piazza Grande, a trapezoidal space in the flats below the hill and fortress. Passing the Palazzo Pretorio with its façade covered in placards and medallions, a covered promenade took me to the mildly sloped open space. Cafés with umbrella-covered tables encircled the space, tempting a stop for a brief respite.

Piazza Grande And Palazzo Pretorio, Arezzo
Piazza Grande, Arezzo

Antica Bottega Toscana on corner of square, Arezzo
Bottega on Piazza, Arezzo

However, I continued on as it was nearing 7pm. Taking a different radial off the Piazza, I roamed down narrow pedestrian streets, past quaint bottegas, window shopping until I reached the station. Back to the hotel, I got into my room and set myself up. Opening the window, I filled a glass with water and stood on the deck enjoying the view. After setting my train rides for the next two days, I asked for restaurant recommendations. As it turned out, both suggestions were to places closed for Wednesdays and Thursdays, so I settled into Jungle in Town. Serving BrewDog beers, I knew I’d at least enjoy my beverages. My drink choices, all ambers, were Baba yaga (IPA), Euroma, and Jungle Juice; I started with chicken wings. Four drummies and 2 wings, I didn’t find them as “fiery” as on the menu, but they were cooked all the way through and were tasty Looking to try something different as a burger, I ordered a Jungle 2.0, a sausage burger with broccoli rabe cream, pepper, bacon, pecorino and cream cheese. It came with the “steak fries”, nice and crispy. I had to send it back to have the bacon made crispy, and I skipped about 70% of the brioche bun. Ate all the veggies and burger, and 2/3 of the fries.

Back in the room, after taking some night shots off the balcony, I charged the camera and phones, pushed through some emails. I had two nights planned for Perugia, with a day trip to Assisi. I organized my laundry, and thought about my shoes, which were starting to pull apart. Sleep beckoned.

From the notes for Arrezo in my itinerary:

The Church of San Francesco is home to Piero della Francesca’s greatest masterpiece, the fresco cycle known as La Leggenda della Vera Croce (The Legend of the True Cross), while the Church of San Domenico holds the famous crucifix from Cimabue. The imposing Duomo or Cathedral is considered by many to be one of the finest examples of Gothic architecture in Italy.

Breakfast was served on the terrace, and I had a croissant which I filled with slices of salami and cheese. Apples were the only fruit offered, so I made a note to find bananas further on. Coffee and juice to drink. After checking out and returning to street level, I walked to the station where elevators were functioning, and soon was on the 80-minute train ride to Perugia, crossing from Tuscany to Umbria. Once there, there were no lifts, so, with the help of a younger man passing by, I got the bags down off the platform, through the subway, and back to street level.

Risking life-and-limb, I pulled the bags across the busy thoroughfare of Via Settevalli; the other option was stairs down and up, and another subway, which reeked as a toilet.

Chatting with the (formerly Persian) receptionist, I was advised not to spend the half hour needed to climb the butte to the upper city. Yes, like so many older cities, Perugia had been started as a town set atop a higher hill with great views. The alternative was to walk a quarter kilometer along the busy boulevard out front to a monorail, the Fontivegge minimetrò. Dual carriage and unstaffed, I rode up with 8 or so others after I purchased a 24-hour pass.

Reaching the end at the dome park, I climbed up to the old city streets and began a wander towards the cathedral. Reaching the Piazza IV Novembre, the Cattedrale Metropolitana di San Lorenzo e Sant’Ercolano had its south side along one side of the gently sloping plaza.

Front facade of Cattedrale Metropolitana di San Lorenzo e Sant’Ercolano
Cattedrale Metropolitana di San Lorenzo e Sant’Ercolano, Cathedral of Perugia

Strikingly, most of the exterior is unfinished surface; only a trial section of white and pink diamonds covers a small portion. Up a dozen steps from the plaza, a walkway skirts from the southern door around to the eastern main entrance. The reversing of the traditional east-west footprint orientation from the apse to the main entrance, as well as flanking the main square, was unusual, while still cruciform.

