Thursday 18 March 2010
Umbertide and Niccone valley Umbria
Like most Italian little towns, Umbertide has had several different names and incarnations and seen a whole lot of carnage. Nicely situated where the Tiber meets the Reggia river, it was an important trading center going back to Roman – even Etruscan – times. Hannibal passed nearby in 217 BC when he savaged the village of Lisciano Niccone for giving aid to survivors fleeing his terrible ambush and slaughter at Lake Trasimeno, whose eyewitness accounts tell us the lake turned red for 3 days with the blood of some 15,000 Roman soldiers -- the first Roman defeat. Totila destroyed the Roman trading town itself in the 6th century; it was rebuilt in about the 8th century, but endured 'perpetual pillaging' till Perugia took over in the 12th century; was wrecked again in 1413 thanks to the Duke of Naples; then spent some centuries under the Papal States till joining the newly formed Kingdom of Italy in 1860. Umbertide proper boasts a 14th century castle with a 40 meter high tower, a 16th century octagonal church, a heroic naked-warrior statue that must have been Fascist, and the ugliest 20th century church you can imagine, known familiarly as the 'fire-station church' for obvious reasons. Not what you’d call a tourist town, and for that many locals are grateful.
Some of what Umbertide town DOES have is a hopping Wednesday morning marketplace, a sport-fishing stretch of placid river that is even wheel-chair accessible, a fine physical rehab center, hardware and garden and stationary stores, fabric shops, a kebab grill, an actual laundromat (still rare as hens' teeth here in central Italy), at least 5 supermarkets larger than your living room, two Internet caffes, an electronics shop run by an efficient and helpful lady, several good inexpensive coffee bars filled with geezers playing cards and shouting alarmingly at one another as they no doubt have since grade-school, a railway station whose ticket window grudgingly opens about 10 minutes before each mini-train is due, a hole-in-the-wall, a nameless panificio that bakes the best (and cheapest) bread I’ve ever had, a lot of totally uninteresting apartment buildings that however all have balconies, some handsome "modern" houses decorated with fine ironwork, unusually tree-lined streets, and a parking style I can only think of as 'King Kong is coming' – cars parked every which way, mostly with at least one wheel up on the pavement, as if they’ve just been hastily abandoned.
Living in Italy offers a not-to-be-ignored lesson in being 'mindful'...