I spent my second day in Umbria in the ancient city of Spoleto, home of the famous “Festival of Two Worlds,” an annual music/arts festival that starts at the end of June and runs 17 days. The festival showcases music, ballet, opera, plays and exhibitions. The final gala concert takes place in the piazza in front of Spoleto’s Duomo. (See photo above)
When I was planning this trip, I wasn’t sure how easy, or not, it would be to travel around Umbria without a car. I’m glad I took the advice of local guide Anne Robichaud who said to make Assisi my base. There are plenty of trains and buses out of Assisi that will get you all over the region.
My friend Paola arrived easily via train on a sunny day in late March. We had to walk a bit to get to the walkway and escalators to take us to the historic center. There are a few different routes you can take once you’re way up there and they’re all clearly marked.
The first thing I wanted to do was walk across the massive Bridge of Two Towers. It stands 90 meters high and is 236 meters long and has ten arches. It joins Spoleto, on the hill of Saint Elia and a hill called Monteluco. across the ravine.
Well, that plan fizzled as soon as we saw that it was closed off for pedestrians. The reason was safety. After the earthquakes in the area, it’s staying closed until further notice.
But the view of the bridge, from either side and from above, was spectacular. In fact, it’s so impressive that the German writer Wolfgang Goethe wrote about it in his “Viaggio in Italia” (trip to Italy). There is a plaque at the bridge which commemorates his journey through the city.
On the way back to the center, we stopped to get a coffee and the barista, Emiliano, said even though the path across is blocked off, go ahead and walk across it anyway. “No one is watching.” I asked him if, when I’m arrested, it would be OK to give the officers his name. I think he said something like, “Non ti preoccupare.” (don’t worry).
We headed into town and I could not believe how quiet it was. There was no crowd anywhere, including at the Duomo, Santa Maria Assunta. The view of the church from a distance was beautiful. Here we had a tower, a portico with arches and a façade with rose windows, all in front of a big wide open space, the piazza where the aforementioned concert is held in July.
Inside the church are frescoes by Filippo Lippi and a chapel with frescoes by Pinturicchio. There is also a letter written by St. Francis of Assisi to a close friend and follower Brother Leo. It’s dated around 1225. It was all kind of incredible to soak in.
And this painting. I love when artists do this.
One good piece of advice Emiliano gave us was to eat lunch at his family’s osteria, “Osteria Al Bacco Felice.” We ate in the dining room full of vintage posters from the early days of the Spoleto festival. And we were the only ones there. According to our waitress Sara, the city was empty because people are afraid of earthquakes. This area was near where the earthquakes hit this year and last. “Usually at this time there are certainly more people here,” Sara said. They’ll likely have a crowd in the summer for the music festival but she thinks they won’t have much until then.
We went back to the fortress, La Rocca Abornoziana, which dates back to the 14th century. There were interesting frescoes inside and a great view of the bridge and the Umbrian countryside. (While I was looking down on the bridge, I saw two people coming back from the other side. I started to consider what Emiliano said until I saw two other people walking toward them. They were police officers. I’d say I made the right choice.)
Then we walked back into the city, taking all sorts of twists and turns on the cobblestone streets to get to the Roman amphitheater. They hold concerts there to this day.
We walked back to the train station via a few different streets, a part of Spoleto that was very much not historic, full of trendy shops and lots of people. It was almost like being in another city. When we got back to Assisi, we took the bus up the hill and saw the St. Francis Basilica all lit up. Again, a pretty spectacular sight. We hopped off and walked up the hill (you’re always walking up a hill in Assisi) and took lots of photos. It was a good way to end the day.