When I entered just after 11am, Mass was underway in a small chapel off the north side, with a guard deflecting curious tourist. I began my exploration of the three-aisled church, with the reddish-striped (on a diagonal, like a barber pole) octagonal marble columns rising up to three Gothic vaults filled with murals and ornamented trim. In the rear corner to the right of the main entrance, a shrine is gated off: in a small curtained off space at the top is the stone ring given by Joseph on his betrothal to Mary. An oil painting fills the marble columns of the shrine, and a plaster replica is on display in front. Opposite, a smaller gate protects a shrine with a marble sarcophagus under a large oil of the descent from the cross. Along the side aisles, small outdents are shrines with large murals depicting scenes from the history of the early church.

The high altar has been moved forward, decorated with multiple-colored marbles, and sits in front of the wooden choir stalls and pipes of the organ. A smaller, modern altar table is placed further forward, under the crossing, within view of the old decorated wooden cathedra. Directed by a guide who answered a question for me, I ventured into the sacristy, where the ceiling was a riot of illustrations in shades of red-orange, blue-black and white. Painted by Giovanni Antonio Pandolfi in the 15th century, the martyrdom of St Lawrence is in the rectangular center, while biblical episodes and allegorical figures fill the slopes of the dome. Below, on the walls, were depictions of the Doctors of the Church, seated as bishops or popes.

A tour, in Italian, but with a tablet relating the content in English, was set to leave in 45 minutes, so I booked and took the intervening time to explore the cloister and sacristy, as well as the tour starting point. Stone tiles cover the cloister, which apparently is used for sit-down functions. On the covered walkway’s walls are pieces found during archeological digs. The 50-minute tour took us down below the Roman level. A lot of archeology has been done, and there is a longer tour – that tour was something I’d like to take on my return.

Leaving the cathedral grounds, I began a wander southward, towards the Piazza Italia and the city prefecture. This is set at the edge of the butte, with great vistas visible over the lower city with churches topping the smaller rises, and into the Umbrian countryside. The skies were getting darker, so I began working my way back toward the MiniMetro. A discount shoe store caught my eye, and I picked up a pair of leather walking shoes which I figured would pass as oxfords when I was on the Cunard cruise coming home. Once aboard, while descending, the thunder and lightning show began, so I waited with several others at the base station until it was down to an easy shower.

A Coop appeared on my stroll back, and I went in to get bananas. Back at the hotel, I had Room 4, a small space with a single bed and decent bath. Grabbing my old shoes, I asked after a cobbler. Two possibilities, so I headed to the closer, under my umbrella, but never found it. Then reversing and crossing the MiniMetro tracks, I found a shop, which was closed for lunch. Settling into a small café up the block, I sat and enjoyed a glass of white wine. The cobbler had returned, but couldn’t (wouldn’t?) stitch up the shoes. So I headed back to the hotel, where I had some water with a fruit-and-nuts pack, doing email and making a Facebook post.

About 7 I headed out to find dinner, walking past the MiniMetro station and climbing a small hill to Trattoria Restopub Murales. With a glass of the house red, I began journaling for the day, and my antipasta pan foccacia arrived. Not the menu’s salami and salad, it was local mortadella, which was superb. Single and double carriage MiniMetro would whiz by as I sat upstairs on the roof patio, the sole patron for dining. Similarly, the menu option wasn’t available, so I got a variation on Pasta alla Grecia, pasta condita con pecorino romano, pepenero e guanciale.

Starter: focaccia and mortadella
Starter: focaccia and mortadella

Pasta alla Grecia, Trattoria Restopub Murales with passing MiniMetro cab
Pasta alla Grecia, Trattoria Restopub Murales

I contemplated another run to the hilltop on the monorail, but found out it stopped running at 9pm, so had another glass of red before returning to the hotel.

