With everyone, and I mean everyone, getting out of Dodge for Ferragosto, I finally relented and joined the nationwide exodus. Destination? Umbria, the “land of saints,” specifically Norcia and Castelluccio di Norcia. For this post, though, we’ll focus on Norcia and leave Castelluccio for a future dispatch.
It is here, in the very center of medieval Italy, one of just five regions that are totally landlocked – cut off from the seas that straddle the Bel Paese’s coastline – where there are more saints-per-kilometer than any other spot in the entire country. Noted Umbri sons and daughters who were canonized by the Vatican include Saints Francis and Clair of Assisi, Rita of Cascia, and Benedict – the founder of western monasticism – and Scholastica of Norcia.
My Grandfather’s What?
Less divine, but equally renowned, are the world-famous DOP (Denominazione di Origine Protetta – Protected Designation of Origin) agricultural products from the area found inside butcher shops/delicatessens located on just about every street corner: rare and expensive ($1,500 per kilo) black truffles, delectable pork and wild boar salamis and sausages with colorful, or off-color, names like coglioni di mulo (mule testicles) and palle del nonno (grandfather’s balls), mutton that share their destiny with Cleopatra’s eunuchs called castrato (castrated), the benchmark high-plains lenticchie (lentils), and plenty of pecorino (sheep) cheeses to suit just about everyone’s palate.
Norcia – Three Millennium and counting
An ornate and charming retreat in the high country of Umbria that has a history spanning more than 3,000 years, Norcia is famous today for its array of pork products, and its savory cuisine highlighted by the black truffle.
Noted for its nearby hunting preserves, especially wild boar, people come to Norcia to experience an intact, low-rise medieval walled city, but stay for the pork. Because of the – pardon the pun – “link” between the city and its pork products, swine-only butcher shops are uniquely called norcinerie vice macellerie around the rest of the country. You cannot walk down a street or alleyway in Norcia without passing by a norcineria or two, or three.
Enjoy the Pork and the Sights, too
Pork aside, Norcia is well worth the visit. Its mountain air and relatively broad main streets and quaint flowered alleyways make for a pleasurable stroll through medieval times.
Surrounded by the Sybilline mountain range, this village sits flat, unusual among the towns of Umbria. It’s enclosed by a full circuit wall with tall arched gates that have survived since the 14th century AD, which makes Norcia an easy and relaxing town to go on foot to see the main sights.
The Pulse of the Village
Join your fellow travelers in Piazza San Benedetto (St. Benedict’s Square), the town’s circular main square. There, all in one place, you’ll find the Palazzo Comunale (City Hall Palace), the Basilica of St. Benedict, the arched Portico of Measurements or Merchants Loggia, the Cathedral of St. Mary Argentea, and La Castellina (the Papacy Fortress built by Pope Julius III, which now houses the Civic Museum). Within strolling distance of the main square are the Teatro Civico (Civic Theatre), the World War I monument and the Porta Romana (Roman Gate).
And, of course, never far from sight, no matter where you are in the village, are the countless norcinerie where a part of someone’s grandfather’s anatomy hangs in full view for all to see.
For tourist information in English on everything Norcia, visit the Bella Umbria website.
©The Palladian Traveler