Wednesday, February 25, 2015


 Montefalco is old. Old not in the sense of  deterioration or frailty, but old in its earned stature of having a long history predating the time in the early Middle Ages when it was known as Coccorone, continuing through Roman occupation when in 1249 it was sacked by Frederick II.  The town was rebuilt and in the 13th Century became a free commune, until it came under Papal rule in 1449, where it continued until recent history with the unification of Italy in 1861.

Montefalco is often referred to as "the balcony of Umbria" having beautiful views across the Umbrian plain. Walking through the narrow stone streets of the town you are easily transported back to the Medieval days, where one can imagine life as it was then lived. In fact, Umbrian hill towns all attest to a similar history and endurance. Much has happened here over the centuries, and as you spend time here you get a sense of that continuing longevity and in part a testament to why Italy is so beguiling. Italy envelops you.

We came to Montefalco for three things, art, food and wine.The Church of San Francesco dates to 1335, and has an important fresco cycle painted by Benozzo Gozzoli . Gozzoli was commissioned to paint a fresco cycle of  the Life of St. Francis. He painted this from 1450-52, in a narrative of 19 significant events from his life, beginning with his birth.
Here in this chapel we are alone. This fresco cycle painted with the masterful hand and carefully composed narration of the life of St. Francis by Gozzoli brings us from Medieval into the Renaissance.

Just a note....The Church of San Francesco ( deconsecrated)  is now operated by the town and is
 called Museo Civico San Francesco.

In the above panel Gozzoli  portrays, for the first time St. Francis wearing the familiar brown habit with the rope belt, signifying his devotion and call to a life of poverty, having given up a life of wealth. It is here in this panel the narrative shows us St. Francis meeting St. Dominic  (1215) in Rome. It is said to be Rome due to the obelisk's depiction in the painting. For anyone who has visited Rome, you know that obelisks are all over the place!

Gozzoli uses the architecture (of the Renaissance) along with the figures not only to convey the story of St. Francis, but to create composition. He is incorporating perspective, line, and color to make this fresco cycle visually exciting.

There is one panel depicting St. Francis' Blessing of the Birds ( no photo, sorry), where Gozzoli places St. Francis in an Umbrian landscape and in the distance is Monte Subasio,  the Monastery at Assisi, Montefalco and the small village of Bevagna. I did not count, but was told that there are 13 kinds of birds in this panel including a swan, pheasant, raven , thrush and of course, the ever present magpie.

Piertro Perugino ( Pietro Vannucci)
The Nativity, 1503

The Church of San Francesco also has a fresco by Umbrian painter, Il Perugino.
Perugino is Umbria's "favorite son", I guess that's fair to say. Here The Nativity is painted with an Umbrian landscape in the background that is centered on Lake Trasimeno. The familiar Lake Trasimeno is often seen in a Perugino painting and it is the view that James and I see from Panicale.

The Nativity ( detail)


Time for lunch. When we mentioned we were going over to Montefalco for the day it was unanimous by all that we should have lunch at L'Alchemista.  We had a leisurely lunch and the food was excellent, so much so that I did not take any photos ( at least I will blame it on that). We were with friends so we were probably just talking too much, and eating to remember pictures! L'Alchemista goes on our list of places to return to. We each had a glass of a different Sangrantino, a unique and splendid local red wine. This being an enoteca, James selected a bottle to take back to the house to have some evening with dinner.
Somehow our day trips to see art always end up with a good lunch included.

Selection, yes...... a good selection and the proprietors are happy to assist with a recommendation, if you'd like.

After lunch we walked around town. There is a linen shop, Pardi, on the Corso Mameli, that I wanted to stop into
 but it was still closed for the afternoon. Next time.

The last stop we decided to make while in Montefalco was to a vineyard.  That morning,while James and I were having cappuccino at Bar Gallo, both Aldo and Daniela suggested
 we visited Arnaldo Caprai vineyard. 

Here we learned more about Sagrantino wine. We knew that it was once considered a religious or sacramental, contemplative wine, but we also found that the story goes that...
 Pliny the Elder, 1st century aC wrote in his texts of the Itriola grape, the one that Sagrantino is made from, likely originating from Asia Minor and transported here by Pilgrims.
Now that's pretty old!

We drink Sagrantino when we are in Italy due to the fact that the production is small, and not widely available outside Italy. This is an Umbrian wine and only a handful towns  that include Montefalco, Bevegna and Spello can grow and produce Sagrantino. Often it is Sagrantino Rosso that we buy, but sometimes we will splurge on a bottle of Montefalco di Sagrantino, and for a bigger splurge a bottle of Sagrantino Passito. Passito was the first Sagrantino I tried when several years ago James had read about it and bought a bottle. It was completely heavenly.

The Umbrian landscape from Caprai vineyard......stunning.

Bella Umbria.