Rain began as I was walking back, heavy at times. There were thunderstorms that lasted until past 2am. Back in the room, I spent time writing up the trip report for Lille and Amiens, 7 weeks back. The guy in the next room returned about 10:45 and proceeded to have a phone conversation with his door open, using a particularly loud voice. When I asked him to drop his volume, he slammed his door. (Fortunately, he was soon off, and checked out the following morning.) I slept pretty well, with the bed firmer and higher than the one in Arezzo, but not as firm as many of the “too hard” beds I’d been experiencing.

Awake at 8, I got ready and had my banana and “pills”. Crossing over to the train station, I caught the 9:15 local the three stops, exiting at Assisi. The station is nearly 4km from where my tour rendezvous point, and up a significant hill. From the bar-café I got 2 tickets for the bus service there, which arrived about 10 minutes after the train, and took 15 minutes to get to the top. With 20+ minutes to wait, I got and drank a bottle of water before Michele arrived; he was expecting a pair. (I’d booked 2 spots, as that was the minimum for the tour, hoping that others would join. That didn’t happen, so I had a solo tour.) He lives in Perugia and had driven down, and had spent time trying to find a free parking spot. When I remarked on the marked rise that Assisi sits on, he explained that the flat land below had historically been a lake bed.

Exterior facade and tower of Cattedrale di San Rufino di Assisi
Cattedrale di San Rufino di Assisi / Cathedral of St Rufus of Assisi

While talking as we began walking downhill along narrow streets lined with stone houses, our first stop was the Cattedrale di San Rufino di Assisi. Named for the first bishop, a martyr, the building is a combination of both Gothic and Romanesque styles. Set at the southeast end of a piazza with buildings rising on either side, my better photography options were to get the front façade and the square belltower to the north. The dome just wasn’t visible from the piazza. My initial impression of the façade was that it was fairly plain, although there are extensive and elaborate carvings around the doors and the rose window.

The central nave is quite simple, with plain square columns supporting a curved, unadorned vault. Along the walls of the side aisles are shrines comprised of an oil painting between a pair of marble columns, capped by a tympanum. In the presbytery, the carved choir stalls, organ pipes and large wood cathedra sit in the recess of the apse under a plain dome; the high altar is above the coffin of St Rufus. There are two side chapels with elaborate decorations and half domes: to the right the Blessed Sacrament, counter to Our Lady of Consolation. Inside the door is the baptismal font, used for both St Francis and St Clare.

Michele was on a timetable apparently, as I was out in five minutes. We continued the downward path, following narrow twisting roads under arches and then down stairs as we approached the Church of St Clare. With faint horizontal striping, its façade is quite simple. Inside, where no photography is permitted (and, even without guards to enforce, I honored the rule,) I noted there were very few frescoes. It is a good-sized church, and I walked downstairs to the vault to pass by the tomb of St Clare.

As we continued towards the Basilica of St Francis, out to the south the countryside extended towards the horizon. Olive trees were directly below, then evergreens of cedar and fir, the occasional stone building or wall peeking through. Off in the distance near the train station was the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli, which Michele insisted I plan on visiting. Here and there were small shrines, where St Francis’ parents had their business, lived. His father’s home had become a church, and we visited; it was filled with depictions of the history of the Order. As Francis had instituted the Nativity creche, the place where the first had been was also commemorated. The old Roman temple to Juno, which has become a church, stands next to a bell tower with a clock on its face.

Approaching the west end of the hilltop where the Basilica Papale di San Francesco d’Assisi stands, we descended a ramp to enter the lowest of three levels. Again, no photography is permitted, so I put away my phone and camera. Advancing inside to the stone columned space, the murals/frescoes by Giotto and Cimabue are stunning. We circled around the central core that contains the remains of St Francis, silenced by the heightened reverence. In retrospect, while I’d like to have photographs to remember, I think it’s better to have experienced it without those aids – it certainly means more to me.

