One Saturday afternoon I decided to take a walk in the town centre of Città di Castello, from one piazza of the town to the next, with a single goal: to pay attention to what these few metres of old town centre – maybe 300 in all – can offer not only to a tourist but to any curious person who knows how to look around.
Although I live in the old town centre of Città di Castello and can easily get to the piazza in five minutes on foot, to help me in this exercise, I decided to start outside the walls and enter as if I were seeing the heart of the city for the first time.
So I took my car, left it in the Ferri parking lot just outside the walls and took the escalator up to the Cassero gardens. The gardens are a real terrace that provides a view of the Umbrian hills from the top of the city walls that is well worth a few photographs.
From there I went to Piazza Gabriotti, which the locals call the “lower piazza” due to the difference in level from Piazza Matteotti, the “upper piazza”. In fact, walking in this direction along Corso Cavour, the street that connects these two squares is slightly – in truth, almost imperceptibly – uphill.
The unique funnel shape of Piazza Matteotti is the backdrop to some of the most beautiful monuments of the city, including the Cathedral, built in the 11th century on a Roman temple. It is dedicated to San Florido, the city’s patron saint, and preserves his relic in the lower church, just below the Cathedral.
Crossing the piazza towards Corso Cavour, on my right I find the Town Hall which is one of the most important public buildings in Umbria. The vaulted entrance, with massive octagonal columns, reveals the medieval origin of the palazzo.
The recently restored Torre Civica rises proudly.
Just a few steps beyond, I’m under the Cylindrical Bell Tower, which is behind the Cathedral but detached from it. The bell tower is a rare example of a round tower and is all that remains of the original Romanesque structure of the Cathedral. There is a beautiful view of Città di Castello from the top, with the tiled roofs of the old houses of the town centre that contrast with the greenery of the surrounding hills.
Returning to Corso Cavour from Via del Modello, I noted a trace of what was once a Door of the Dead. Of medieval origin, its name comes from its function: it was only opened for those leaving the house for the last time, which is to say, the coffin of the deceased. For all the rest of the time, the door was not only unused, but was walled up from the inside so that, once death had left the house, it could no longer get back in.
I continued walking along Corso Cavour and paused to look at the strange juxtaposition of an Art Nouveau building next to the medieval ex-church of San Paolo al Macello. The latter houses a very old print shop that is still operating on the first floor, while a covered market occupies the ground floor.
In the last part of Corso Cavour, I passed the 14th-century Palazzo del Podestà, decorated with friezes and the coats of arms of the lords who ruled the city. I was curious about this immense palazzo and looked at it carefully: the façade on the square is Baroque, while the side towards the Piazza Fanti has a 17th-century loggia.
It was nearly 6:00 pm and the locals had poured into Piazza Matteotti to chat and people-watch.
I decided to stop at the bar for the classic aperitif before dinner. I chatted and watched the passers-by. That’s how it’s done here in Città di Castello… to pass the time.