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Facts about Perugia, the Beautiful City in Italy

Updated on April 13, 2014
Piazza IV Novembre
Piazza IV Novembre | Source

Perugia is a picturesque city centrally located on the Italian peninsula between Rome, to the southwest, and Florence, to the northwest. It is the largest city and capital of the Umbrian region. The historical commercial center of Perugia rises on a hilltop approximately 1,640 feet (500 meters) above sea level overlooking the Tiber Valley. Perugia has a population of 167,418 (2010)

Today the city is an important center of regional government, industry (clothing, furniture, chocolates, and pasta), tourism, education, and music. The history of Perugia is particularly rich with notable chapters from the classical, medieval, Renaissance, and modern periods.

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Although the classical literature refers to the site of Perugia as a village founded by the Sarsinati Umbrians during prehistory, archaeological evidence suggests that the Etruscans, the most robust of native Italic people, dominated the region as early as the 7th–6th century B.C. As a stronghold of Etruscan civilization, the militaristic personality of the populace served as a distinguished rival to Rome until 140 B.C., when the city was sacked and burned. Perugia did not surrender completely for another 100 years, at which time it was rebuilt by Octavius and renamed Augusta Perusia. Numerous surviving monuments, such as the enormous 3d-century-B.C. Etruscan arch, called the Porta Augusta, and a myriad of artifacts unearthed in local tombs, have contributed greatly to modern understanding of the classical epoch.

Church of San Michele Arcangelo
Church of San Michele Arcangelo | Source

Medieval Perugia is arguably the historical period most discernible in the physical, spiritual, and intellectual fabric of the city. An organized diocese was established in the 5th century, and throughout the next thousand years the region of Umbria fostered unprecedented Christian thought and action, of which the figures of St. Francis of Assisi and St. Benedict were the greatest exponents. Secular life was transformed by the advent of communal government in the 11th century. Both religion and government delivered order through doctrine.

A secure financial base gave rise to many impressive churches (including Sant'Agostino, San Domenico, and the cathedral of San Lorenzo) and public buildings (Palazzo dei Priori) during the 13th and 14th centuries. At the heart of the city, between the cathedral and the town hall, the sculptors Nicola and Giovanni Pisano created the multitiered Fontana Maggiore, or Grand Fountain, one of the most important examples of Italian Gothic sculpture. However, the greatest architectural achievement of the age came in 1308, when the University of Perugia was founded by Pope Clement V.

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The political and economic growth of Perugia climaxed in the 14th century with periods of conflict between rival families and social strata that continued over the next 200 years. Some stability came to the city early in the 15th century under the force of Braccio Fortebraccio (died 1424) and, later, under the tyrannical Baglioni family. At this time the intellectual life of the community continued to expand around the university, and the ideals of the Florentine-bred Renaissance were embraced. The two major guilds of bankers and merchants were fairly assertive throughout the period. Major additions to the Palazzo dei Priori were made, and an important school of painting emerged with the careers of Benedetto Bonfigli (c. 1410–1496), Fiorenzo di Lorenzo (c. 1440–c. 1525), and, most significantly, Perugino (c. 1450–1523). Although Perugino's paintings attracted patrons, students, and followers across the Italian peninsula and Europe, many of his most important works were created for and remain in Perugia, notably in the Collegio del Cambio and the Galleria Nazionale dell'Umbria.

Papal control of the city came in 1540, when Pope Paul III ousted the Baglioni family, destroyed its properties, and erected the enormous fortress, the Rocca Paolina (designed by Antonio da Sangallo). Under papal domination the city of Perugia fell into an economic and cultural malaise that endured for more than 300 years. In 1860 the city was liberated and became a part of the Kingdom of Italy. Growth in agricultural industries and business encouraged a stable middle class; consequently, Perugia witnessed numerous architectural renovations, building projects, and housing developments sensitive to the medieval and Renaissance core of the city.

Since World War II Perugia has emerged as a stable economic force nationally. Its products and hospitality are recognized internationally, and its world-renowned jazz festival (held every July), celebrated museums, and University for Foreigners contribute greatly to the city's cosmopolitan flavor.

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