Climbing up to the next level, I found it more cloister-like, being in the open air. It was almost like a breather, coming back from a very holy space. After a bit, we took the stairs up and entered the main church space of the basilica. Much of the ceiling, damaged in the 2007 earthquake, has been restored, and Giotto’s murals of the life of St Francis are brilliant. My notes suggest that I will be getting a photobook to aid the memories, not something I wanted to carry around Italy in the short term.

Outside once again, Michele and I parted, as he headed up the ramp to collect his car while I got out my camera and took a few more pictures. I took more pictures as I headed down to the intermediate bus stop, and the bus almost immediately came around the corner.

Wanting to visit the basilica near the station, I asked the driver, and he had me stay on the bus after we dropped most of the passengers off at the station, and then rode about 10 minutes southeast before crossing the tracks and returning. He pulled up alongside the basilica and I got off. Walking over to the entrance, I found that it would be closed for another 40 minutes.

Crossing the street, I found an open café, La Pregiutteria Casa Norcia, where I had lunch: a glass of Montefalco rosso, an insalata mista, and tagliatelle al ragù di Prosciutto di Norcia IGP e profumo di Tartufo. The salad was a colorful bowl of mixed greens and radicchio, slivers of carrot and halved cherry tomatoes; oil and balsamic vinegar, a bit of ground pepper. It was a nice space, good food, but I was their last lunch customer and I suspect were anxious to get home.

Exterior facade of Basilica Papale di Santa Maria delgi Angeli in Porziuncola
Basilica Papale di Santa Maria delgi Angeli in Porziuncola

Recrossing the street and entering the Basilica Papale di Santa Maria delgi Angeli in Porziuncola, I found the familiar “no photography” restriction. While I powered off the Nikon, I was aggravated to see many inside ignoring the signs. The side altars/chapels were stunning, with some behind canvas and scaffolding for restoration. At the center, a highly adorned small church, the site of the original “church in the woods” of St Francis, stood as an elegant chapel. After walking around this structure, I left the basilica and walked to the train station.

Aboard the SMN Firenze bound train, I got off after three stops in Perugia and headed to the hotel and my room for a nap. After an hour, I picked up my reporting, working on my first day in Paris. Checking my itinerary for Assisi, I discovered I’d missed a church I wanted to visit – the predecessor cathedral for St Rufino. Being a Sunday evening, I figured finding an open restaurant might be difficult, so asked the Persian at the front desk, and he sent me to Rosticceria Gallina, a cafeteria-style eatery.

While it was an inexpensive meal, I’m really not sure what I ate. Picking from the steam table, I was served two mounds of what looked to be ham, and then a meat stew in tomato sauce, with spinach and marinated artichokes. The server was sweet on me, ignoring my requests for smaller portions. I left about half in the aluminum dishes it all was served on. As I’d left my reading glasses in the room, it was a small challenge to write in my journal.

Book: Cathedrals to the Glory of God
Cathedrals to the Glory of God

You can purchase your own copy

(or have me send it as a gift) of

Cathedrals to the Glory of God

by clicking this link:


Ken, your photograph of the library ceiling at Siena Duomo is breath-taking. I wondered if the church attracted that many people outside regularly and who would have thought it was because of an earthquake. Do you grow your own basil to make pesto?

KB Cook
KB Cook
Sep 30, 2023
Replying to

Susan, from my experiences in Italy, I think any of the big name cathedrals will have well populated piazzas if the weather is good. However, it was interesting following the earthquake in Siena, in that an hour later the stairs in front had noly a handful of people, speaking with the staff and being told the building was closed. I'm planning on using it as the photo in Volume III for Siena.

And your question about growing basil - of course. I make pesto from my garden because I don't always go through "the crop" and don't want it to waste. Fortunately, I've learned it freezes, so I have had "fresh" homemade pesto year round. A recipe I found in…