It is here, in the epicenter 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, Saint Rita of Cascia, and Saints 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 produced in Norcia and found inside butcher shops/delicatessens located on just about every street corner.
Fill up your grocery tote with 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 peccorino (sheep) cheeses to suit just about everyone’s palate.
Three Millennia 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 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.
Come for the Pork, stay for the Sights
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
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.
@The Palladian Traveler | ©Tom Palladio Images